Jim Bakker

 | January 6, 2009 11:26 AM

I finished reading Jim Bakker’s book, I Was Wrong, on October 6.  I started reading this book because of a GrX sermon about grace and truth called The Paradoxical Christ.  The preacher, Pastor Min Tak, told the story of how Jim Bakker was called a cancer and the worst thing to happen to Christianity by a leading evangelist but Billy Graham visited him in prison and hugged him, even though he was wearing his dirty work clothes that he wears to clean prison toilets, and loved him.

When I googled for this story all the references pointed to Jim Bakker’s book.  The reviews about the book ranged from favorable to glowing so I decided to get it from the library and read it.

I am not a book reader but when I started reading this book I could not put it down.  I stayed up several nights reading it and last night I finally finished reading this 633 page book.

The beginning of the book reads like a modern day Job.  Jim Bakker was at the pinnacle of his career, very wealthy, incredibly popular.  Then news of his infidelity w/ Jessica Hahn breaks, he loses his ministry, the ministry goes bankrupt, he goes to jail for fraud, his wife leaves him for his best friend, his son goes on drugs, his daughter lives below the poverty line, etc.

But unlike the book of Job, his story does not end with complete restoration.  Rather it becomes a story about how God wanted Jim Bakker to go to jail where he could be broken and where God can teach him.

What follows are my notes from the book.  If you want to read the book you shouldn’t read these notes.

  1. The government alleges that Jim Bakker defrauded hundreds of millions of dollars by “overbooking”.  His ministry, PTL (Praise The Lord), has a gigantic resort called Heritage USA.  On it is a hotel and Jim Bakker promises those people who give $1000 will become lifetime members and annually will get three nights free at the hotel.  Jim Bakker says there are only 25,000 lifetime memberships but he continues to sell them, almost three times as much.  On October 6, 1989 Jim is found guilty of wire fraud and mail fraud.  On October 25, 1989 Jim is sentenced to forty five years.  Jim is almost fifty years old so this is basically a life sentence.
  2. The start of Jim’s downfall is his “tryst” with Jessica Hahn in 1980.  Jim and Tammy were having marital problems because Jim was a workaholic.  Tammy starts having an affair with Gary Paxton, a well-known singer.  Jim finds out and tells Gary to stay away.  Gary tells Jim it’s his fault.  “You really should spend more time with your wife.”  In the aftermath Jim starts to joke about having an affair to make Tammy jealous.  One of his friends latches onto the idea and brings Jessica Hahn (sounds like a Korean name) from New York to Orlando.  Jim is persuaded to meet her, goes to her hotel room, has sex with her, leaves and realizes the gravity of his mistake. He tells his counselor and wants to tell Tammy but the counselor strongly advises against it.  Jim says in retrospect he should have just told her.  He telephones Jessica to apologize and never speaks to her again.  Jim also says in retrospect he should have confessed to his denomination, which he didn’t want to at the time because he would have been temporarily suspended and didn’t want to negatively impact PTL.
  3. In December 1984, Jessica Hahn claims she was raped by Jim Bakker and reports it to PTL and The Charlotte Observer.  Without Jim even knowing this was going on, Reverend Dortch, PTL officer, meets Jessica Hahn with another PTL board member and gives her $2000 of his own money to cover counseling or medical expenses.  He does not even believe Jim had sex with Jessica until Jim tells him about it afterwards.
  4. Reverend Dortch assures Jim that “he would handle the matter from that point.”  Jessica Hahn starts calling repeatedly.  Jessica then asks for $100,000 to settle the matter.  Reverend Dortch, “in an effort to avoid negative publicity, and to protect the ministry and my (Jim’s) reputation”, ends up settling with her for about $250,000 with the understanding she must be completely quiet.  Of course somehow news gets out.
  5. Jim Bakker and the PTL board believe that the Charlotte Observer is going to publish a story about his affair with Jessica Hahn.  Jim is concerned that he is going to lose his ministry to Jimmy Swaggart so he makes a deal with Jerry Falwell.  This reminds me kind of how the Israelites were scared of Assyria so they made a deal with Egypt instead of seeking God.  Jerry Falwell convinces Jim to resign, saying he will let him come back to the ministry in three months.  Tammy is against it but everything happens quickly, Jim resigns from PTL, the board is replaced with Falwell’s people, and eventually PTL goes bankrupt.  Jim in retrospect believes Jerry Falwell’s intentions were not good, that he intended to takeover PTL for his own purposes.  Jim did all of this crazy maneuvering just to try to save PTL but it was all for naught.
  6. Shortly after turning over PTL to Jerry Falwell, Jim reads a statement to the public in which he confesses his affair with Jessica Hahn.  The statement was composed by Jerry Falwell’s lawyers.
  7. During the trial Jerry Falwell called Jim Bakker “the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in two thousand years of church history” and I think Jimmy Swaggart said something similar.
  8. During the trial Jim Bakker has a nervous breakdown.  The judge orders him to be put into an insane asylum for inmates where he is placed in solitary confinement in a small windowless metal room.  Jim says it was probably one of the worst experiences of his life.  During the middle of the night a prison guard came to his cell and prayed for him through a slot in the door where food is passed in.  Jim believes if that guard had not done that he would have actually gone insane that night.
  9. The trial concludes with Jim being sentenced to jail for forty-five years (that number is from memory and could be wrong), basically a life sentence for fraud.  Jim says later in his book that he always believed that God was going to use this trial to show his glory.  Jim did not seek good or experienced legal counsel because he could not afford it (at this point he was already practically broke) and because he believed God would free him.  I think Jim kind of saw this like a Gideon moment but it did not work out the way he expected which I think doubly floored him.
  10. The first few years of prison were extremely dark for him as he could not believe that God did not save him and wondered even about his faith.  But throughout this time God kept sending people to care for him.  Within the first few weeks someone brought him a Bible eventhough he knew the consequences probably would be negative (in the end that person ended up in solitary confinement for several weeks).
  11. Tammy Faye ended up having another affair, this time with Jim’s best friend.  They ended up divorcing and Jim was just another one of the approximately 80% of prisoners whose marriages fail within the first two years.
  12. I think it was within the first year that Jim had one or two dreams.  In one of them Jim believed God was telling him to seek after Jesus.  Jim started an intense Bible study of what Jesus said.
  13. Jim seeked better legal counsel and Alan Dershowitz agreed to take his case.  They ended up reducing his sentence to eighteen years.
  14. A professor of law who was an expert in something related to Jim’s case took up his case for free.  He along with others successfully reduced Jim’s sentence again to six or seven years.
  15. During the petition drive to reduce Jim’s sentence, Jim’s son contacted everyone he could.  Jim’s son was surprised when Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart offered to help.  In fact Jim’s son and Jerry Falwell met where Jim told Jerry everything he was mad about and Jerry basically just listened.  Later Jim and Jerry met and I think agreed to accept they saw what happened differently.  I wonder how Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart reacted to this book.
  16. Jim Bakker was denied parole I think at least twice even though he had exemplary behavior, ran a program for helping prisoners quit smoking, etc.  There were obviously some powerful people that did not want Jim to serve one day less than his full sentence.
  17. What amazed throughout this story was how many people loved Jim Bakker.  He had so many visitors at the prison.  But also the prisoners really cared for him.  Many people protected him and many loved him.  Within the first few months of his prison time he had his fiftieth birthday.  He was sitting alone in his cell miserable when one prisoner insisted on Jim coming to his cell.  When he finally relented he was surprised to see so many prisoners gathered together for a huge birthday party for Jim.
  18. Twice a man tried to rape Jim in his own cell.  Jim never told anyone because it is considered the worse thing to “tattle” on anothe prisoner.  He just kept praying and God had the man transferred in a few weeks.
  19. Jim disclosed in his book that he had been sexually molested as a child over several years by a family friend’s son who was a few years older.  Jim never told his parents and it had been a secret of his until this book.
  20. Jim came to the conclusion while he was in prison that God wanted him to be in prison so that he could find God.  And while in prison he realized his theology was wrong hence the name of this book.  He realized that Christian leaders should not advocate for certain political candidates or parties and sent a letter to several people which ended up being published.  But his greatest realization was that the health and wealth gospel was wrong and that he had misled so many people.  He wrote a letter of regret about this which also ended up being published.
  21. Jim is now remarried and leading another TV ministry.  I believe he still owes millions to the IRS so one thing is for sure, he will never be rich again.  Tammy Faye recently died of cancer.

Jim Bakker’s story is incredibly interesting.  I admire the man tremendously.

2 Responses to “Jim Bakker”

mark.r wrote a comment on January 6, 2009

very nice post. thanks frank.

essny wrote a comment on January 7, 2009

there’s a fascinating documentary on Tammy Faye called The Eyes of Tammy Faye. It really changed the way I saw her, and even Jim.

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