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Pastor Fears Bakker Will Buy Back PTL

Times Religion Writer

Convinced that disgraced TV evangelist Jim Bakker will succeed in a bid to buy back the PTL religious network and park he founded, a Van Nuys pastor Thursday ended his association with court-endorsed attempts to help the ministry rebound from bankruptcy.

The Rev. Jess Moody, senior minister of the Van Nuys First Baptist Church, who earlier served on an advisory board for the federal bankruptcy court in Columbia, S.C., said that several months ago he would not have dreamed that Bakker could do it.

“This is awful. All we heard was that the man had no money and no contacts,” said Moody, who was to have been on a board to assist a buyer chosen by the court.

Meanwhile, PTL trustee M. C. (Red) Benton said Thursday said that he has received new offers of $120 million and $114 million for the religious complex at Ft. Mill, S.C., but the one submitted this week by Bakker--now said to include $85 million in cash as part of a proposal valued at $165 million--holds the most promise to benefit creditors.

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Unidentified Greek financiers were reported to be backing Bakker’s proposal.

“I don’t have any hesitation in recommending his offer be accepted,” said Benton, a former mayor of Winston-Salem, N.C.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Rufus Reynolds has not said when he will decide on a buyer, but the judge has said he wants to sell the ministry quickly to pay off creditors and keep Heritage USA operating.

Benton said at a news conference Thursday that Bakker could be back on television as early as Sept. 9. On Wednesday, Benton said: “I think if he is properly motivated now and has learned from past mistakes, perhaps he deserves as much as anyone else to be restored.”

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Bakker resigned last year during a sex-and-money scandal that was followed by revelations of lavish spending.

Questions remain about Bakker’s source of funds for the purchase. Skeptics remembered that last winter, Bakker boasted about building a $2-billion religious theme park within the California desert city of Coachella. But the project never got off the ground.

Moody, whose Van Nuys congregation of 8,500 members has broken ground for a $10-million church in Chatsworth, said he was on the phone Thursday with Don Edwards, president of Heritage Ministries, which was recently formed to handle PTL’s religious activities for the court-approved buyer. Moody asked where Bakker’s money was coming from.

“Greece,” he said Edwards answered.

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“How do you spell that?” Moody asked.

Edwards replied that he knew no more than what had been reported publicly, Moody said. Moody said he told Edwards that, in keeping with his vow not to work with Bakker, he resigned from the board of Heritage Ministries. Edwards said he would also quit if Bakker returns, Moody said.

“I’m just appalled that this thing will come about,” Moody said in an interview. He said he only got involved to help people get back the money they put into PTL. “Maybe it’s the only way (the court) can go, but I’m really upset about this thing. I worry about how the unconverted (non-Christian) world will see this.”

Bakker declined last year to submit to disciplinary and rehabilitation procedures recommended by his denomination, the Assemblies of God, which in turn removed his ministerial credentials.

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The Rev. Sam Johnson, an Assemblies of God minister who continues to have a key pastoral role at PTL, preached forgiveness of Jim and Tammy Bakker to a congregation at the South Carolina park Thursday although he said he would have to leave if his defrocked ex-colleague returned.

But Ron Aldrich, a co-host of the daily PTL program in recent months, said he was not ready to forgive. “I don’t think I would have any integrity left if I stayed, knowing what I know.”


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