Bakkers bounce back — but both bring books

Almost a decade after their ministry crumbled under the weight of mounting scandals, Jim and Tammy Bakker are back in the public eye — this time with books. Both are telling their story, but each has a very different story to tell.

Tammy: Telling It My Way presents a picture of the televangelist couple as well-meaning servants whose primary fault was trusting others too much. In Tammy Faye’s eyes, Jessica Hahn was a “professional” seductress, and Jerry Falwell a greedy double-crosser.

Her husband paints a less flattering portrait in the revealingly titled I Was Wrong: The Untold Story of the Shocking Journey from PTL Power to Prison and Beyond. Jim Bakker still denies that he defrauded PTL Ministry supporters in a time-share condo scheme, but fully accepts responsibility for his extravagant lifestyle.

“It was wrong as a minister of the gospel, I believe, to live that way,” Bakker said in an interview with Barbara Walters for ABC’s “20/20,” taped at his small farmhouse in Hendersonville. “Back then, I felt it was fine and justifiable.”

Tammy Faye Messner, who divorced her husband while he was in prison to marry one of his closest friends, bitterly denounces Christian leaders for failing to come to the aid of the Bakkers in their hour of need. “The ones we called on and asked for help (and believe me these were all the biggest names at the time) either wouldn’t take our calls or were out of their offices or away on trips or any other excuse you can think of,” she claims.

Bakker was convicted on federal fraud charges in connection with the sale of “lifetime partnerships” in his Heritage USA religious retreat center. He resigned in 1987 in a sex and money scandal involving a sexual encounter with church secretary Jessica Hahn. Control of the ministry was turned over to evangelist Jerry Falwell, but the ministry eventually went out of existence. Bakker served about five years in prison, and was released in 1987.

Exactly what happened in that Florida motel room between Bakker and Hahn continues to be a matter of some dispute. Hahn has charged that Bakker sexually assaulted her. Bakker writes, “I did not rape Jessica Hahn. The sexual encounter for which we are both now infamous was completely consensual.” But Messner insists that a minister friend goaded Bakker into having sex with Hahn. She writes, “Years later, Jim told me nothing would have happened between him and Jessica had she not been so skillful.”

Both Jim and Tammy have kind words for evangelist Billy Graham, whose integrity was a beacon during the dark days for television evangelism in the late 1980s. Graham called the couple during their crisis, and later visited Bakker in prison. Bakker recalls, “I felt as though Jesus himself had come to visit me.”

In her book, Messner has a word of advice for her ex-husband. “Jim, if you’re reading this, here’s my advice: Get on with your life and don’t worry what people think. Hold your head up high,” she writes. But Bakker, 56, is finding it difficult to get on with his life. The breakup of his marriage with Tammy Faye is a major theme of his new book, and he told Walters, “I really, really am lonely. I miss Tammy Faye.” He also talks of being sexually molested by a man when he was a boy, and of questioning his sexuality in prison, but adds that he was assured by a prison therapist that he is not a homosexual.

Hahn isn’t impressed with Bakker’s efforts to put the past behind him. She told the Associated Press that she believes it is part of a plan to get back into TV ministry. “What he’ll do is ask for everyone’s apology, say he was wrong, say the devil made him do it, rebuild the mailing list, rebuild his church,” Hahn predicted. “And we will have Barbara Walters and 20-20′ to thank for that.”

— E.P. News

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