Tammy Faye Adds a Chapter to PTL Saga
For the thousandth time, the doghouse was not air-conditioned. It was only heated.
In the PTL television evangelism scandal according to Tammy Faye, Jessica Hahn was a “professional” seductress, Jerry Falwell a double-crossing man of Mammon and Jim Bakker a poor schnook whose trust in others led to his downfall.
In a new book, Tammy Faye Messner--she divorced Bakker while he was in prison and married his best friend from his PTL days--paints a blistering portrait of fellow evangelists kicking Bakker while he was down.
“Jim, if you’re reading this, here’s my advice: Get on with your life and don’t worry what people think. Hold your head up high,” she writes in “Tammy: Telling It My Way.”
The book, coming out later this month from Villard, follows one recently released by her ex-husband, who takes more of the blame in “I Was Wrong: The Untold Story of the Shocking Journey From PTL Power to Prison and Beyond,” published by Thomas Nelson.
Bakker was convicted on federal fraud charges for bilking 116,000 followers of his PTL ministries out of $158 million in the 1980s. He resigned in 1987 amid a sex and financial scandal, and the PTL empire he built with his wife, Tammy Faye, was turned over to Virginia evangelist Jerry Falwell. Bakker was released from prison in 1994 after serving about five years.
The competing books from religious television’s most famous couple in the 1980s offer differing perspectives on the sexual encounter with Hahn that led to Bakker’s ultimate fall from grace.
Hahn, a former church secretary, has charged that Bakker sexually assaulted her in a Florida hotel room.
In his book, Bakker says, “Most of all, I did not rape Jessica Hahn. The sexual encounter for which we are both now infamous was completely consensual.”
But as told in Messner’s book, the tryst is the story of a reluctant Bakker being urged into having sex with Hahn by a minister friend who introduced the two, then goaded Bakker when he was ready to back out by saying, “Come on, Jim, prove you’re a man.”
Back in the hotel room, Messner said, Bakker was tense and unresponsive.
“Years later, Jim told me nothing would have happened between him and Jessica had she not been so skillful,” Messner writes.
Bakker resigned as the Hahn incident was about to become public in 1987 and turned the ministry over to Falwell--who both Bakker and Messner now say deceived them.
In her book, Messner says the real goal of Falwell--while convincing Bakker he was sincerely trying to help--was to wrest away the television network for himself. “Jerry Falwell had found the key to Jim’s soul and shrewdly turned it, unlocking the golden doors to PTL,” she writes.
In a written response, Falwell said he “would expect that Tammy has her own theory about the history of PTL, and she is certainly entitled to write about it. However, I don’t intend to revisit that chapter of my life or theirs.”
Falwell is only one of a number of evangelists Messner criticizes. She accuses Jimmy Swaggart of trying to undermine Bakker and says a host of others to whom Bakker had given hundreds of thousands of dollars and television exposure would have nothing to do with the Bakkers in their times of trouble.
As they lost their homes, cars and heated doghouse, “The ones we called on and asked for help (and believe me these were all the biggest names at the time) either wouldn’t take our calls or were out of their offices or away on trips or any other excuse you can think of,” Messner said.
One notable exception was Billy Graham, whose integrity helped guide television evangelism through this turmoil. He called the Bakkers and visited Jim in prison.
“What a wonderful man. He is truly a man of God. He is everything everyone says he is,” Messner said in an interview.
Bakker writes of Graham’s visit amid his depression, flu, filth and hopelessness: “I felt as though Jesus himself had come to visit me.”
Did anything good come out of the scandal? Messner says yes.
“I think an awful lot of people got their eyes opened and faced reality . . . and realized no one’s perfect,” she said. “And in a way that’s been good. It’s caused people to look to God.”