Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s fall from grace happened well before I started blogging and it seemed at the time that we wouldn’t being hearing much from them again. Tammy Faye, divorced from Jim during his stint in prison, managed to pop up here and there over the years, but she never reached the heights she had during the golden years of the PTL. When Bakker got out of prison a lot of folks, including myself, figured he’d just slide off into a life of obscurity. Surely no one would ever trust the man again after the sex scandals and money embezzlement he was convicted and sent to prison over.
Which just goes to show that you should never underestimate the ability of True Believers™ to allow their blind faith in something, in this case Jim Bakker, to overrule their sense of rationality. Jim Bakker is back and doing quite well thanks in no small part to the very people he once swindled:
Howard, who also works as a Wal-Mart greeter, is a chipper woman with a quick smile and bright blue eyes. She has been a fan of Bakker’s since his glory days with the Praise The Lord ministry. And she, like many people here, lost money when the PTL collapsed. She and her husband each paid $1,000 for “lifetime partnerships” granting them limited free lodging at Heritage USA. Bakker spent almost five years in prison for diverting millions of dollars in partner fees for his personal use and promising more free lodging than the PTL ever could have provided.
But Howard dismisses Bakker’s conviction as “a miscarriage of justice.” And when a court settlement granted each of the 165,000 lifetime partners a check for a paltry $6.54, she and hundreds of others signed those checks over to Bakker in a show of support.
“There’s a lot of love left for Jim Bakker,” Howard says between greetings. “There is.”
That’s some serious stupid there. For some reason it seems to afflict the women more than the men:
Beyond the front door, a woman samples the pink Spikenard Magdalena hand cream being sold to support the ministry. Rubbing her hands, she remarks how excited she is to be here. But her husband is cautious.
“We invested our money with them and lost everything,” he grumbles.
“Oh, don’t say that!” she says.
“Well, we did.”
“I don’t feel that we lost anything,” she responds, walking ahead to find a table.
“Norma is head over heels on this thing,” her husband whispers as he follows behind. “I tell her, ‘Tread easy.’”
A few tables away, Rex Lorence acknowledges that he was slower than his wife, Wanda, to warm to Bakker.
“I still have some resentment for his past actions,” Lorence, 75, says. “But I’ve pretty much forgiven him.”
Which isn’t so much to suggest that women are dumber than men so much so that perhaps Bakker has some hidden sex appeal… or something. For his part Bakker claims to have renounced the “prosperity gospel” he once preached (though there are still plenty of others who are promoting it) and has had a change of heart. His new wife, Lori whom he married in 1998, appears to be a mini-me version of Tammy Faye though toned down somewhat and she fills the same role Tammy did in the ministry. Bakker makes a point during the premier broadcast in his new church that he doesn’t own any of his new ministries’ assets, they’re registered in his mother-in-law’s name, the implication being that he has no stake in the venture, but the fact that he still owes the IRS $6.1 million dollars probably has a lot to do with that decision.
As it turns out the man most responsible for Bakker’s return is a business man by the name of Jerry Crawford:
Crawford is a large man who cuts a gentleman cowboy figure, favoring cowboy boots, blue jeans, a blazer with leather shoulders and a Cadillac Escalade pickup. He says he is foremost a businessman. He brushes off any suggestion he is being suckered by Bakker. In fact, he says, he is using Bakker by making him Morningside’s main attraction.
Crawford estimates he has invested $25 million in the project. The development has its own sewer and water treatment plants. The main building, with the domed sky, is 200,000 square feet of mixed retail and housing. It holds 115 condos, going for $80,000 to $350,000. About 40 condos already have sold, Crawford says. He also is building single-family homes and small apartment buildings nearby; many are near completion. He hopes to have 2,000 families living here one day.
Crawford says the parallels between Morningside and Heritage USA are no accident. “It was modeled a whole lot on that. That model worked.”
Indeed it did for several years and it made Bakker into a very rich man who fell due to his own hubris. It’ll be interesting to see if history will be repeating itself. If it does you can be sure that at least some of his flock will stick with him through it all again because they have faith in him.