The Scandals That Led To The Downfall Of Televangelist Jim Bakker

The televangelist reached thousands of homes in the 1970s and 1980s until a series of scandals forced him to walk away from the empire he built.

Infamous televangelist Jim Bakker, pictured here at a "Pray for America" rally in 1981, reached thousands of homes in the 1970s and 1980s until a series of scandals forced him to walk away from the empire he built.

The televangelist reached thousands of homes in the 1970s and 1980s until a series of scandals forced him to walk away from the empire he built.

Photo by: Leif Skoogfors via Getty Images

Leif Skoogfors via Getty Images

In 2021, disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker and his Missouri church was ordered to pay $156,000 in restitution after being sued for falsely claiming a drug could cure COVID-19, according to ABC News.

During broadcasts of The Jim Bakker Show, the prosperity preacher claimed a product called Silver Solution could “prevent, mitigate, treat, or cure any disease or illness.”

Although Bakker did not admit to any wrongdoing, he reached a settlement that also prohibits him and his organization, Morningside Church Productions Inc., from advertising the item, which has not been FDA approved and has been blasted as being ineffective by several scientists and researchers, the ABC News report uncovered.

This isn’t the first time Jim Bakker has been involved in a scandal. In fact, several scandals led to his long hiatus from television.

Bakker gained national fame in the 1970s and ‘80s as the host of The PTL (Praise the Lord) Club with his then-wife, Tammy Faye. Fraud, infidelity, and eventual prison time would end his reign until he eventually came back in 2003.

FCC investigates Bakkers for misuse of funds

In 1979, Bakker and PLT came under a three-year investigation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for allegedly misusing funds raised for missions. According to Christianity Today, Bakker raised $350,000 in 1982 and told viewers that money was to support PLT’s overseas missions. Instead, it was used to pay for Heritage USA, a Christian-themed Disneyland-like park.

The FCC’s report also found that the Bakkers used PTL funds for personal expenses. Eventually, the FCC forwarded the report to the Department of Justice who didn’t press charges, citing insufficient evidence.

Bakker used the controversy to raise more funds, according to a report by the Washington Post. He described the probe as a "witch-hunt" and asked viewers to "give the Devil a black eye.”

Newspaper breaks news of Bakker’s sexual misconduct and how he paid to keep it quiet

In 1987, The Charlotte Observer published a few articles about the Bakkers’ finances. Among the findings that were published, Bakker paid $279,000 to Jessica Hahn who accused to the preacher and a co-host, John Wesley, of drugging her and raping her.

According to TIME, Bakker, who made all of PTL’s financial decisions, paid Hahn, a former church secretary, using PTL funds.

On March 19, 1987, Bakker resigned from PTL. He acknowledged having sex with Hahn but he claimed it was consensual.

John Wesley Fletcher, the other pastor accused of raping Hahn, told a grand jury, in 1988, that he had sex with Jim Bakker at least three times, according to the Associated Press.

“I was Jim Bakker’s male prostitute,” Fletcher said at the time. Another man, Jay Babcock, also accused Bakker of being bisexual and said they had sex.

While Bakker denied the allegations, Jerry Falwell, who succeeded Bakker as the head of PTL, barred Bakker from returning to PTL because of the allegations.

Bakker was indicted on mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy charges

According to the New York Times, Bakker was indicted in 1988 on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy. The indictment claimed that Bakker defrauded his faithful following out of $158 million by promising lifetime vacations that he could not fulfill.

The indictment also accused Bakker of using $3 million to support the lavish lifestyle he shared with Faye.

Bakker was sentenced to 45 years in prison but gets parole

Bakker was found guilty on all 24 counts on Oct. 5, 1989, and sentenced to 45 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay a $500,000 fine. Bakker later filed an appeal. In 1991, an appellate court upheld his conviction. But he was granted a sentence-reduction hearing, during which his sentence was reduced to eight years. He served almost five years before he received parole in 1994.

Last year, Bakker said his imprisonment was “aided by a group of preachers” and was an early example of cancel culture.

“They canceled me,” he said on the May 21, 2021, episode of The Jim Bakker Show.

“It was a group of preachers earlier that worked with them but mainly it was the media," Bakker said. "And the media got a Pulitzer Prize for putting me in prison. That’s what they do. They reward the enemies of the Gospel.”

For more information on Jim Bakker, stream Barbara Walters Presents “Jim Bakker: Fall From Grace” now on discovery+.

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