PTL FAQ  

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

I received a few questions during my posts on PTL and I wanted to put the information together in a central location. If you have any questions about PTL or anything associated with PTL feel free to ask and I'll update this post with a response.

Other than the sources listed at the bottom of this FAQ I drew largely on my reading of I Was Wrong by Jim Bakker and Forgiven : the rise and fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL ministry by Jim Shepard as well as the documentary movie The Eyes of Tammy Faye directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.

Q: What crime did Jim Bakker commit?

Jim Bakker was convicted of eight counts of mail fraud, fifteen counts of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy in 1989. He was sentenced to forty-five years in prison and a $500,000 fine. In 1991 his sentence was voided in appeal and he was sentenced to 18 years. He was granted parole in 1993 after serving five years in prison.1

The convictions were for offering lifetime memberships on air and through mail for various benefits such as three to four night stays at the Heritage Grand Hotel once per year for life. The money was to be used to build the hotel or other properties where memberships were offered, but the money was used instead to finance payroll, television coverage, or other expenses, including lavish bonuses for the Bakkers and other high-ranking staff members.

Bakker also oversold the memberships and people trying to claim their benefit of lodging were turned away when the hotel and other accommodations booked past capacity. In 1986 the Heritage Grand Hotel was booked past 1986 and 1987 for lifetime members and many members were turned away although they had been promised a free stay every year for life with their donation.

Many lifetime members who donated toward the Heritage Towers project and other projects such as the cabins were never able to capitalize on their promised benefits. The Towers was never finished due to lack of funds even though more donations were received to go towards the project than the project was estimated to be needed for completion.

Jim never admitted to committing fraud and in his autobiography I Was Wrong blamed the state and the Charlotte Observer for conspiring to bring him down. He did admit to gross mismanagement of ministry funds, but alleged it was due the stress of trying to keep it all running and naivete that caused the ministry operations to lose money during his tenure.

Q: What happened between Jim Bakker and Jessica Hahn?

In 1980 Jim Bakker had a "15-20 minute sexual encounter" with Jessica Hahn in a hotel room in Florida. Several years later Hahn contacted PTL threatening to reveal the story. She was emotionally distraught and said she had been drugged and raped. Jim Bakker disputed the rape charges in his book, I Was Wrong, but admitted to the affair.

In 1985 $265,000 was diverted from ministry funds by Richard Dortch, the President of PTL, through Roe Messner, PTL's main construction contractor, and paid to a California firm that was supposed to set up a $100,000 trust fund for Jessica Hahn. The contract negotiations were never completed but the money was still paid out.

Charles Shepard of the Charlotte Observer later uncovered the story and published it on March 19, 1987, causing the resignation of Jim and Tammy Bakker from PTL.

Q: Who was Richard Dortch and what was his role in the ministry?

Richard Dortch was the President of PTL and the right-hand man of Jim Bakker. He was formerly the Illinois District Superintendent of the Assemblies of God before he came on as a member of the PTL staff and board. Board records show that he was responsible for suggesting and voting for lavish salary increases and bonuses for the Bakkers during his tenure as President.

He was convicted of wire fraud and conspiracy in 1989 and sentenced to eight years in prison and a $200,000 fine for his role in misrepresenting how the money would be spent for donations for lifetime memberships.2 Later his sentence was reduced to 2 1/2 years.3

Q: How was the Assemblies of God involved in the ministry?

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker attended North Central Bible College, but dropped out before graduating after less than two years to marry and become itinerant preachers. Jim was ordained by the Assemblies of God in 1964.

The couple worked for both Pat Robertson at CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) and Paul Crouch at TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) contributing to the successful launch of several longstanding television shows, including the 700 Club, before moving on to PTL and starting the Inspirational Network (INSP).

In August of 1987 the Assemblies of God defrocked Jim Bakker for "adultery and alleged homosexual acts" and Richard Dortch for "trying to keep Mr. Bakker's sexual encounter quiet by paying money to Ms. Hahn."4. Richard Dortch was restored to the denomination in 1991.

Q: What was the religious message that Jim Bakker and other PTL ministers preached?

Although PTL fell under the Assemblies of God through a loose affiliation, the ministry was largely evangelical and pentecostal/charismatic. Evangelicalism is largely defined by belief in being "born again", Biblical authority, and in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.5. The Charismatic movement is largely defined by belief in glossolalia (speaking in tongues), prophesying, supernatural healing, and miracles.6

Pentecostal and charismatic adjectives are often used interchangeably since the central beliefs in both movements revolve around the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the spirit, but they have slight differences as well. I have heard both used in connection with Jim Bakker and PTL.

Much of the philosophy behind Jim Bakker's teachings included prosperity theology and a focus on God's love. Often he would end his broadcast with the phrase, "Jesus loves you and so do I (or we)."

Jim and Tammy were very accepting of people no matter what trial or problems they experienced and were very open about their own problems in their personal lives. Tammy was one of the first ministers to offer sympathy to AIDS patients and had an extensive following in the gay community after her divorce from Jim Bakker. Both expressed disappointment with the church for how they were treated after the scandal that tore apart PTL.

Jim used the prosperity doctrine to explain why he deserved nice things. God wanted his people (Christians) to prosper and so there was no need to feel guilty about accumulating wealth. He later stated he was wrong for this belief in his autobiography I Was Wrong.

Q: What happened between Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, and Jimmy Swaggart?

Much of what happened between the three men is speculation. Jim Bakker accused both Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart of trying to steal his ministry to get their hands on his television satellite network (INSP).

The dispute between the three men was largely one of doctrine. Falwell was a Baptist preacher, although he identified largely with evangelicalism.

Bakker focused mainly on love, prosperity, and forgiveness. He didn't ban drinking, dancing, movies, or other secular pursuits. His approach to doctrine was more mystical with a focus on the rewards in this life for being part of the chosen people.

Swaggart was a traditional fire-breathing, sin-condemning, old-time-revival Pentecostal preacher. He often criticized PTL for their secular affiliations and theme park atmosphere.

Q: What was the association between the EFCA and PTL?

PTL joined the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (EFCA) in the late 1970's and was a member until they resigned from it in late 1986.

From the EFCA website:

Founded in 1979, ECFA provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability, fund-raising and board governance. Members include Christian ministries, denominations, churches, educational institutions and other tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations.

During PTL's tenure in the EFCA they were required to submit yearly audits. Although the EFCA raised questions about PTL's financial statements and on at least one occasion privately threatened to drop them PTL continued in good standing. PTL's membership to the EFCA allowed them to display the EFCA logo on their broadcasts and mailings indicating that their financial records were in line with EFCA standards.

Q: How did the Bakker scandal affect evangelicalism?

At the time the Jim Bakker-Jessica Hahn scandal broke, many other scandals also occurred with high-ranking evangelical ministers including Jimmy Swaggart's affair with a prostitute, and Oral Robert's claim that God would kill him if he didn't get enough donations for missionary work.7

Although the damage may not be long-lasting, the scandals did have an impact on Pat Robertson's bid for President and the income and subscriber base of many tele-evangelists.


References
1. Jim Bakker. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved on 2008-06-03.
2. Bakker Aide Receives 8-Year Fraud Sentence, AP, The New York Times, August 25, 1989.
3. Prison Sentence of Top Aide To Bakker Cut to 2 1/2 Years, AP, The New York Times, April 26, 1990.
4. BAKKER'S CHURCH TELLS OF REFUSAL, AP, The New York Times, August 8, 1987.
5. Evangelicalism. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved on 2008-06-03.
6. Charismatic movement. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved on 2008-06-03.
7. TV's Unholy Row, Richard N. Ostling, TIME, April 6, 1987.


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