The Rev. Jerry Falwell expressed hope Monday that no criminal charges will be filed against defrocked television evangelist Jim Bakker, whose PTL ministry is being investigated for alleged financial wrongdoing.
Falwell, who took over PTL operations in March after Bakker resigned in a sex scandal, likened Bakker's situation to that of Richard M. Nixon, who resigned as President in 1974 when facing potential criminal charges during the Watergate scandal.
Supports Nixon Pardon
"I was glad when (then-President) Gerald Ford pardoned President Nixon," Falwell told a National Press Club luncheon. "I think there was enough punishment already, and it would have hurt the country for the President to be charged criminally."
In the same way, he added, to charge or imprison "a major minister of the Gospel in this country would hurt the entire cause of Christ across the world."
Falwell said that "most of the people I know in the Christian family have long since forgiven Jim and Tammy," Bakker's wife. "I hope there are no criminal investigations and no criminal charges."
The Internal Revenue Service, FBI and U.S. Postal Service are reviewing charges that the PTL raised millions of dollars in tax-exempt contributions for charitable projects, then spent the money for other purposes. The Justice Department announced last week that it is coordinating the multiagency inquiry.
Falwell predicted that the political activism and influence of Christian evangelicals will grow despite the recent scandal.
"The default of one or two leaders does not destroy the system," he said. "To suggest that evangelicalism and Biblical Christianity is wounded and down for the count because of the PTL scandal is like saying that we should have abolished the government during Watergate or Chappaquiddick . . . .
"You have human frailties, and you have failures. You don't throw out the system with the person. You hopefully learn from it and, hopefully, down the road, you do a better job."
When asked if there was anything in his background that would embarrass him, Falwell quipped: "Yes, I was raised a Democrat."
Then he said seriously that, in their 29 years of marriage, he and his wife have "never had anything close to an affair, never committed adultery and never have been disloyal to each other."
Falwell said that he intends to stay at PTL for no more than a year from the time of his arrival three months ago.