John WiggerOct 5, 2021
The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Evangelical Empire
Oxford University Press 2017
In 1974 Jim and Tammy Bakker launched their television show, the "PTL Club," from a former furniture store in Charlotte, N.C. with half a dozen friends. By 1987 they stood at the center of a ministry empire that included their own satellite network, a 2300-acre theme park visited by six million people a year, and millions of adoring fans. The Bakkers led a life of conspicuous consumption perfectly aligned with the prosperity gospel they preached. They bought vacation homes, traveled first-class with an entourage and proclaimed that God wanted everyone to be healthy and wealthy.
When it all fell apart, after revelations of a sex scandal and massive financial mismanagement, all of America watched more than two years of federal investigation and trial as Jim was eventually convicted on 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy. He would go on to serve five years in federal prison.
PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Evangelical Empire (Oxford UP, 2017) is more than just the spectacular story of the rise and fall of the Bakkers, John Wigger traces their lives from humble beginnings to wealth, fame, and eventual disgrace. At its core, PTL is the story of a group of people committed to religious innovation, who pushed the boundaries of evangelical religion's engagement with American culture.
Drawing on trial transcripts, videotapes, newspaper articles, and interviews with key insiders, dissidents, and lawyers, Wigger reveals the power of religion to redirect American culture. This is the story of a grand vision gone wrong, of the power of big religion in American life and its limits.