Reflections on the Jim Bakker Affair

From BRF Witness, Vol. 22, No. 5
September/October 1987
By Doug Harvey

Christians sometimes complain with some justification that the news media ignores religion. That has not been the case during the past several months. Since the Jim Bakker affair broke, TV, the newspapers and magazines, and even U.S. News and World Report have featured the story prominently. If nothing else, we cannot say Christians have been ignored lately.

I have no desire to attack or to pass judgment on Jim Bakker, but I believe there are some things to be learned from what has happened. I offer here some random observations and questions from the past several months.

1) One serious sin can easily overshadow a lifetime of positive accomplishment. This makes it imperative that we guard our ways carefully. Even the scent of scandal can obscure or destroy great gifts and accomplishments.

2) Independent ministries with no lines of accountability are prone to poor judgment. The decisions of the PTL Board to pay hush money to Jessica Hahn would not have been made by a board accountable to someone else. Only a completely independent board could do this.

3) It is always much easier to be negative than to be positive. The news people have had a field-day with this situation, but they have no idea how to report the great work of Christ’s people throughout the world. It is not just news people who face this problem. It is much easier for us to write a moving sermon against some evil than it is to write an equally moving message for some positive good.

4) The media is far more harsh on evangelical Christians than it is on others. Several years ago the head of the National Council of Churches resigned under very similar (except for the hush money) circumstances, and the secular media very quietly reported that he had resigned for “personal reasons” with no further explanation. Bakker’s unfaithfulness has generated a media circus with no holds barred. I am struck by the inconsistency in the press treatment of the two cases and wonder at the difference.

5) It is strange that Jim Bakker had no reliable Christian friends to turn to before the incident occurred. His story is that he was concerned that his wife was spending too much time with another man. He poured out his heart to a minister in Florida who suggested an affair with another woman in order to make Tammy jealous and bring her back. Are Christian media figures so much isolated that this is the best kind of friend that they can come up with? Is it that lonely at thetop?

6) Bakker’s far-reaching ministry is over. Whether you liked him or not, what has happened is a tragedy both for him and for the Christian community as a whole. He and his family need our prayers. Out of the ugliness of this situation, I hope some good may come. My best hope is that this will challenge, or if necessary, frighten, the other large independent ministries into a decision to be more open and accountable to their supporters.

There is no place for the smug satisfaction many seem to feel at Jim Bakker’s fall. We are all prone to the same weakness of sin that dragged him down. “There but for the grace of God go I” is a more appropriate ending for the whole affair.

Doug Harvey is co-editor of the Disciple Renewal newsletter, Box 106, Lovington, IL. The above editorial appeared in the June, 1987 edition and is used by permission.

Better Than An Amusement Park

By Maurice R. Irvin

This summer a prominent, Christian TV personality opened a water park that boasts an exotic beachfront, “the world’s largest wave pool” and the largest manmade tube ride ever built. His wife reportedly justified the $10 million addition to an already extensive amusement center by saying, “God wants us to enjoy life.”

A few months ago I visited countries overseas where the people of whole districts and large regions do not have a single opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have seen vast sections of some countries in which there is not a single church. I am, therefore, deeply disturbed when millions of dollars that could be used to evangelize the lost of the world, are spent on a project to enable North Americans to have more fun.

But there are some equally troubling implications in the remark made by the wife of the TV personality.

God does want people to enjoy life. But is the kind of joy which God wants His people to experience to be found by taking a tube ride or by swimming in a wave pool?

At times Christians need rest and relaxation, and no doubt wholesome diversion can be found at an amusement park. I have visited such places. But we are deceived indeed if we think such places are the source of genuine joy.

Frederick Faber wrote:

Only to sit and think of God,
Oh, what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the Name,
Earth has no higher bliss.

And I doubt that Faber would have changed his mind about “earth’s highest bliss” even if he could have spent a week at a Christian amusement center.

Just the hint that we need such a park in order to enjoy life may betray the fact that too few of us have discovered the supreme satisfaction for a human being, which is to be found in fellowship with the living God. We do our souls an enormous disservice if we run after the cheap cut-glass of earthly amusements, and neglect the priceless diamonds of time spent in intimate communion with our Creator. God help us to learn to value the transcendent experience of deep fellowship with the Lord.

We should also understand that our highest happiness is to be found in serving others. For example, Dr. William Ott (see 2/12/86, The Alliance Witness, page 20), spent his summer vacation again this year on a ministry trip to a third-world country. In June and July he was for 3 1/2 weeks in the Philippines upgrading the training and equipment of a Christian dental clinic in Bacolod City. Dr. Ott and his wife, Lydia, worked very hard in a politically unstable area. He spent several thousand dollars of his own money for travel and supplies.

A few days ago I talked to Dr. Ott about his experience. He told me that although he found a very primitive facility there, he was able to leave behind a modern dental office with up-to-date instruments and a dentist whose skills had been significantly increased.

Dr. Ott said that just before leaving the Philippines, he went to the clinic and looked at the new setup. The dentist was there, and she profusely thanked him for the training he had imparted. As Dr. Ott told me of that moment, I detected in him a deep, inner sense of satisfaction he could not possibly have found in a whole summer spent in wave pools and tube rides! He had experienced the supreme joy that comes from selfless service.

Let us not distort truth by any suggestion that Christians need amusement centers in order to enjoy life. We may find in such places a little momentary diversion. Children may be excited by the rides and sights. But there are ways for the Christian to experience a far higher joy than are afforded by any parks or playgrounds. And if we have not learned that, we are immature Christians indeed!

The foregoing article appeared as an editorial in the October 8, 1986 issue of The Alliance Witness magazine, and it is used here by permission.