Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pass The Loot...And The Lima Beans: The Post 9/11 World Of Jim Bakker

I’m a big fan of religious television.


Back in my hometown, they had a low-wattage Christian station with all sorts of weirdoes and bad production. We’ll give them a pass on the limitations of their hand-me-down equipment, but they must take full responsibility for the cast of characters that passed through their television studios.

One segment they had featured a local lady with ties to the right to life movement. She once was put in jail for trespassing after she tried to superglue the locks at the women’s health clinic in Carthage, Illinois because they also performed abortions there. The town was about 15 minutes away from where I lived, but its best known as the town where they murdered Mormon founder Joseph Smith.

She’d do things like stand outside the Planned Parenthood with huge signs of fetuses. The last time I saw her, she was holding a similar sign on Highway 61-the same one of Bob Dylan fame-fighting off the wind turbulence of a passing semi while trying to keep her bloody fetus sign upright.

I have no recorded footage of her unfortunately, but I do have hours of the channel’s footage on an old VHS tape somewhere and it’s remarkable. I even have recordings of old Jerry Falwell programs and the master of sleazy pastoral duties, Robert Tilton.

I don’t know if there’s any local, over-the-air Christian stations around Cedar Rapids, but we have DirecTV, which is probably better thanks to the endless variety of Christian programming available on its channel line up. Sure, the production quality is better, but they have shows for every kind of faith, including old footage of Mother Angelica.

But one late night, I was drawn to an old favorite. JimBakker, the disgraced former host of the PTL Club continues to broadcast shows that are even more surreal than his past heights.

Now in Branson, Missouri with second wife Lori Baker, Jim has developed Morningside Church, another sprawling complex that is currently underway, suspiciously mirroring the Heritage USA theme park, if not in sheer extravagance then at least in kitschy décor.
Jim gives a tour of his new television studio. Paid with beans and rice.

Originally, I mistook Lori’s lisp for ignorance, noting how she would chime in about irrelevant matters while Jim struggled to put together some kind of mock sermon while selling survivalist items.

That’s right, Bakker’s new program features just about as much selling things than actual religious preaching, and the aging Jim Bakker looks like he’s very uncomfortable with the entire setup.

Where do you go after you’ve preached to the end of the world? When Bakker looks for reasons why we should spend money on gasless generators, solar power sources, and huge, industrial bags of rice and beans, he gets frustrated. He stutters like he’s thinking “What part of ‘End of Times’ don’t you understand? Shit’s gonna be annihilated, and you’re gonna need ‘lectricity!”

What once was lifetime members to Heritage USA via their old “Lifetime Member” contributors has turned into which poor sap will spend over a grand on fueless generators, a few hundred on solar powered ovens, and don’t forget the popular water barrel.

He works himself up to a point where an assistant begins to rattle of the feature list of the items of their survivalist “specials,” calming Jim down to a point where he can feign excitement over the news that the new waterwheel is nearing completion.

They bill their relatively new digs as “a place of refuge from the raging storms of a world gone wild – and a sanctuary for the Last Days” all in the remote confines of the Missouri Ozarks.

For a dude that still owes millions of dollars in tax judgments against him, Jim Bakker seems to be producing remarkable results by barely going through the motions. Sure, there are those aforementioned moments when he gets riled up about the “last days,” but it’s only because he needs to fill the RV park up to help pay the bills. And you’re welcomed to stay in the available condos that they have around Morningside, rental properties that Jim has decided to stay clear away from, possibly thanks to his checkered past in the hotel industry.

Throughout it all, wife Lori smiles, occasionally mentioning the 10 year relationship she had with an abusive husband in the 70’s & 80’s, the one that left her as a pot-smoking pill-popper living in a double-wide trailer and securing five abortions during her first time as a housewife.

She’s adopted five children with Jim, perhaps the number signifies the ones she chose not to carry, and she has the ability to turn moments like visiting with Jim’s first son into an uncomfortable encounter after she considers how the first son she aborted would be about the same age as Jim’s boy now.

For Lori’s past sins, you can now donate $1,000 and become a “builder’s club” member of Lori’s House, a place still under constructions in which unwed mothers can come and live, making sure that they carry the baby to full term instead of stopping by an abortion clinic for a quick termination.

It’s atonement for somebody else’s struggles with coming to terms with the bad decisions she’s made in her life previously. In some ways, Lori is the perfect spouse for Jim, carrying enough sin with her in her own past to match Jim’s.

At Morningside, they can quietly build one final monument to Jim, to realize his dream on a much smaller scale so that it doesn’t bring attention to the Missouri Ozarks. There, they can peddle their survivalist gear, thereby funding Jim and Lori Bakker’s own retirement village, one that requires him to record shows three days a week in shorts, polo shirt, and an ever-present hat that covers the missing follicles of a once-mighty head of hair. He rambles through his list of products that he needs to sell, occasionally peppering the discretions with an appropriate bible passage, lecturing to everyone that the horrible news they hear each night should be enough to convince them of the need for their products.

Bakker smartly places banks and lending institutions as the real enemies, occasionally telling a story from his old PTL days about how he experienced first hand at how banks refused to work with him when times got tight. He suggests how they will be the ones that initiate a complete economic collapse, and how certain Christians can overcome it with just a quick call of the toll-free number.

All of it seems to point to how utterly little either one of them have learned from their past indiscretions. With Lori, it suggests that if she just had a refuge, one where people could constantly barrage her with stories of how abortion is wrong, then she wouldn’t have had the five performed on her.

Again, the number of abortions that Lori Bakker had with her first husband is officially five. What’s that saying about fool me once?

For Jim, it appears that the only way he could get out of the six million dollars he still owes the IRS for Heritage USA mismanagement is to create yet another empire out of selling solar panels instead of time-share investments.

I’m not sure if all of this qualifies as rehabilitation, but it makes for some incredible viewing if you’ve made televangical voyeurism a personal hobby like I have.

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