In the 1970s, Jim Bakker and his wife Tammy rose to meteoric fame with their show ‘The PTL Club.’ The televangelists’ popularity soared as they rang in revenue of over $100 million at the show’s height. This allowed Jim to set up a Christianity-themed water park in South Carolina called Heritage USA. But it all came crashing down in the late 1980s amid a sex scandal and fraud convictions. ABC’s ’20/20: Unfaithfully Yours’ chronicles Jim’s highs and lows. So, let’s find out what happened to Jim since then, shall we?
Who is Jim Bakker?
Jim grew up in Muskegon, Lake Michigan. When he was younger, he was described as someone who loved the limelight. He met Tammy while in college in 1960 and married her after their third date. Soon, they dropped out and focused their efforts on becoming traveling evangelists. By 1974, Jim founded the PTL Satellite Network, where PTL stood for Praise the Lord or People That Love. The couple began hosting their own late-night-style talk show called ‘The PTL Club.’
The PTL network grew to hundreds of television stations between the years 1974 and 1977. The couple, who had humble beginnings, was now responsible for the network pulling in millions of dollars in revenue, growing up to $10 million a month by 1985. The couple then built Heritage USA in Fort Mill, South Carolina, over 2500-acre land. However, Jim and his ministry would later be rocked by two major controversies, leading to his downfall.
In March 1987, Jim resigned from PTL after it came to light that he had an alleged affair with Jessica Hahn, a church secretary, in a hotel in Florida. She accused him of sexually assaulting her. He later confessed to paying her a substantial amount of money to keep their tryst a secret. But that money came from church funding and not from his own pocket. Earlier, federal records showed that Jim used money from viewers in the form of donations for personal gains. He bought a sports car, a houseboat, and expensive mink coats. Viewers contributed upwards of $350,000, believing that their money would be used for religious programs in South Korea and Brazil. Part of the money was also used to build the theme park.
In 1988, a former worker testified that he had sex with Jim Bakker, but Jim vehemently denied it, saying, “I’ll tell you before God I’ve never had homosexual sex with anyone.” In the same year, Jim was charged with multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy. He took money out of the company funds and sold more vacations at his park than he could provide. He also sold more than 70,000 partnerships for a hotel project. In the end, Jim committed fraud worth more than $150 million.
Where is Jim Bakker Today?
In October 1989, Jim was convicted on 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy. Later that year, he was sentenced to 45 years in prison. He said at his sentencing, “I am deeply sorry for the people who have been hurt – the partners and the people who worked at Heritage USA. I have sinned. I have made mistakes, but never in my life did I intend to defraud anyone.” But an appeals judge later reduced his prison time, stating that the sentencing judge made inappropriate statements in relation to the case.
Jim was released from prison in December 1994 after serving about 5 years behind bars. By then, Tammy divorced him after about 30 years of marriage. Jim went on to re-marry and now hosts ‘The Jim Bakker Show’ with his second wife, Lori Bakker. The show started in 2003. He also sells freeze-dried food, asserting that the Rapture is coming soon. His new ministry called Morningside has been set up in Blue Eye, Missouri.
Now 81 years old, Jim was the center of controversy again during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. His show sold “Silver Solution,” which they claimed would kill the coronavirus. This was essentially a different form of colloidal silver and had no proven health benefit when consumed. A lawsuit filed by the Missouri Attorney General’s office in March 2020 led to a settlement in June 2021. The ministry agreed to refund the people who bought the solution.
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