Can the name and face of a brand ever recover from the stain of a scandal? It’s been 30 years since Jim Bakker resigned from the PTL Club after admitting to an extramarital affair with Jessica Hahn. Federal indictments and a 45-year prison sentence soon followed.
Jim Bakker’s return to television in 2003 might be proof that the name behind a brand can survive a scandal. Now, “The Jim Bakker Show” is rebranding the Bakker name by embracing disaster. And fifteen years later he is the face of CBD, survival food, and prophecy.
Jim Bakker was the biggest name in televangelism in the 1980s. On camera Jim and his wife Tammy Faye Bakker portrayed the epitome of Christian success on the PTL (Praise The Lord or People That Love) stage.
A vast satellite network broadcast their message into homes across the country. When it all came crashing down in 1988 few imagined that the Bakkers would return to the spotlight.
John Wigger wrote PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire. It revealed that the Bakkers wanted to create a Christian version of the “The Tonight Show.” Wigger claimed in an ABC interview that the Bakkers innovated the “Christian Talk Show.”
Bakker began by purchasing airtime in the late 1970s on regional public access channels. He later added small stations nationwide to spread PTL’s influence. Donations from the monthly pledges of “PTL Club partners” generated steady revenue.
Eventually, the Bakkers launched an independent paid programming satellite network. Soon guest stars from Billy Graham to Mr. T became commonplace.
What followed was a broadcasting juggernaut. Soon after, the Heritage USA 500-room hotel and waterpark. This Christian version of Disneyland, and later the planned $100-million dollar Crystal Palace ministry center reflected the merits of “prosperity gospel“.
Privately, the Bakkers had acquired several homes, a private jet, two Rolls Royces, a Mercedes Benz, expensive clothes, and an air-conditioned doghouse. This did not change the endless request for money at the end of every show. Telethons soon followed and grew in number.
Trouble appeared when Tammy Faye was treated for a medical emergency on the same day that the Crystal Palace broke ground. The Bakkers revealed to viewers that she was receiving treatment for drug dependency. Next, The Charlotte Observer published a story on March 20, 1987. Jim had resigned from the PTL.
An investigation by the paper revealed that PTL and the Bakkers paid $200,000 to silence former church secretary Hahn.
Hahn was flown to a hotel room in Florida at Jim Bakker’s request. She was told it was to babysit the Bakker’s two children. When Jim arrived, he initiated a sexual encounter that she called an assault and he claimed was consensual.
Jerry Falwell assumed control of PTL at the request of the Bakkers. He soon discovered that Jim Bakker was also engaged in multiple same-sex relationships and declared the Bakkers unfit to lead the church. Jim and Tammy Faye appeared on multiple interviews and made their case to the public
PTL earned $126 million in 1986. It was bleeding $2 million dollars a month when Jim Bakker resigned. A federal investigation indicted him on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy. Tammy Faye was not indicted.
On Oct. 5, 1989, a jury found Bakker guilty on all 24 counts. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison and ordered to pay a $500,000 fine.
Tammy Faye filed for divorce while her husband was in prison. She married PTL building contractor Roe Messner. Messner also served time in prison for fraud.
Her return to television included appearances on the reality show The Surreal Life and the documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
Tammy Faye announced in 1996 that she had colon cancer and in 2005 that it spread to her legs. She died in July 2007.
Jim Bakker started the Morningside ministry following his release from prison. Despite a reputation as a disgraced ’80s-era televangelist Jim Bakker began rebuilding his brand. He launched “The Jim Bakker Show” with his second wife Lori Bakker in 2003.
In addition to sharing a revised message from God that does not include “prosperity gospel” theology, Bakker is looking ahead to the future — specifically the end times.
Bakker offers a selection of “practical supplies” including books titled “Prosperity and the Coming Apocalypse” and buckets of dehydrated food.
Morningside wants to be a quiet little church nestled in the Ozarks like the painting that members receive for their $500 donation.
The painting excludes the compound located off-frame. It holds a bigger church, TV studios, a sprawling gift shop, rows of luxury rental condos, and the Morningside Beauty Salon.
The entire complex is 30 minutes from downtown Branson, Missouri.
The Simpsons called Branson Las Vegas as if it were run by Ned Flanders. The website Road Snacks labeled it The Most Dangerous City in Missouri. Jim Bakker calls it the safest place to be when the apocalypse strikes.
Sixteen years after his return to television Bakker’s name continues to sell a promise to his believers. His nonprofit status and the lack of a present-day post-apocalyptic dystopia disguise the true value that his followers purchase. In the end, it will always come down to faith.
Seth Singleton tells stories for one reason. Stories are the common thread that connect us all. In the end, everyone has a story to tell.
To contact him about a writing or podcast project email firstname.lastname@example.org