Culture At Large

Tammy Faye fighting cancer

Andy Rau

Tammy Faye Messner--formerly Tammy Faye Bakker, wife of the disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker--is dying of cancer. In a moving letter to her fans, she recently revealed that doctors have stopped trying to treat the cancer. It sounds pretty grim. (See also one of several news stories about her apparently losing struggle with cancer.)

I find myself strangely moved by this news, although I haven't followed Messner's life or ministry at all since the big scandal in the 80s. In fact, I was yet a youngster when the Bakker scandal broke, and wasn't much aware of the event or of the huge impact it would have on the entire concept of televangelism. If, like me, you need a refresher course, take a look at the Wikipedia entries for Tammy Faye and and Jim Bakker. It sounds as though Tammy Faye hasn't slowed down since the scandal--although now, the ministry she pursues is a radically different approach than the PTL Club and its ilk. She has been the subject of a film charting her life after the disgrace, and in interviews she has focused on ministry to AIDS victims and segments of society overlooked by the mainstream church.

While searching around for information on televangelism scandals, I also came across an article from earlier this year looking back at the Bakker scandal and its continued influence on evangelism to this day. You may (or may not) be surprised to learn that most of the televangelism shows disgraced by scandal back in the day are still on the air--most of them reformed, or at least preaching heavily revised versions of their old messages.

It's interesting, and a bit depressing, to reflect back on all those scandals and the way they (unfortunately) shaped the public perception of Christianity. But I'm glad to see that Tammy Faye seems to have more than atoned for the PTL days, and I wish the best for her and her family in an extremely painful time.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Evangelism, News & Politics, History, Media, Justice