A new movie released this weekend gives Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker the big screen treatment.
FORT MILL, SC – The fall of Fort Mill-based PTL ministry was one of the most scandalous stories of the 1980s. For years the ministry has raised funds in the name of the faith, raising millions of dollars. dollars in York County, South Carolina.
Then it all fell apart. Now, the story of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker gets a second look on the big screen with the release of a new film, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”, this weekend.
The Bakkers have made a name for themselves as renowned televangelists, broadcasting the gospel on television while also soliciting donations for PTL. Ministry became a priority for Tim Funk, who was a religious writer for the Charlotte Observer and covered PTL for years.
“At the height of the PTL, we basically had a Christian Disneyland in our backyard,” he said, noting that the location included the Heritage USA theme park.
Ken Garfield, who reported for The Observer, said he interviewed the couple during their stay.
“At the root of it all is a story of scandal and theft from people in the name of God,” he said.
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Waking up from the dream
Funk said the dream ended with a rude awakening in 1987; an affair Jim Bakker had with 21-year-old church secretary Jessica Hahn has come to light. But the scandal got even deeper, and a team of Observer journalists helped uncover the truth: The Bakkers were spending other people’s money on their own way of life.
“Jim and Tammy had used PTL as their personal piggy bank,” Funk said. “Eventually Jim went to jail for five years.”
Jim Bakker was convicted of fraud in 1989. Initially sentenced to 45 years in prison, his sentence was eventually reduced to eight years in 1992, the same year Tammy Faye divorced. After serving only five years behind bars, the New York Times reported that Bakker was paroled in 1994.
The department’s appeal waned, but not before it had brought those millions of dollars to York County, along with longtime residents; Funk noted that many people have bought houses and rented apartments nearby.
Now the saga is back in the limelight, with Hollywood shining a light on it with “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” hitting theaters on Friday, September 17th. With the film set to reintroduce the story to a new generation, Garfield believes audiences will get a closer look at the Bakkers beyond what TV cameras captured during the Ministry’s run.
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“[Jim Bakker] was always pushing something, always doing a scam, “he said,” whereas with [Tammy Faye] if you get past mascara and silliness, there was a real human being there, and I suspect this movie will show that. “
Bakker made a return to televangelism about nine years later with a new show, according to the Daily Press in Virginia. At this point, he had remarried. More recently, Bakker has tried to sell colloidal silver supplements that he believes could cure COVID-19, claims NPR has reported that he has been sued by the state of Missouri.
Tammy Faye also reportedly remarried in 1993 and moved to Matthews, North Carolina, according to the Observer, taking the last name of her new husband, Roe Messner. The Messners eventually moved to a Kansas City, Missouri suburb in 2007; The Observer reported that this was done to be closer to Roe Messner’s children and grandchildren from his first marriage. She will remain in the public eye as she battled cancer for 11 years, from 1996 until her death in July 2007 at the age of 65.
Will the Heritage Tower stand?
Before the fall of PTL, the ministry had started construction of the Heritage Tower, located on the grounds of the theme park. The project was scrapped before its completion and has remained an eyesore ever since. Neighbors living near the old PTL campus – owned by MorningStar Ministries since 2004 – want the tower to go.
However, MorningStar said the tower will be renovated and turned into a Christian retreat community. A groundbreaking ceremony took place in June 2021, but WCNC Charlotte has learned from York County that no building permits have been filed.
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“I think York County wants it demolished – they went to court for it,” Funk said. “I am skeptical that this will ever happen.”
“It was a real black eye for televangelism,” Funk added, “but it started out as a very pioneering place.
WCNC Charlotte has contacted MorningStar Ministries several times since June – most recently Monday, September 13. At the time of publication, MorningStar has not responded to questions about the property’s future plans. The ministry told WCNC Charlotte on Thursday that it did not have enough time to draft an email response.
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