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James Orsen Bakker (/ˈbkər/;[1] born January 2, 1940) is an American televangelist, former Assemblies of God minister and former host (with his then-wife, Tammy Faye Bakker) of The PTL Club, an evangelical Christian television program. Bakker is also known for building Heritage USA in Fort Mill, South Carolina, a former Christian theme park which opened in 1978 and closed in 1989. He has written several books, including I Was Wrong and Time Has Come: How to Prepare Now for Epic Events Ahead.

Jim Bakker
Jim Baker - PTL Broadcast (1986).jpg
Bakker and then-wife Tammy Faye during a PTL Club broadcast, circa 1986
James Orsen Bakker

(1940-01-02) January 2, 1940 (age 79)
Children7, including Jay
ChurchAssemblies of God (1960–1988)
Charismatic (2003–present)
Congregations served
The PTL Club
Heritage USA
Heritage Village Church
Morningside Church

A cover-up of hush money paid to a church secretary, Jessica Hahn, for an alleged rape led to his resignation from the ministry. Subsequent revelations of accounting fraud brought about his conviction, imprisonment and divorce. Bakker later remarried and returned to televangelism, where he founded his new ministry Morningside Church in Blue Eye, Missouri and currently hosts The Jim Bakker Show, which focuses on the end of days and return of Christ.


Personal lifeEdit

James Orsen Bakker was born in Muskegon, Michigan, the son of Raleigh Bakker and Furnia Lynette "Furn" Irwin.[2] Bakker attended North Central University (a Bible college affiliated with the Assemblies of God in Minneapolis), where he met fellow student Tammy Faye LaValley in 1960.[3] He worked at a restaurant in the Young-Quinlan department store in Minneapolis; Tammy Faye worked at the Three Sisters, a nearby boutique.[4]

They married on April 1, 1961, and left college to become evangelists. The Bakkers have two children: Tammy Sue "Sissy" Bakker Chapman (born March 2, 1970) and Jamie Charles "Jay" Bakker (born December 18, 1975). They divorced on March 13, 1992.[5] On September 4, 1998, Bakker married Lori Beth Graham, a former televangelist, just 50 days after they met.[6] In 2002 they adopted five children.[7][8][9]


Early careerEdit

In 1966 the Bakkers began working at Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, which had an audience in the low thousands at the time.[10] They contributed to the network's growth, and their success with a variety show format (including interviews and puppets) helped make The 700 Club a company staple.[11] The Jim and Tammy Show, aimed at young children, was broadcast for several years from their Portsmouth, Virginia studio. The Bakkers then hosted the first version of The 700 Club. In 1972 the Bakkers left Robertson's ministry and in 1973 joined with Paul and Jan Crouch to help co-found the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Jim and his wife then moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1976 they first put The PTL Club on the air.


Heritage USA sign in 2007; the site is now mostly demolished.[12]

From 1974 to 1987, the Bakkers hosted The PTL Club, which functioned like a late-night talk show. Guests ranged from religious figures like Billy Graham and Oral Roberts to entertainers such as Mr. T and Mickey Rooney. Bakker founded the PTL Satellite Network in 1974, which aired The PTL Club and other religious television programs.[13]

Throughout the 1970s, Bakker built a headquarters for their ministry in the Carolinas called Heritage Village.[13] Over time, the Bakkers expanded the ministry to include the Heritage USA amusement park in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Heritage USA became the third-most-successful theme park in the US at the time. Viewer contributions were estimated to exceed $1 million a week, with proceeds to expand the theme park and The PTL Club's mission.[1][14] Bakker responded to inquiries about his use of mass media by saying: "I believe that if Jesus were alive today, he would be on TV".[15]

The Bakkers had a lavish lifestyle.[11] In an April 23, 1990 New Yorker article, Frances FitzGerald quoted Dave Barry: "They personified the most characteristic excesses of the nineteen-eighties—the greed, the love of glitz, and the shamelessness—which in their case were so pure as to almost amount to a kind of innocence."[16] Two scandals brought down the ministry in 1987; Bakker was accused of sexual misconduct by church secretary Jessica Hahn, which led to his resignation, and illegal misuse of ministry funds eventually led to his imprisonment.[13] Bakker was dismissed as an Assemblies of God minister on May 6, 1987.[17] In 1990, the biographical TV movie, Fall from Grace starring Kevin Spacey and Bernadette Peters depicted his rise and fall within the religious televangelist arena.[18] On January 18, 2019, ABC's 20/20 aired a two-hour special entitled, "Unfaithfully Yours", about the rise and downfall of the Bakkers.[19]

Early investigationsEdit

In 1979, Bakker and his PTL ministry came under investigation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for allegedly misusing funds raised on the air. The FCC report was finalized in 1982 and found that Bakker had raised $350,000 that he told viewers would go towards funding overseas missions but were actually used to pay for part of Heritage USA. The report also found that Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker used PTL funds for personal expenses.[20] FCC commissioners voted four to three to drop the investigation, after which they allowed Bakker to sell the only TV station that he owned, therefore bypassing future FCC oversight.[21] The FCC forwarded their report to the Justice Department, who declined to press charges, citing insufficient evidence.[20] Bakker used the controversy to raise more funds from his audience, branding the investigation a "witch-hunt", and asking viewers to "give the Devil a black eye".[21]

A confidential 1985 Internal Revenue Service report found that $1.3 million in ministry funds were used for the Bakkers' personal benefit from 1980 to 1983. The report recommended that PTL be stripped of its tax-exempt status but no action was taken until the Jessica Hahn scandal in 1987. Art Harris and Michael Isikoff wrote in The Washington Post that politics may have played a role in the three government agencies taking no action against PTL despite the evidence against them, as members of the Reagan administration were not eager to go after television ministers whose evangelical followers made up their base.[22]

Sexual misconduct and resignationEdit

A $279,000 payoff for the silence of Jessica Hahn, who alleged that Bakker and former PTL Club co-host John Wesley Fletcher drugged and raped her, was paid with PTL's funds through Bakker's associate Roe Messner.[23][24] Bakker, who made the PTL organization's financial decisions, allegedly kept two sets of books to conceal accounting irregularities. The Charlotte Observer reporters, led by Charles Shepard, investigated the PTL organization's finances and published a series of articles.[25]

On March 19, 1987, after the disclosure of a payoff to Hahn, Bakker resigned from PTL.[23] Although he acknowledged that he had a sexual encounter with Hahn at a hotel room in Clearwater, Florida, he denied raping her.[26] Bakker was the subject of homosexual and bisexual allegations made by John Wesley Fletcher and PTL director Jay Babcock, which he denied under oath.[27][28] Rival televangelist John Ankerberg appeared on Larry King Live and made several allegations against Bakker, which both Bakkers denied.[29]

Bakker was succeeded as PTL head by Southern Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell.[26] He chose Falwell as his successor because he feared that fellow Pentecostal pastor Jimmy Swaggart was attempting to take over his ministry. Swaggart had initiated a church investigation into Bakker over allegations of Bakker's sexual misconduct.[30]

Bakker believed that Falwell would temporarily lead the ministry until the scandal died down,[31] but Falwell barred Bakker from returning to PTL on April 28, 1987.[32] Later that summer, as donations declined sharply in the wake of Bakker's resignation and the end of the Bakkers' PTL Club TV program, Falwell raised $20 million to keep PTL solvent and took a promised water slide ride at Heritage USA.[33] Falwell and the remaining members of the PTL board resigned in October 1987, stating that a ruling from a bankruptcy court judge made rebuilding the ministry impossible.[34]

In response to the scandal, Falwell called Bakker a liar, an embezzler, a sexual deviant, and "the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history."[35] On CNN, Swaggart told Larry King that Bakker was a "cancer in the body of Christ".[31] In February 1988, Swaggart became involved in a sex scandal of his own after being caught visiting prostitutes in New Orleans.[36] The Bakker and Swaggart scandals had a profound effect on the world of televangelism, causing greater media scrutiny of televangelists and their finances.[37] Falwell said that the scandals had "strengthened broadcast evangelism and made Christianity stronger, more mature and more committed."[38][39] Joe Carter of The Gospel Coalition compared the PTL scandal to the 2017 Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations.[40]

Fraud conviction and imprisonmentEdit

The PTL Club's fundraising activities between 1984 and 1987 were reported by The Charlotte Observer, eventually leading to criminal charges against Bakker.[41] Bakker and his PTL associates sold $1,000 "lifetime memberships", entitling buyers to an annual three-night stay at a luxury hotel at Heritage USA, during that period.[42] According to the prosecution at Bakker's fraud trial, tens of thousands of memberships were sold but only one 500-room hotel was ever finished.[43] Bakker sold "exclusive partnerships" which exceeded capacity, raising more than twice the money needed to build the hotel. Much of the money paid Heritage USA's operating expenses, and Bakker kept $3.4 million.[44]

After a 16-month federal grand-jury probe, Bakker was indicted in 1988 on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy.[23] In 1989, after a five-week trial which began on August 28 in Charlotte, North Carolina, a jury found him guilty on all 24 counts. Judge Robert Daniel Potter sentenced Bakker to 45 years in federal prison and imposed a $500,000 fine.[45][46] At the Federal Medical Center, Rochester in Rochester, Minnesota, he shared a cell with activist Lyndon LaRouche and skydiver Roger Nelson.[47]

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld Bakker's conviction on the fraud and conspiracy charges, voided Bakker's 45-year sentence and $500,000 fine, and ordered a new sentencing hearing in February 1991.[48] The court ruled that Potter's sentencing statement about Bakker, that "those of us who do have a religion are sick of being saps for money-grubbing preachers and priests",[49] was evidence that the judge had injected his religious beliefs into Bakker's sentence.[48]

A sentence-reduction hearing was held on November 16, 1992, and Bakker's sentence was reduced to eight years. In August 1993, he was transferred to a minimum-security federal prison in Jesup, Georgia. Bakker was paroled in July 1994, after serving almost five years of his sentence.[50] His son, Jay, spearheaded a letter-writing campaign to the parole board advocating leniency.[51] Celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz acted as his parole attorney. Bakker was released from Federal Bureau of Prisons custody on December 1, 1994.[52] Bakker owes $6 million to the Internal Revenue Service.[53]

Return to televangelismEdit

The set of The Jim Bakker Show in Blue Eye, Missouri

In 2003, he began broadcasting the daily The Jim Bakker Show at Studio City Café in Branson, Missouri with his second wife, Lori;[54] it is carried on CTN, Daystar, Folk TV, Grace Network (Canada), GEB America, Hope TV (Canada) Impact Network, WGN, WHT, TCT Network, The Word Network, UpliftTV, and ZLiving networks.[55][56][57] Most of Bakker's audience receives his program on DirecTV and Dish Network.[58] Bakker condemned the prosperity theology that he took part in earlier in his career and has embraced apocalypticism.[13] His show has a millennial, survivalist focus and sells buckets of freeze-dried food to his audience in preparation for the end of days.[59] Elspeth Reeve wrote in The Atlantic that Bakker's doomsday food is overpriced.[60] A man named Jerry Crawford, who credits Bakker with having saved his marriage, invested $25 million dollars in a new ministry for Bakker in Blue Eye, Missouri, named Morningside. Production for The Jim Bakker Show moved to Morningside in 2008.[13] In 2013, Bakker wrote Time Has Come: How to Prepare Now for Epic Events Ahead about end-time events.[61]

Prophecies and statementsEdit

Bakker's revived show features a number of ministers who bill themselves as "prophets." Indeed, he now claims that "PTL" stands for "Prophets Talking Loud."[62]

In an October 2017 video, Bakker said that "God will punish those" who ridicule him;[63] he has said that Hurricane Harvey was a judgement of God, and blamed Hurricane Matthew on then-President Barack Obama.[64][65] Bakker predicted that if current President Donald Trump is impeached, Christians would begin a Second American Civil War.[66] He compared the 2017 Washington train derailment to the sinking of the RMS Titanic and stated the Amtrak train derailment was a warning from God.[67] He also claimed that he predicted the September 11 attacks of 2001, stating that he "saw 9/11 in 1999 before New Year's Eve" and that there would "be terrorism" and bombings in New York City and Washington, D.C."[68] A few days after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, he stated that in a dream that "God came to him wearing a camouflage, a hunting vest, and a AR-15 rifle strapped to his back" and claimed that God supported Trump's plan to arm teachers.[69] Following the death of Billy Graham on February 21, 2018, Bakker attended Graham's funeral and paid his respects, stating that Graham was the greatest preacher since Jesus,[70] and also remarking that Graham had visited him in prison.[71]

Ed Brayton called Bakker a false prophet in an article on the Patheos website, and Geoffrey Grider called him a false teacher on the Now The End Begins website.[72][73] On the Stand in the Gap Today radio program, Pennsylvania Pastors Network president Sam Rohrer criticized Bakker's civil-war prediction.[74] His TV show received criticism as a "spiritual abuse", and critics stated that it has "no business" being on TV screens.[75]

Bakker has changed his views on prosperity theology.[76] In his 1980 book Eight Keys to Success, he stated, "God wants you to be happy, God wants you to be rich, God wants you to prosper."[77][78] In his 1996 book, I Was Wrong, he admitted that the first time he actually read the Bible all the way through was in prison. Bakker also wrote that he realized that he had taken passages out of context and used them as prooftexts to support his prosperity theology.[79]


  • Eight Keys to Success (1980)
  • I Was Wrong (1996)
  • Prosperity and the Coming Apocalypse (1998)
  • The Refuge: The Joy of Christian Community in a Torn-Apart World (2000)
  • Time Has Come: How to Prepare Now for Epic Events Ahead (2014)


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  2. ^ "Herald-Journal - Google News Archive Search". Google News.
  3. ^ Welch, William M. (July 21, 2007). "Ex-wife of evangelist Jim Bakker dies". USA Today. Retrieved November 29, 2007.
  4. ^ Sturdevant, Andy (May 28, 2014). "Tammy Faye Bakker's year in Minneapolis: scoping out the sites, from college to marriage and ministry". MinnPost. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
  5. ^ "Tammy Faye Bakker Gets Divorce, Custody of Son, 16". Los Angeles Times. March 14, 1992.
  6. ^ Garfield, Ken (April 1, 2000). "The Preacher's Wife: Lori Beth Bakker says she is her own woman". The Free Lance-Star. Fredricksburg, VA. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
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  8. ^ Lancaster, Jessilyn. "Jim Bakker's Son: The No. 1 Thing to Remember When Dealing With Immigrants". Charisma News. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  9. ^ Staff, Charisma. "EXCLUSIVE: Jim Bakker's Son Ricky Believes This Is the Generation That Will See Christ Return". Charisma News. Retrieved March 18, 2019.
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  11. ^ a b "Robertson's Bakker Connection". The Washington Post. February 6, 1988. Retrieved February 22, 2018.
  12. ^ Jarvis, Robin (June 3, 2017). "The Remnants Of This Abandoned Theme Park In South Carolina Are Hauntingly Beautiful". onlyinyourstate.
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  14. ^ Connelly, Sherryl (August 5, 2017). "Televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's fall from grace". New York Daily News.
  15. ^ Shepherd, Steve (April 17, 2012). "Submit Yourselves To God". Sermon Central. I believe that if Jesus were alive today, he would be on TV
  16. ^ "The New Yorker Digital Edition : Apr 23, 1990". The New Yorker.
  17. ^ "Assemblies of God defrocks Bakker". United Press International. May 6, 1987.
  18. ^ "'Stars of'Fall From Grace' Go Beyond Caricature in Portrayal of the Bakkers". April 23, 1990 – via Los Angeles Times.
  19. ^ "See Exclusive Clip From '20/20′ Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker Special". January 16, 2019 – via Rolling Stone.
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  25. ^ Ostling, Richard N. (August 3, 1987). "Enterprising Evangelism". Time. Retrieved January 27, 2007.
  26. ^ a b Ostling, Richard N. (May 11, 1987). "Taking Command at Fort Mill". Time. Retrieved November 9, 2008.
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  29. ^ "Bakker Issues Denial of Rival TV Minister's New Sex Allegations". April 26, 1987 – via Los Angeles Times.
  30. ^ "Fire-and-brimstone evangelist Jimmy Swaggart admitted today he instigated a..." United Press International. March 24, 1987.
  31. ^ a b "Son of Jim and Tammy Faye Finds His Own 'Grace'". All Things Considered. NPR. January 15, 2011. Jim Bakker is a cancer in the body of Christ
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  35. ^ Crouse, Eric R. (May 16, 2013). The Cross and Reaganomics: Conservative Christians Defending Ronald Reagan. Lexington Books – via Google Books.
  36. ^ King, Wayne (February 22, 1988). "Swaggart Says He Has Sinned; Will Step Down". The New York Times. Retrieved January 1, 2019.
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  40. ^ Carter, Joe (October 14, 2017). "4 Lessons for Christians from the Harvey Weinstein Scandal". The Gospel Coalition. televangelist Jim Bakker, who served an eight-year prison term for fraud, returned to a broadcasting ministry nine years after getting out of jail.
  41. ^ Miller, Hunter (September 28, 2017). "How a Sexual Assault Scandal Led to the Uncovering of a $158 Million Crime in a Televangelist Empire".
  42. ^ Schmidt, William (May 16, 1987). "For Jim and Tammy Bakker, Excess Wiped Out a Rapid Climb to Success". The New York Times.
  43. ^ Harris, David (September 29, 1997). "Former Heritage USA resort is again up for sale". The Business Journals.
  44. ^ "Top 20 Church Scandals: #9 Jim Bakker PTL Scandal". July 1, 2015. Bakker kept $3.4 million in bonuses for himself
  45. ^ Applebome, Peter (October 25, 1989). "Bakker Sentenced to 45 Years For Fraud in His TV Ministry". The New York Times.
  46. ^ Peifer, Justice Paul E. (April 12, 2000). "Jim Bakker's Federal Court Appeal". Supreme Court of Ohio website. Archived from the original on April 30, 2008. Retrieved November 29, 2007. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  47. ^ Witt, April (October 24, 2004). "No Joke". The Washington Post.
  48. ^ a b "U.S. v. Bakker". Google Scholar. 1991.
  49. ^
  50. ^ "Jim Bakker Freed From Jail To Stay In A Halfway House". The New York Times. July 2, 1994.
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  52. ^ Smothers, Ronald (December 2, 1994). "Ex-Television Evangelist Bakker Ends Prison Sentence for Fraud". The New York Times.
  53. ^ Krotz, Daniel (December 20, 2010). "Jim Bakker and the Counterfeit Hell Robbers". Huffington Post.
  54. ^ Newspapers, Kevin MurphyMcClatchy. "TELEVANGELIST REBUILDS HIS LIFE AFTER SCANDAL". Retrieved August 12, 2019.
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  58. ^ Bakker, Jim. "Broadcast Listings". The Jim Bakker Show.
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  60. ^ Reeve, Elspeth (May 17, 2012). "Jim Bakker's Doomsday Survival Gear Is Way Overpriced". The Atlantic.
  61. ^ "Time Has Come". Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  62. ^ Jim Bakker (June 22, 2016). "The 5 Principles of Faith". Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  63. ^ Mazza, Ed (October 17, 2017). "Jim Bakker Says God Will Punish You For Making Fun Of Him". HuffPost. Jim Bakker: One day, you're going to shake your fist in God's face. And you're going to say, 'God, why didn't you warn me?' He's gonna say, 'You sat there and you made fun of Jim Bakker all those years. I warned you, but you didn't listen.
  64. ^ "Disgraced pastor Jim Bakker says Hurricane Harvey was 'judgment' from God while selling his Tasty Pantry bucket for $175". Daily News. New York. September 5, 2017.
  65. ^ Tashman, Brian (October 17, 2016). "Jim Bakker Blames Hurricane Matthew On Obama". Right Wing Watch.
  66. ^ Delk, Josh (August 29, 2017). "Televangelist Jim Bakker: Christians will start a civil war if Trump is impeached". The Hill. Jim Bakker: If it happens, there will be a civil war in the United States of America.
  67. ^ Mantlya, Kyle (January 3, 2018). "Jim Bakker: Washington Train Derailment Was A Warning From God". Right Wing Watch. Jim Bakker: The great preachers of all times have said the Titanic is God's warning
  68. ^ "Televangelist Jim Bakker claims he predicted 9/11 disaster". Jolt Left. August 23, 2011. Jim Bakker: I saw 9/11 in 1999 before New Year's Eve ... I said there's going to be terrorism; there's going to be a bombing in New York and Washington DC. I said it would be at a high defense location in DC ...
  69. ^ "Jim Bakker Supports Arming Some Teachers: 'Jesus Loves AR-15'". Nova. February 22, 2018. To me, that is a sign that he is against gun control. God ordained Donald Trump and he supports his plan to arm teachers.
  70. ^ Marusak, Joe; Funk, Tim (February 27, 2018). "Fallen evangelist Jim Bakker and wife pay their respects to Billy Graham in Charlotte". Charlotte Observer.
  71. ^ Dyches, Chris (February 27, 2018). "Fallen PTL pastor Jim Bakker recalls prison visit from Rev. Billy Graham". Charlotte, N.C.: WBTV.
  72. ^ Brayton, Ed (October 5, 2015). "Time to Stone False Prophet Jim Bakker". Patheos.
  73. ^ Grider, Geoffrey (February 21, 2018). "False teacher Jim Bakker wants to sell you freeze-dried food so you can survive the coming apocalypse". Now The End Begins.
  74. ^ Gryboski, Michael (August 31, 2017). "Pastors Network Pres: Jim Bakker Is Wrong, Christians Won't Start 'Civil War' Over Trump Impeachment". The Christian Post.
  75. ^ Saunders, Martin (May 1, 2018). "Jim Bakker's TV show amounts to spiritual abuse – so why is he still broadcasting?". Christian Today.
  76. ^ Guest Contributor (July 26, 2017). "Prosperity Gospel Apocalypse: Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's PTL Empire". Patheos.
  77. ^ Wigger, John (2017). "PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Evangelical Empire". Google Books. John H. Wigger. p. 7.
  78. ^ "Eight Keys To Success". Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  79. ^ Bakker, Jim (1996). "I Was Wrong: Excerpt From Jim Bakker's Autobiographical Book. Bakker admits to study the Bible". Spiritwatch Ministries. The more I studied the Bible

External linksEdit