Forgiving Jim and Tammy Faye
In 1989, the year I graduated from high school, Jim Bakker was convicted of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud and sentenced to 45 years in prison. Two years earlier he resigned from Praise the Lord (PTL) ministries after allegations of rape and payoffs to Jessica Hahn. He was, for me, an example of everything that I came to despise about the “Christian” church. I saw Jim and Tammy Faye as examples of the hypocrisy and excess of the church and swore to never be a part of it again. Only recently did I realize how deeply I had been affected by their lies and theft in both positive and negative ways, and only in the last month did I forgive them for what they had done.
The negative ways they hurt my faith are easiest to count. I was pushed away from the Church and from Christianity because I never wanted to be associated with people like them. I allowed them to define Christianity for me as something that was to be avoided. It was full of the worst kind of people, charlatans, frauds, and hypocrites, and Christians became, in my mind, those people who talked a good game but never lived up to the hype. They would say one thing and be another, “do as I say not as I do” types who were quick to send you to hell if you disagreed.
On the other hand Jim and Tammy Faye gave me a healthy dose of cynicism and skepticism about those who claim to be holy and have a special connection to God. A wariness toward those who claim to hold the keys to the gates of heaven and decide who gets in and who doesn’t. This has always helped me remember we are not called upon to be judges, we are called upon to show mercy and compassion for our brothers and sisters.
Most of all I was angry at the Bakkers and I stayed angry. Years later I came across an interview and article on CNN about Jim and Tammy Faye’s son Jay. Jay Bakker had started a church called Revolution in Brooklyn, New York. His ministry is also the focus of a new documentary called “One Punk Under God”. He is a pierced and tattooed 30 year old preacher. My skepticism about this new venture went through the roof until my curiosity got the best of me and I went to his website to prove to myself that he, like his father, was just another show with a hidden agenda.
A couple of things happened as I perused the site. First I found myself agreeing with most of what he had to say theologically. As I listened to a few sermons online I really liked his approach. Secondly I heard him talking about his mother and father as real people, warts and all. He spoke of how his mother was in the final stages of a battle with lung cancer and the strained relationship he had with his father. He was there, just a teenager, as his world collapsed around him in the late 80’s. His mother and father got divorced and his father went to prison.
In spite of all this on October 29 of 2007 year he invited his father to come and preach at his church in Brooklyn. Revolution meets in a bar. How ironic, I thought. I was surprised at what came from his mouth. He is now 66 years old and the first words that came out of his mouth were, “The farther I go along in life, the more people I let into heaven and the more people I love.” He went on to tell of his transformation, by finally, really accepting grace for the first time. He admitted that he had been looking for grace in all the wrong places for all these years. As I continued to listen to his process of being broken, my heart softened towards him and the dying Tammy Faye. I realized that after all these years they still had a hold on me. These two frail human beings who had taught me in a backward sort of way about mercy, were, after all, just two frail people who were loved by God. I have no doubt that when Tammy Faye died she was welcomed into the loving arms of her creator and that Jim Bakker in spite of all he was done is known by God. At that point I forgave them for what they had done to me.