The “Real” Reason Televangelist Jim Bakker Went to Jail

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Jim Bakker is hauled off to jail in 1989

Here is an excerpt from University of Missouri historian John Wigger’s book PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire (Oxford University Press, 2017):

…on March 19, 1987, Jim Bakker resigned in disgrace from PTL after his December 1980 sexual encounter with Jessica Hahn in a Florida hotel room became public.  Hahn described Bakker forcing himself on her in an article in Playboy, while he claimed that she was a professional who knew “all the tricks of the trade.”  In the wake of the Hahn revelation, stories appeared about Bakker’s invovlement in gay relationships and visits with prostitutes, sometimes wearing a blond wig as a disguise….

The 1987 scandal was initially about sex, but it soon turned to money after it was discovered that PTL had paid Hahn and her representatives $265,000 in hush money.  When he resigned, Bakker turned the ministry over to fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell.  He and his team quickly discovered that PTL was $65 million in debt and bleeding money at a rate of $2 million a month.  That summer workers boarded up the unfinished Towers Hotel, which never opened.  Falwell and his entire staff left PTL in October 1987, less than seven months after he took charge of the ministry.  When he took over, Falwell praised PTL as “one of the major miracle ministries of this century.  I doubt there’s ever been anything like it in the 2,000-year history of the church.”  When he left he declared that Bakker had turned PTL into a “scab and cancer on the fate of Christianity,” a disaster unparalleled in the last 2,000 years.  By then PTL was already in bankruptcy, headed for liquidation.

Two years later, in 1989, Bakker went on trial for wire and mail fraud, accused of overselling “lifetime partnerships” to Heritage USA and misusing the money donated for its construction.  The trial unfolded in a circus-like atmosphere before US District Judge Robert “Maximum Bob” Potter.  A witness collapsed on the stand and Bakker himself had a psychological breakdown, crawling under his lawyer’s couch as federal marshals  came to get him.  He was convicted and initially sentenced to forty-five years in prison, serving nearly five years before his release.  For millions who watched the scandal unfold in the press and on television, PTL and the Bakkers became a national symbol of the excesses of the 1980s and the greed of televangelists in particular.

As many of you know, Jim Bakker is now out of prison and has his own cable television show.  We have covered him here.  Apparently, Bakker now has a different story about why he was convicted and sent to jail, and it has nothing to do with fraud.  Watch:

 

The Influence of Christian Media

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Jason Bivins, a Professor of Religious Studies at North Carolina State, reflects on the power of Christian media to shape American evangelicalism.  Here is a taste of his op-ed syndicated at The Conversation:

The power of these programs is more than simply the stories covered or guests interviewed – it is their social impact on religious beliefs.

Christian news is effective in conveying its views because it repeats claims that viewers already believe, and provides them with particular emotional experiences that are described as facts. This way of viewing the world has moved closer to the center of conservative politics since the 1980s, a period of time when the Christian right acquired more influence in American politics.

Consider how in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan began to be depicted as God’s agent on Earth. In the 1990s, the growth of multinational corporations and trade deals was decried as part of a demonic “new world order.” And today, when Islamophobia is on the rise, Christian television channels depict and celebrate President Trump as the fighter-in-chief, who defends Christians despite his personal faults.

The growing regularity of such examples has significant implications for American politics.

By presenting itself as authoritative, trustworthy journalism, Christian news reassures viewers that they do not need to consult mainstream media in order to be informed. More dangerously, it authorizes a particular, often conspiratorial way of viewing the world. It denounces neutrality or accountability to multiple constituencies as burdensome or even hostile to Christian faith.

Sadly, tens of millions of its viewers are left without a sense of two of democracy’s most necessary foundations: the value of multiple viewpoints and shared political participation.

Read the entire piece here.

Trump Has Given More Interviews to the Christian Broadcasting Network Than to CNN, ABC or NBC

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Trump shakes hands with Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network

Ruth Graham has a great piece at Politico Magazine on the love affair between Donald Trump and Christian broadcasting.  Here is a taste:

When “Huckabee” made its debut on TBN last fall, it immediately became the network’s highest-rated show, with more than a million viewers for a typical episode. Unlike every other show the network has produced, it is overtly political and squarely focused on current events. It has a variety component, with musical guests and comedians, and Huckabee occasionally breaks out his own bass guitar on stage. But in its six months on the air, Huckabee has also interviewed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump-defending Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, anti-abortion activist Serrin Foster and former Senator Joe Lieberman. The very first guest on his very first show, last October, was President Trump.

A generation ago—even a few years ago—this would have been unthinkable. Christian TV was largely the province of preachers, musicians, faith healers and a series of televangelism scandals. Politicians were leery of getting too close. To establishment evangelicals, not to mention the rest of America, Christian TV was hokey at best, and disreputable at worst.

But in the past two years, largely out of view of the coastal media and the Washington establishment, a transformation has taken place. As Christian networks have become more comfortable with politics, the Trump administration has turned them into a new pipeline for its message. Trump has forged a particularly tight marriage of convenience with Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, which since early in the 2016 campaign has offered consistent friendly coverage and been granted remarkable access in return. Trump personally has appeared 11 times on CBN since his campaign began; in 2017 alone, he gave more interviews to CBN than to CNN, ABC or CBS. Trump’s Cabinet members, staffers and surrogates also appear regularly. TBN has embraced politics more gingerly—it is still not a news-gathering organization—but Trump has made inroads there, too, starting with his kickoff interview on “Huckabee.”

Read the entire piece here.

Donald Trump, a politician, is now shaping the agenda of conservative evangelical television.  Another example of how politics and culture influence and shape the character American evangelicalism.  Trump should be getting credit as an unofficial producer for these shows.

A Message for Pat Robertson: “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter” (Matt. 12: 36)

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Richard Mouw President Emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary, has no patience for Pat Robertson’s antics.  In case you missed it, Robertson said the Las Vegas shooting was divine punishment for the disrespect Americans have shown Donald Trump.

Read it here.

Mouw concludes:

Those of us who believe in a Last Judgment know that we may learn a little more about God’s purposes in history when that day comes. In the meantime, we had better be clear about the warning that came from Jesus himself:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter” (Matt. 12: 36).

You have been warned, Pat Robertson!

As long as we are talking about Pat Robertson, do you remember when he leg-pressed 2000 pounds?

“Trump plays him like a piano”

RobertsonIf you have not seen it yet, VOX is running Tara Isabella Burton‘s revealing interview with Terry Heaton, the former producer of Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club.   Heaton is the author of a new book on his experience with Robertson and his Christian Broadcasting Network titled The Gospel of the Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP.

Here is a taste:

Tara Isabella Burton:

In today’s political climate, it seems like there’s an even stronger relationship than ever between CBN and the current administration. Pat Robertson’s been landing exclusive sit-down interviews with Trump, and CBN’s new shows like Faith Nation are further blurring the line between news and opinion. What do you make of that?

Terry Heaton:

First of all, regarding Pat and his relationship with Donald Trump — I think that’s very, very scary. As smart as Pat Robertson is, and as good as he is at marketing, he is also highly susceptible to his own hype. In that way, Trump plays him like a piano. If you watch his most recent interview, some of the things that Trump says to Pat are really way out there in terms of manipulating Pat. He builds him up like a salesman would, and Pat is susceptible to that, I think. But he wouldn’t be susceptible if Trump didn’t speak the language that Pat wants.

There is such fear on the right about the Supreme Court. I remember one show that we were taping in which Pat prayed that God would kill the Supreme Court justices. We had to stop the tape and advise him that he couldn’t say that on TV. But that’s the way he felt. Trump really sings Pat’s tune when it comes to the Supreme Court, also on the issue of religious liberty. When Trump starts talking about how Christianity is going to be “great again,” people like Pat sit up at listen. And they’ll support him whenever necessary — even if it means blowing up North Korea!

Read the entire interview here.

 

Defending Religious Liberty is Good for Business. Just Ask Jay Sekulow.

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If what I am reading about Jay Sekulow is true, it tells us a lot about the Christian Right’s crusade for religious liberty.  Sekulow is a lawyer, talk show host, and chief counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ).

ACLJ was founded by Pat Roberson in 1990 at Regent University School of Law for the purpose of defending a conservative view of the United States Constitution.  Today the ACLJ is associated with Sekulow, a graduate of Regent Law School.

Back in 2005, the Legal Times described Sekulow as “the leading Supreme Court advocate of the Christian Right.”  This role apparently makes him a lot of money.  According to the Legal Times he used over $2.3 million from a nonprofit he controlled to buy two homes and lease a private jet.  Here is a taste of that article:

Sekulow’s financial dealings deeply trouble some of the people who have worked for him, leading several to speak with Legal Times during the past six months about their concerns — before Sekulow assumed his high-profile role promoting President George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominees. 

“Some of us truly believed God told us to serve Jay,” says one former employee, who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisal. “But not to help him live like Louis XIV. We are coming forward because we need to believe there is fairness in this world.” 

Another says: “Jay sends so many discordant signals. He talks about doing God’s work for his donors, and then he flies off in his plane to play golf.” 

Still another told Legal Times, “The cause was so good and so valid, but at some point you can’t sacrifice what is right for the sake of the cause.” 

Sekulow shrugs off the criticism and makes no apologies. “I wouldn’t pretend to tell you we don’t pay our lawyers well,” including himself, says Sekulow. “As a private lawyer, I could bill $750 an hour, but I don’t.” He does lease a jet, he says, and he does sometimes use it to reach the golf course — but with donors or vendors, he insists. “We’ve been doing this for 20 years and never had a blip” of financial irregularity. 

Nothing in the relatively loose regulations that govern nonprofits prohibits family members from serving on boards, drawing salaries, or spending money. But critics say the extravagant spending burns up money that Sekulow solicits from donors for legal causes. Citing the high cost of litigating Supreme Court cases, Sekulow wrote in a 2003 fund-raising letter, “We are asking God to prompt every member of the ACLJ to get involved personally in this effort.” He added later, “Please send a generous gift right away.” 

Read the rest here.

Fast-forward to 2017 and it appears that little has changed with Jay Sekulow.  He continues to use appeals to God to fund his efforts and, apparently, his lavish lifestyle. The only major difference between 2005 and 2017 is that he now serves as counsel to the President of the United States.

Want to know what Sekulow has been up to since the Legal Times piece?  Click here.  And here.

I don’t know if what Jay Sekulow is doing is legal or not.  What I am interested in is the way that the crusade for religious liberty in America is lining his pockets.  (I do not know if Sekulow embraces the views of the so-called Prosperity Gospel, but it would not surprise me if he did). Sekulow is a regular commentator on Fox News and has become a prominent and bombastic legal voice for the Christian Right.  He has done a great deal to convince conservative evangelicals that their religious freedom is being threatened. He appeals to the fears of his followers.  When Sekulow shows up, conservative evangelicals are comforted.  He has their back. He will fight for them. He will take their case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Sekulow’s star will continue to rise among the Court Evangelicals as long as there are more and more threats–real and imagined– to religious liberty.  And as long as there are threats to religious liberty, Sekulow can keep asking for money.  Hmm….

Below is a video of Sekulow in action.  Notice how he and Megyn Kelly root their understanding of religious liberty in the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

This Week’s Patheos Column: Seeing the Hand of God in Natural Disasters

In case you missed it, Pat Robertson believes last week’s East Coast earthquake is a sign from God. According to the Virginia televangelist, the 4-foot crack in the Washington Monument has a spiritual meaning. “It seems to me,” he told his 700 Club audience, that “the Washington Monument is a symbol of America’s power . . . We look at the symbol and we say ‘this is one nation under God.’ Now there’s a crack in it . . . Is that a sign from the Lord? . . . You judge. It seems to me symbolic.”

Robertson is not the only one who has recently connected natural disasters to God’s judgment. In a campaign stop in Florida this week, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said that God used the earthquake and hurricane Irene to send a message to politicians in Washington. As far as I have been able to decipher it, the message had something to do with stopping deficit spending and listening to the collective voice of the American people who apparently oppose such spending. (The Bachmann campaign claims that she was, oddly, making these comments about the catastrophes in a light-hearted vein.)

A recent survey found that 40 percent of Americans believe that natural disasters are signs from God. If you believe this, you have much of American history on your side. Let me explain.

Read the rest here.