As President Donald Trump promised to unleash ‘fire and fury’ on North Korea, a slightly-built, bearded TV evangelist bragged of his recent visit to the White House and warned of an up-coming ‘nuclear winter.’
Jim Bakker’s studio audience whooped and cheered – before reaching deep into their pockets to buy ‘Staying Alive’ food – buckets full of freeze-dried products apparently capable of sustaining survivors through the Apocalypse.
The charismatic pastor then made an impassioned plea for money to keep his ministry afloat – suggesting a year’s supply of pancakes with a 30-year shelf life for an apparent bargain $550 or four cheaply published books for $40 to tide readers over through Armageddon.
‘A lot of my grannies send checks,’ he said, as the elderly women who made up the bulk of his 60-strong audience laughed indulgently.
Then, somewhat tongue in cheek, the smooth-talking Bakker added: ‘Try not to send cash.’
It is astonishing that Bakker – forced out of his last ministry and imprisoned for defrauding his flock of $158 million – has managed to reinvent himself as a doomsday prophet.
Yet the Bible – something he confessed he’d only bothered to fully read during his five-year incarceration – teaches forgiveness. And his followers appear to have forgiven him – not only for his greed but also for the sex scandals that wrecked his holier-than-thou image carefully crafted by Bakker and then wife Tammy Faye via their vast Christian TV empire.
Tammy Faye – famous for her giant false eyelashes and makeup that appeared to have been applied with a paintbrush – died of cancer, aged 65, in 2007. She has been replaced by lookalike blonde Lori, 18 years Bakker’s junior, who he married after a whirlwind 50-day romance.
Today Lori sits alongside 77-year-old Bakker on his latest TV show, doing the hard-sell on their buckets and books, constantly plugging the Bakker website where end-of-times preppers can stock up on supposedly tasty treats that require nothing more than water to cook.
Of course, survivors of nuclear war might be hard pressed to find uncontaminated water. But on Bakker’s TV shows, he promotes Morningside – home to both his studio and 700 acres he is developing as a Christian community, complete with its own water tower.
Bakker has been down this path before. Overselling ‘lifetime memberships’ to his South Carolina amusement park and hotel complex led to his 1980s downfall. Morningside is also described as a theme park and features a brightly painted indoor town square dominated by a 15ft tall Jesus statue.
When Bakker isn’t taping his daily show on site, earlier episodes blare out of giant TV screens everywhere, including the complex’s grubby-looking restaurant.
A fake church door, plastic flower-filled garden and a quaint cinema sign proclaiming Christ’s imminent return have supposedly been copied from ‘actual oil paintings’ from England and France. The next two floors contain 125 real apartments – available for sale or $95 nightly rental.
Tucked away on the grounds are clusters of ‘cozy cottages’ and dome-shaped homes also for sale or rental. At the end of one long drive sits a large wooden mansion, named after Lori, to house pregnant women who have fallen on hard times.
Lori, 59, admits to a drug-using, promiscuous past – according to the couple’s website she had five abortions by the age of 22 and then endured an abusive marriage before finding salvation and meeting Bakker in 1998.
The couple adopted a family of five children from Arizona and several of them, along with Bakker’s eldest daughter Tammy Sue, often sit in on the TV shows adding to the folksy feel of each episode.
In the 1980s, Bakker’s own satellite network reached 14 million American homes and aired in 40 plus countries. That network is long gone and today it is hard to gauge viewing figures as Nielsen, the TV ratings service, does not chart Christian TV channels. But Bakker isn’t shy about selling himself or his wares on TV or on his website.
SOURCE: ANNETTE WITHERIDGE