While attending the North Central Bible College in
Minnesota, Jim Bakker met the woman who would become
his wife. Years later, the future Tammy Faye Bakker
became known as the sweet, ditzy co-host of his shows,
who also wore entirely too much makeup. At the pinnacle
of their fame, endless jokes could be heard on late-night
talk shows themed around her excessive use of makeup
and mascara. Even Tammy Faye herself joked, "Honey, I
am going to my grave with my eyelashes and my makeup on."
Following their marriage, they became itinerant
preachers, living out of their suitcases, going from
church to church. It wasn't long before larger churches
began inviting them to speak. By the mid-1960s, they
were hosting the 700 Club show, which aired on Pat
Robertson's Christian TV network. They remained there
until 1973, when the pair left to co-found the Trinity
Broadcasting Network. He then founded and served as
President of the PTL (Praise the Lord) club from 1974
till 1987. The popular show was beamed via satellite
to millions of PTL viewers. As the ministry prospered,
increasing amounts of money poured in. With the funds,
Jim began building a Christian retreat in South
The Heritage USA resort quickly grew into an
impressive Christian-oriented complex sitting on
hundreds of acres and encompassing a wide range
of shopping, ministry, lodging, and even a theme
park. The centerpiece of the resort was a magnificent
luxury hotel. Each new building added to the resort
became increasingly lavish. During the mid-1980s, they
offered "lifetime memberships" starting at $1,000.
This membership would supposedly entitle PTL
supporters to a lifetime of vacations at the Heritage
USA resort. In its heyday, the resort attracted
millions of visitors each year and employed two
thousand people. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker both came
from poor families, yet by now, were spending money
like there was no tomorrow. They were squandering
church money on luxury cars, several mansions and
the now-famous doghouse equipped with air-conditioning.
At the height of their overspending, the Bakker's
and their PTL ministry were burning through as much
as $500,000 per day. When their spending reached these
epic proportions and far exceeded donations coming in,
Bakker's on-air fundraising became frantic. They stooped
so low as to parade before cameras, frail, handicapped
children they reportedly wanted to help, in hopes of
increasing donations. As was later discovered, much
of the fundraising done in the final months of the
ministry, was not for upcoming projects or to cover
future costs associated with the lifetime partnerships
they were endlessly hawking, but rather, to simply pay
current day-to-day expenses. Investigations showed that
even as the lavish spending continued by the Bakker's,
the operation moved deeper and deeper in debt. Jim later
admitted, "I had to raise about $1 million every two days
just to stay alive." In the end, the ministry was 70
million dollars in debt. This despite the fact more than
150 million dollars had been donated by his followers.
Jim Bakker's son Jay, once commented, "Both of my
parents are ministers and at one time had the largest
church in the country until their lives were changed
by one of the biggest scandals in America." That
scandal came in 1987. The Charlotte Observer broke
the story of financial wrongdoings, beginning with
the payment of over a quarter of a million dollars
in church funds, as hush money, paid to church secretary
Jessica Hahn. The $265,000 payoff was intended to
keep a 1980 adulterous tryst between Jim Bakker and
Hahn a secret. Jim resigned as head of PTL in 1987
after admitting to the affair. It was later revealed
that Bakker had not only sold far more "lifetime
memberships" than he could accommodate, but was also
skimming millions in church money for his own use.
In May of 1987, the Assemblies of God defrocked Bakker
for his adultery.
In 1989, Jim Bakker was convicted of numerous counts
of fraud and conspiracy for stealing millions from
his PTL followers. He was sentenced to 45 years in
federal prison for bilking those PTL supporters.
Even after his conviction, Tammy Faye seemed blind
to his crimes, commenting "No, I honestly don't
think he (Jim) was greedy." Likewise, Jim seemed
content to blame others, saying, "I think the Devil
was mad. I think something so wonderful and
beautiful was being built, that the Devil was mad.
And then when we broke ground for the largest church
ever built in the history of the world, I think
the Devil said this is it. I think I've got to
smash Jim and Tammy Bakker." Jim had lost his empire,
then, while behind bars, his wife. In 1992, Tammy
Faye divorced him. She later married Bakker's former
best friend, Roe Messner. Messner was the one who
had actually helped Jim build Heritage USA. Tammy
Faye Messner died in 2007 following a lengthy
battle with cancer.
Jim went to jail in 1989, but served just a
fraction of his 45-year prison sentence and
was paroled in 1994, after a federal appeals
court reduced his sentence.
The loss of trust felt by viewers caused a noticeable
drop in donations for most televangelists for some
time following the scandal.
Jim returned to televangelism in 2003 with
The Jim Bakker Show. Based in Branson,
Missouri, this new venture was financially
backed by former PTL Club supporter, Jerry
Crawford. In 2007, Crawford began to see
his plans for a new Christian retreat and
retirement community come together. Morningside
at Blue Eye was developed on several hundred
acres of land near the tiny community of Blue
Eye, outside of Branson. Many years in the
planning, Morningside will boast its own
multi-use community center, condominiums,
townhouses, individual homes, an assisted-living
facility, a clinic, a mall featuring shops,
restaurants, offices and a youth center.
Bakker conducts Sunday services at the
Grace Chapel and The Jim Bakker Show
utilizes a new TV studio for its broadcasts.
Though Jim Bakker has been involved in
helping design elements of the Christian-themed
residential community, it is developer Jerry
Crawford's dream and his financial backing
that has brought the development to fruition.
Eyebrows were raised when Bakker began
soliciting large donations to help build the
new Grace Chapel at Morningside. While many
supporters lined up to be a part of the new
community, others wondered if history might
be repeating itself.
In 2006, his son Jay was the focus of a six-part
documentary, One Punk Under God: The Prodigal
Son of Jim and Tammy Faye, which aired on the
Sundance Channel. The television documentary told
the story of Jay's unorthodox New York City ministry.
The pierced and tattooed preacher brought his
message of inclusion to many unusual venues in
an effort to reach those frequently marginalized
by society and more tradition religions.
Early in 2008, Jim Bakker moved his operations from
nearby Branson and began broadcasting from new
facilities at the sprawling Morningside at Blue Eye
development. Journalists reported that a number of
previous PTL supporters were among the first to
visit and offer donations to his new ministry. Some
of those former followers have forgiven him, while
others state that forgiveness is unnecessary since
they feel he was unjustly prosecuted.