The Rev. Jerry Falwell has warned controversial television evangelist Jim Bakker against an early comeback, saying any attempt by Bakker to return to the pulpit of the PTL television show would be "the doom of the ministry" and would prompt the resignation of the majority of PTL's current board of directors.
Responding to published reports that Bakker had sent him a telegram saying he was ready to preach again, Falwell said Bakker's return would worsen the "national, international furor" that has surrounded PTL since scandal broke over Bakker's alleged sexual liaison with a church worker.
The Bakker scandal has caused a "terrific, terrific erosion of credibility" of television evangelists, said Falwell, who estimated that his own Old Time Gospel Hour had "lost a million, maybe closer to $2 million in revenues the past 30 days."
PTL, which stands for "Praise the Lord" and "People That Love" has been run by an interim board headed by Falwell since the scandal began last month, but Falwell hinted that he may leave the post soon. Falwell was interviewed Saturday by CBS News, and his remarks were broadcast on Sunday's "Face the Nation" program.
Falwell declined to say whether he believed charges made Friday by another prominent evangelist, the Rev. John Ankerberg, that Bakker has had sex with prostitutes and has engaged in homosexual activities. Ankerberg, he said, "is a very highly respected church leader," and the PTL board, which meets Tuesday, does "take seriously what he is saying."
The Assemblies of God denomination, in which Bakker is ordained, has a "restoration program" that could allow Bakker to begin preaching again, Falwell said. But, he added, no recovery is allowed from homosexual encounters, and if the latest charges are true, Bakker would lose his license to preach "permanently."
Although Bakker has admitted having a sexual encounter seven years ago with church worker Jessica Hahn, he has denied the latest charges. From their home in Palm Springs, Bakker's wife, Tammy, read a statement to wire services Saturday night in which her husband said: "I have never been to a prostitute, and I am not or have ever been a homosexual."
The PTL board plans to review the charges against Bakker at Tuesday's meeting and will issue a statement about them, said Falwell, who also said that he is considering leaving his PTL post at that time. Other members of his Southern Baptist denomination have been pressuring him to leave PTL, he said, in part because of disagreements the Baptists have with PTL's Pentecostal theology.
In addition to the charges of sexual misconduct against Bakker, press reports have said that large sums donated to PTL were turned over to Bakker's personal use. Jim and Tammy Bakker were paid as much as $1.6 million in 1986 and $640,000 during the first three months of this year, the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer reported last week. The Internal Revenue Service is investigating those payments, Newsweek reports in its current issue.
While Falwell declined to judge the charges against Bakker, other television evangelists were quick to take sides Sunday. The Rev. Jimmy Swaggart, whom Bakker's lawyer has accused of plotting a "hostile takeover" of PTL, said he had seen "some of the proof" of Ankerberg's charges. While he does not know all of the charges, he said, "I do know about some of them, and I do believe that they are true."
Bakker's ministry, Swaggart said, was "a cancer on society and in the body of Christ." Swaggart was interviewed in San Diego by "Face the Nation."
But the Rev. Oral Roberts, preaching to a crowd estimated at 5,000 Sunday in the Buffalo, N.Y., convention center, said he sided with Bakker. "I stand by the man who sinned and said 'I sinned and now I repent,' " Roberts said, according to the Associated Press.