Jim Bakker

A televangelist who built a Christian-themed amusement park and was later embroiled in scandal and imprisonment.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Charismatic
Founder: Jim Bakker
Founded: 1974 (PTL Club)
Location: United States
Other Names: PTL (Praise The Lord) Ministries

Jim Bakker, an influential American televangelist, navigated a tumultuous career marked by remarkable achievements and scandalous downfalls. Born on January 2, 1940, in Muskegon, Michigan, Bakker’s journey into televangelism began in the 1960s with his work at Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), where he met and married Tammy Faye LaValley. The couple ventured into itinerant preaching before settling at CBN, where Jim Bakker’s knack for fundraising quickly became apparent. Their tenure at CBN ended amid accusations of misusing network funds, propelling them to establish the PTL (Praise the Lord) network in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1974​​.

PTL soared to prominence through “The PTL Club,” a show that, at its zenith, reached up to 13 million households, making it the highest-rated religious show in the United States. Another project, Heritage USA, a Christian theme park and retreat center, became the third most visited theme park in the country at its peak​​. However, the Bakkers’ success also drew controversy regarding their opulent lifestyle and promotion of prosperity gospel principles.

Jim Bakker’s empire began to crumble in 1987 when he was accused of sexual misconduct by church secretary Jessica Hahn and of misusing ministry funds, leading to his resignation from PTL. A subsequent investigation revealed that Bakker had misappropriated funds for personal use and had paid off Hahn to keep the scandal quiet. These revelations resulted in Bakker’s defrocking by the Assemblies of God and his eventual imprisonment for fraud and conspiracy after a high-profile trial in 1989. Bakker’s 45-year sentence was later reduced, and he was paroled in 1994 after serving almost five years​​.

Jim Bakker’s scandal-plagued career encapsulates the recurring rise, fall, and redemption arc among many American televangelists. After his release, Bakker returned to televangelism, launching “The Jim Bakker Show” in 2003 with his second wife, Lori. The show, which continues to broadcast from Blue Eye, Missouri, marks Bakker’s attempt at a comeback, focusing on end-time prophecies and redemption themes.

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