Every morning, the PTL Club would run from 7 to 8. I caught the bus at 7:20 so I would try to watch at least a bit of it. Jim and Tammy were my television family. I never gave money to them, although they asked. I gave my life to the Lord because of that show. I wrote my first song after watching an episode. I began struggling with the Bible because of that show. And I enjoyed the music. It was cheesy and 70s, but she was a 4’11” powerhouse who sang (while tears and mascara streamed down her face, of course) “Don’t give up. We’re on the brink of a miracle” and, with BeBe Winans (blatantly ripping off Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes) “Lord, Lift Us Up Where We Belong.” “We’re Blest” and “You can Make It.
I know what you’re all thinking. You remember the scandals, the begging for money, and the corruption, and Jim’s sexcapades. To be honest, I was never a big fan of Mr Bakker. He looks like a greedy frog who’s just fed on a particularly delicious bug (not to judge a guy by his looks or anything). But I remember other things about the show. I remember Tammy Faye saying she accidentally super-glued her eyelashes on, one time, and had to pray through the experience. I remember them talking about their daughter being caught with drugs. They talked about their pets. I remember the tour through their home, where they showed off not gold, but brass, fixtures on their bathroom plumbing. I remember thinking how messed up their kids would be, growing up in the shadow of all that treatment. I remember them opening a home for unwed mothers.
Here are a few facts about Tammy Faye (Bakker) Messner I bet you didn’t know:
- She appeared on a reality show with Vanilla Ice, porn star Ron Jeremy, and Eric Estrada.
- She had an enormous camp following amongst gays and lesbians, and was one of the first evangelical Christians to support AIDS research and gay rights.
- She and Jim were founding members of both the 700 Club and the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
- In their heyday in the mid 1980s, their theme park, Heritage USA, was one of the most visited attractions in the US (second only to the Disney parks).
- She appeared on The Drew Carey Show as Mimi Bobek’s mother, and on the 90s sitcom Roseanne as a makeup consultant.
- She battled colon, then lung cancer for eleven years.
- I watched her and her husband almost every day throughout my adolescent and teenage Christian journey.
She raised a son, Jay, who I admire more than many in the evangelical community, for his unpopular (for Christians) stance on homosexuality and gay marriage, and for being himself, rather than the narrowminded picture the church has painted. The evidence of God is in Creation. I’ll give God the benefit of that doubt. John Lennon said “Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.” I have to agree with John on this one. Thick, ordinary, pedantic, dogmatists are precisely why I no longer attend church. It’s just too difficult to throw myself into a community of people who, at the very least, annoy me, and at most, ostracize (or even condemn) me for my own beliefs. Jesus, as the Doobie Brothers so aptly sing, is just all right with me. Oh yeah. The rest of Christianity just seems to lack a bit of the power, and a lot of the conviction, of her namesake.
I’m going to tell a little secret here. I discovered, through anonymous sources, that Bethany University, my alma mater, is about to suffer a financial collapse that may see them close their doors (they need $2 million by April 10, or the Trustees will put an end to the humiliating debacle). The University was founded in 1919. Despite myself, I was crossing my fingers they’d make it to their 100 year anniversary. But now, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Many of the most important, formative moments of my life happened in this place, and because of my friends, instructors and colleagues. In the end, it’s just a place. People are people. If gross financial mismanagement can catch up with the likes of Jim & Tammy Faye (I just read that, if the PTL scandals and mismanagement had not occurred, given projections, the media conglomerate would be worth over $1 Billion), then how much more easily would a small residential college collapse–they’ve operated in the red every year since at least the 1970s.
The PTL Club (and mostly Tammy Faye — click this link to see her on RuPaul’s show) changed my life. Bethany changed my life. They had good, and bad points. They hurt lots of people, and helped lots of people. In the end, maybe the question isn’t how do we listen for the will of God, but how do we live with one another in harmony. Sorry I rambled. I’m just a mass of thoughts here.