Ahh, the 1980s. When televangelists were flooding the airwaves with low-fi satellite broadcasts & bleeding dry little old ladies with their insincere pleas for cash "donations". There was no shortage of them: Peter Popoff, Jimmy Swaggart & perhaps the most (in)famous of all--Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker.
The Bakkers stood out in several ways. For one, they were the only male/female couple to minister in this way to a television audience. The industry was mostly dominated by raccoon-eyed men like Jerry Falwell & Billy Graham, whose wives stayed at home & out of public view. Secondly, their flamboyance was a sight to behold...particularly Tammy's clownish makeup & blinged-out jewelry. She was frequently the target of late-night comedy shows like Saturday Night Live & SCTV Network. But the biggest difference was actually meaningful: they reached out to audiences that were considered pariahs & modern-day lepers--AIDS patients, homosexuals, drug addicts & the homeless. And they were sincere about it. Particularly Tammy Faye, who always had a soft spot for gay men (more on that later).
Despite these glimpses of warmth & genuine humanity, the couple ultimately did more harm than good with their PTL Club & Heritage USA amusement park. They often planned their fundraising "crises" for the 1st of the month, when they knew elderly viewers would be receiving their social security checks. It's said old ladies would eat cat food just so they could give their money to Jim & Tammy, who lived a disgustingly lavish lifestyle. People gave up deeds to their land, mink coats, inheritance money & life savings to the cunning couple all in the name of God's abundance. (See: Prosperity Gospel). This would come back to bite Jim & Tammy big time in the end, as would Jim Bakker's rape of a woman named Jessica Hahn. He also had several alleged sexual trysts with male staff & friends of the PTL Club, which Tammy Faye was well aware of. He ultimately paid off Hahn in the hopes of keeping her quiet, but word leaked to the press & the rest is history.
|Jim Bakker's epic meltdown during trial|
|Tammy hollering to the Heavens|
|Jerry Falwell going down the slide at Heritage USA after taking over PTL Club|
So what makes this greedy wench worthy of our sympathy? Her vulnerability & willingness to be real helped a lot. You can tell she's got some serious issues with her body image for one thing. She refused to take off the makeup despite being mocked to high hell for it, stating that she felt "ugly" without it. She even had a lot of it tattooed on before that was really a thing. This suggests some degree of Body Dysmorphia which is very sad. She cried at the drop of a hat no matter the occasion, which also points to some major sadness hiding just beneath the surface. Some claim the crying was a ploy to get sympathy/cash from viewers, but it continued loooong beyond her PTL years & was just a part of her personality. (Not that it didn't help with the soliciting).
Tammy Faye's views on the gay community were also very brave & touching coming from an Assembly of God member, especially in an age where AIDS paranoia was causing even doctors & EMTs to refuse to touch sick patients. So-called "Christians" like Pat Robertson were referring to the disease as God's punishment for unnatural acts & even celebrating it, so it took a lot of courage & empathy for her to go against the grain. She fought cancer bravely for a decade while being a loving mother to her two children, all without sacrificing her own goals & aspirations. And she didn't abandon Jim even after his affairs or incarceration...at least for as long as she could manage. He left the family with $1,000 when he went away. So she was more than just a gold digger, even if she did like nice things. (To put it mildly).
|Tammy at 2002 Gay Pride with Lady Bunny & Bruce Vilanch|
Today, Jim Bakker has another TV ministry from which he sells doomsday prepper supplies in much the same format as the PTL Club of yore. He's also got a new wife who could pass for Tammy Faye's half sister. The same is true of conman Peter Popoff, who I view as even more repugnant than Bakker. (Popoff would do fake healings on dying people & tell them to throw their prescription meds on the stage because they didn't need them anymore). Famous skeptic James Randi exposed how his "healings" worked & his ministry quickly went under, but he's back on TV today selling "Miracle Spring Water". Some of the claims Bakker makes about his own quack products definitely cross the line into false claims about a dietary supplement. For instance, he claims his Silver Solution "cures any venereal disease." Wat.
|Jim Bakker today with wife Lori|
Tammy Faye is unique in that she got out of this evil game once she saw it for what it was. And of course she died a horrible death while Jim Bakker's skeevy ass lives to a ripe old age. Isn't that always how it goes though? The good die young while the evil run amok? It's stories like this that make me wish Hell was real, because Mr. Bakker would've surely secured himself a front row seat. Sometimes justice doesn't prevail in this lifetime which is what makes thoughts of a rewarding or punishing afterlife so attractive. Since nobody knows for sure what happens after death, we must do better to bring about justice in THIS one.