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Falwell Gives Ministry ‘New Face’ : Faithful Still Have Hope, Cash for PTL

Times Religion Writer

As the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s new PTL board started to put a “new face” on Jim and Tammy Bakker’s troubled ministry Wednesday, sales of Tammy Faye cosmetics and panty hose moved briskly in the beauty boutique here in Heritage USA, the Disneyland-style PTL religious resort.

And a handmade Tammy doll in a satin wedding dress, holding out a tiny heart-shaped pillow with the word “forgiven” on it, quickly sold in the shop across “Main Street” for $675. Orders for the likeness of the flashy, expensive-dressing wife of the PTL founder are backlogged, the gift-shop manager said.

Jim and Tammy may be gone, but they are not forgotten.

In fact, some people interviewed here say the Bakker era has not ended. They fondly hope that the flamboyant preacher may yet emerge from his self-imposed exile in a Palm Springs mansion and somehow regain the empire he relinquished to Falwell last month amid confessions that he had engaged in an extramarital sexual encounter.

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Can Weather Disgrace

But the great majority of PTL supporters, visitors and employees at this multimillion-dollar complex seem convinced that, under Falwell’s leadership, the PTL ministry can weather the disgrace of sexual misdeeds and financial misuse.

Falwell himself tried to reinforce that concept Wednesday morning when he told PTL followers from his Lynchburg, Va., headquarters that after “dark, dark days” and “events that have rocked the world . . . there is light at the end of the tunnel. . . . Every one of us is optimistic that we’re going to make it.”

Appearing in place of what was once the “Jim and Tammy Show,” a puffy-eyed Falwell--who said he had only had two hours’ sleep the night before--declared that he had “made a commitment to financial openness and accountability.”

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“I believe there’s a sovereign God who’s cleaning house,” he said.

While Falwell was telling the PTL cable television audience of the overwhelming support he had found the day before at Heritage USA, 1,000 people here attended the daily in-studio PTL show. Singer Doug Oldham, a PTL regular, led a service of song and praise that was a kind of pep rally for Heritage. The show won’t be aired, PTL officials said.

Falwell firmly took charge of the PTL ministry Tuesday. He announced that the new PTL board had cut all payments to the Bakkers, who had received $4.8 million since January of 1984 in salaries and bonuses, and ended payments to Jessica Hahn, the church secretary with whom Bakker had sexual relations in 1980. The board also accepted the resignation of Richard Dortch, Bakker’s right-hand man and PTL television host, and fired David Taggart, a key personal household aide to Bakker who had been paid more than $620,000 during the last 15 months.

Accountability seemed to be the key concern of many who were interviewed on the 2,300-acre grounds of PTL on Wednesday.

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“Jerry Falwell is trying to do everything he can for the survival of the ministry,” said Lee Hume of Atlanta, who does telecommunications work for PTL and is a PTL “life partner"--a supporter who has given at least $1,000 in a single gift.

“It’s important that a $172-million operation be run as much as a business as a religion. . . . Falwell wants to stop the (financial) bleeding,” Hume said.

Falwell announced Tuesday that he had stopped all bonuses to PTL executives and named Harry Hargrave, a Dallas investment consultant, to be chief operating officer for PTL. Hargrave and five accountants from the Arthur Anderson Co. are scrutinizing PTL’s finances and will produce a public audit, Hargrave said Wednesday.

Hargrave added that belt-tightening measures to reduce PTL’s $50-million debt may mean evicting Bakker and Dortch from some of the lavish ministry-owned homes maintained for their use.

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“Rev. Bakker and Rev. Dortch have homes that at some point we will ask them to vacate,” Hargrave said in an interview with UPI.

“I think Falwell is taking the right approach by being open,” added George Marsh, a real estate developer from Cerritos who was vacationing here with his wife. “To cover up is devious; people become suspicious.”

Mona Thompson of Lafayette, Ind., a first-time Heritage USA visitor, was among those who said she “felt sorry” for “people who have been misled into contributing . . . without thinking through their religion.”

Vernon Kennedy of Atlanta, who allowed that “Jim Bakker didn’t get away with any of my money,” said that although Falwell “knows how to raise money, he’ll have to find a whole new base of supporters. Bakker’s base was the charismatics (and now) . . . they’re getting away from charismatics.”

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Falwell, an independent Baptist who in the past has disdained the more emotional aspects of Pentecostalism, promised viewers of the PTL show Wednesday that PTL’s TV programming would be “fair and balanced.” His main effort will be to turn “what appears to be a national tragedy” for the cause of Christian broadcasting into “the most wholesome influence . . . that God has given us in 2,000 years of church history,” Falwell said on the program broadcast from Lynchburg.

But Mozelle Shinholster of Ozark, Ala., who attended the studio show in the Heritage Auditorium, said that to have Falwell in charge “will change it for me.”

“It’s kind of sad,” she said wistfully. “I liked Jim and Tammy. I think they might come back some day.”

But the only member of the Bakker family recently on the PTL premises was Jim’s brother, Norman Bakker, who sat alone in the lobby of the Heritage Grand Hotel--until reporters discovered him.

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“I had hoped Jim would come back and take control, or at least have a board that would be with him and that finally would restore him,” Norman Bakker said, his voice nearly breaking.

Dorothy Hufford of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was more adamant: “I wish Jim Bakker would walk in and say, ‘Move over, Falwell.’ ”

But Falwell has ruled out a return by Bakker in the foreseeable future, even as a guest on the PTL show.

Most people interviewed here seemed ready enough to extend forgiveness to Jim and Tammy for their human weaknesses. The “forgiven” signs that adorn everything from the $675 Tammy dolls to blue-and-white baseball caps and a banner across the telephone operators’ booth in the hotel lobby attest to the Christian belief that God can wipe clean even the most sin-stained past.

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Others say they can overlook the Bakker glitz and glitter that is an integral part of Heritage USA commercialism. Bakker loyalists point out that commissions on Tammy Faye cosmetics and panty hose do not go to her, but to a PTL ministry for street people, for example.

“I’ve overlooked the petty things like Tammy Faye’s long, false eyelashes,” declared Charlotte Alenduff, a longtime “Jim and Tammy Show” fan. “They help unwed mothers and things like that. . . . But why so much materialism? Why the high salaries? If you’re dedicated how can you keep taking from people?”


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