Hi and welcome back! Evangelicals love talking about accountability. It’s one of their very favorite Christianese words! But they don’t like being held accountable themselves. Maybe that’s why it’s so satisfying when they get held truly accountable by a source they absolutely can’t negate, hand-wave away, or ignore. That’s what happened this week to Jim Bakker. His sky is falling, and we’re here for it. Today, let me show you what happened to poor widdle Jim Bakker, and why it’s so important.
(I use “ministry” today in scare quotes. Everything else comes from noted sources.)
A Dramatic Fall From Grace.
Younger folks might not know much about exactly what went down with Jim Bakker in the 1980s. Here’s a good writeup of it, and we might go into more detail at some later date.
For now, I’ll just say this:
In March 1987, Jessica Hahn (a former employee of his) leveled some huge accusations against Jim Bakker. She said he’d seduced her — possibly after getting her drunk or drugging her wine. Afterward, he harassed her into staying silent about it. He bribed her lavishly with “ministry” funds as well, and then for good measure apparently forced her to sign a fake confession declaring that she’d totally seduced him and the sex had been all totally her fault.
(Similarly, evangelicals don’t ever care when their current idol, Donald Trump, refuses to take responsibility for anything he’s done wrong. Their motto’s always been: freedom for me, never for thee.)
None of Bakker’s childish preventive measures mattered in the end. A local newspaper got wind of her accusations. Suspecting the scandal was just the tip of an iceberg, they dug deeper into Bakker’s televangelism business.
The result of that investigation: the government indicted Bakker on 24 federal counts of fraud and conspiracy involving $158M in “ministry” funds that he’d misused. In 1989, he was convicted on all 24 of those counts. After some years in prison, he regained his freedom in 1994.
I was a Pentecostal during those years. His hypocrisy was easy for me and my tribemates to negate; we very obviously weren’t the same at all as these slick hucksters and their grabby hands always prodding their listeners for money. We despised televangelists and rejected them and everything they stood for.
Ah, but things are very different now in evangelical-land.
Grifters Gonna Grift.
In 2003, Jim Bakker returned to televangelism.
Hey, what else was he gonna do to earn money?
But he returned to a very different religious landscape than the one he’d left.
In 2003, evangelicals had achieved a great deal of political power. Their outright polarization had reached its nadir: by then, very few evangelicals would dare admit to being Democrats out loud to their church families, and if any of them supported women’s rights or wanted to be nicer to gay people, they sure didn’t dare talk about it.
In 2003, to be evangelical was to be a culture warrior.
The culture wars opened up whole new fields of permissible hypocrisy to evangelicals. At last, they could openly lust after wealth and power. They could openly fantasize about brutally punishing their enemies and critics. At last, they successfully redefined common words like love and compassion to give themselves full permission to hurt others.
Jim Bakker could now do what he did best — fleecing his sheep — and he could now do it openly without any fear at all of significant pushback.
The New Niche.
Soon, Jim Bakker settled comfortably into a new niche: scaring the pants off of evangelicals with apocalyptic preaching, then selling them disgusting dehydrated slop and inadequate camping supplies to assuage their terror. He became a mascot, showman, and mountebank for the growing prepper movement in extremist right-wing fundagelical Christianity.
I wrote about his new gig a few years ago because it was just so fascinating to me. This guy was always an obvious grifter, always an obvious conjob. Now, he seemed more obvious than ever. And yet nobody in his entire tribe seemed to recognize this reality, much less were willing to push back against him.
Maybe he had connections enough to discourage such pushback. Or maybe he was just so penny-ante that nobody who could do the job cared enough to do it.
And maybe that disinterest, whatever its cause, emboldened him.
Whatever the reason, he did indeed become emboldened.
When COVID-19 became a serious problem, he was Johnny-on-the-spot with woo miracle cures and preventives to sell people on his website. He offered a colloidal silver solution he claimed could prevent and cure the disease.
When that got slapped down by the feds, he next offered buckets of poorly-selected seeds he claimed would grow plants that could cure anything. But the damage was already done.
(At the very bottom of this post, you’ll find advice about seeds from Mr. Captain.)
Going Too Far.
Here’s a funny thing about scammers in niche markets (like evangelical televangelism):
As long as they don’t stray too far from their target market, and don’t make their game too out-of-bounds and noticeable, larger forces seem content to let them operate — at least to a certain extent.
But once they cross that line into outrageous noticeability, the situation changes rapidly.
Rush Limbaugh found that line and wobbled across it in 2012, when he slammed Sandra Fluke for demanding contraceptive coverage in insurance plans. His fans loved hearing him spew vile, vicious, sex-based slurs against her, but he lost a huge number of advertising sponsors and broadcasters in the process.
InfoWars’ host, Alex Jones, crossed that line many times. Each time, he’s gotten slapped for it. First, he began pushing conspiracy theories about an elementary-school shooting. Later, he threatened to shoot Robert Mueller. In the fallout, several social-media platforms canceled his accounts and he lost the ability to process payments for his merchandise through PayPal. Most recently, Jones gave disinformation about COVID-19, which resulted in Google Play’s decision last month to remove his InfoWars app from their app store.
And Jim Bakker may finally have discovered that line for himself.
The Accountability He Needed.
On April 14, Right Wing Watch reported that credit card companies had cut Jim Bakker off. They would no longer process credit card transactions for his “ministry.” Chances are good they cut him off because processing these payments violated their terms of service.
As a result, yesterday a new article showed up in my feed: he’s struggling hard, he says, and he needs his viewers’ help or he’ll totally go off the air.
He said he’s “living in the final days” (AWWWW, poor baby!) and fretted about going bankrupt. The only way he can fend off that awful fate is for viewers to buy tons of merchandise from his site and pay for it with checks. If people don’t bail him out and show him mercy, then that’ll be it for him and his “ministry.” He told his audience:
“They’re already bleeding us to death, and now we’re going to have to pay lawyers that will bleed you to death,” Bakker continued. “I know that they are watching me right now, and they’re having a ball. They’re having a ball, and they’re saying, ‘Wow, we got to… we’ve whipped Jim Bakker finally.'”
He never seems to learn. He just gets more and more and more whackadoodle as the days go by. Bakker demonstrates that typical evangelical trait of never admitting wrongdoing, much less apologizing for it and changing for the better.
No, instead Bakker insists that he is innocent and persecuted.
And his protestations might make matters even worse for him, as I’ll show you in a moment.
Why This News Matters.
Hucksters like Jim Bakker and Alex Jones make a lot of money on their merchandise and on donations. Hitting Christian hypocrites in their wallets is almost the only way to get their attention, aside from disrupting their access to their favorite porn, of course. If those sales and donations dry up, those hypocrites start self-destructing almost immediately.
In the 1980s, I noticed that one of Bakker’s televangelism peers, Bob Larson, spent a truly ridiculous amount of time on each of his radio shows begging for money. My then-husband Biff adored Larson’s show. However, I couldn’t stand to listen to it. It was obviously and very poorly staged, but far worse than that, Larson’s constant money-grubbing grossed me out.
Like Jim Bakker did this past week, Larson fretted constantly about having to close shop if people didn’t send him money. To hear him tell it, every single week his “ministry” hung on by a bare thread. He also whined and moaned about how his mean ole enemies were persecuting him alongside demons. Every few minutes, he used hard-sales tactics to pressure his listeners to take a stand by sending him money. Doing this would totally show that mean ole Satan that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ were winning the big spiritual war!
Hooray Team Jesus!
And Bakker’s doing all the same stuff now.
Following the Money.
But there’s a big difference between Larson’s fretting and Bakker’s. Larson expected checks in the mail in response to his salesmanship.
Though he’s using similar tactics, Bakker has no reason to expect a similar response.
Back in Larson’s radio days, checks were king. You could call and give your information over the phone, but a lot of people (especially in my crowd) distrusted that process.
When Amazon started up in 1994, I was probably one of their first customers — and I paid for my orders by check for years. I thought nothing of it. As online commerce slowly swam into the picture, I resisted it. Probably, many other people did as well. Eventually, though, I succumbed — as did most other folks. Now, most Americans do at least some business online.
A business that simply can’t accept credit or debit card payment is going to suffer. Most Americans prefer paying with a card or card number. One business site tells readers, “After a certain price threshold, expecting your customers to pay cash is simply bad business.”
So I think Jim Bakker’s already found his donations and site purchases dwindling quickly.
And Maybe There’s More Accountability on the Horizon.
I cringed when I read about this next part. I’m not a lawyer, but man alive, this sounds bad bad bad bad.
Jim Bakker has said on record that these meaniepie credit card companies believe all these LIES PURE LIES told about him by his many Satanic enemies:
They think because somebody told a lie about us, so now they’re saying, ‘Well, the people might want their money back, so we’ve got to keep all your money.’
He might have a care there,. He’s insinuating that the credit card companies are keeping all the money people try to give Jim Bakker. I don’t think that’s how that works. It’s possible they’re withholding the funds from Bakker to lower their own risk of chargebacks, but it seems more likely that they’re just refusing to process transactions made on his site.
If Jim Bakker keeps accusing credit card companies of bad business practices and hinting about them stealing money, they might decide to administer another hefty dose of much-needed accountability to him.
And his silver woo juice won’t help him out there, either.
NEXT UP: We’ll look at a stunning report I found about the (many) evangelical pastors dying of coronavirus. We’ll see if we can find a body count for this latest bit of evangelical wingnuttery. I mean, I guess I just wasn’t ready for a metaphorical death cult to become a literal one quite yet. See you tomorrow!
Please Support What I Do!
Come join us on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, and our forum at rolltodisbelieve.com! (Also Instagram, where I mostly post cat pictures. About 99% of my insta consists of Bother being adorable.)
Also check out our Graceful Atheist podcast interview! It was a blast.
If you like what you see, I gratefully welcome your support. Please consider becoming one of my monthly patrons via Patreon with Roll to Disbelieve for as little as $1/month! My PayPal is email@example.com (that’s an underscore in there) for one-time tips. You can also support this blog through my Amazon Affiliate link–and, of course, by liking and sharing my posts on social media! This blog exists because of readers’ support, and I appreciate every single bit of it.
BTW, for those wondering what a better selection of prepper seeds might look like, Mr. Captain answered thusly:
Figure out what nurseries your local small-scale farmers patronize. Talk to the people who run those nurseries and tell them what you’re looking for. Ask them what grows well in your area, considering your experience level, land availability, and time. They’ll steer you right.