Inside Jim Bakker's Life Today

With the September release of "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," a fictionalization of the rise and fall of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker and her pastor husband Jim Bakker, there's been a renewed interest in the criminal motivations of the latter. Jim was found guilty of defrauding thousands of people, who made up a large chunk of the couple's viewer base for their Christian TV network. Now, he's largely considered the only one to have played an active part in his self-concocted scam.

Though in the late 1980s, after Jim was found out and duly convicted, it was Tammy Faye who took the brunt of the public backlash. Though Tammy Faye found a new life by way of a second marriage, a third act as a reality star, and a status as a beloved LGBTQ icon, it's Jim, rather than Tammy, whose motivations might leave some with more questions than answers.

In interviews leading up to the film's release, actor Andrew Garfield, who plays Jim in the latest iteration of the Bakker story, shared his own thoughts on what transformed a public-access children's show pastor and puppeteer into a widespread fraudster. "He started to equate God's approval with his interpretation of the word 'prosperity,'" Garfield mused in an interview with People, implying that perhaps Jim was acting upon "misguidedness," rather than straightforward ill will or greed. So, could this be the case? And could Jim Bakker's life after prison hold up as proof?

Jim Bakker didn't fall from grace — he careened from it

As chronicled, albeit with artistic license, in the 2021 film "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's televangelist empire produced enough money for the couple to live more than comfortably — a lifestyle that also informed Tammy Faye's now-iconic, maximalist aesthetic, with thwicks of mascara to boot. It also aided in the Bakkers' ambitions to expand their domain well beyond the confines of the small screen. 

As Vox noted in their summary of the Bakkers' demise, the augmentation of their PTL Club network took the form in Heritage USA, "a kind of Christian Disneyland that in the '80s was one of America's most popular vacation destinations." In order to subsidize it, Jim concocted a timeshare scheme — through PTL membership subscriptions at $1000 a piece, donors were promised a days-long full resort experience and all the modcons at Heritage USA.

The problem? The hotel on the property had only 500 rooms for 66,000 "lifetime partnership" members, and made Jim's machinations fraudulent by definition. This — along with allegations that Jim paid off a woman named Jessica Hahn, who claimed he sexually assaulted her, to keep quiet about it — secured his reputation-related ruin. So did his ensuing 1988 conviction for multiple counts of mail and wire fraud, followed by an eight-year prison stint. He was released in 1994 and a $4 million debt to the IRS.

After serving time, Jim Bakker got back into the televangelism game

Now 81 years old, Jim Bakker resides in Missouri, where he has staked yet another evangelical ministry and accompanying local TV endeavor. In their own write-up of Jim's life post-prison, Distractify noted that he ushered in his second act in televangelism in 2003 with another production company, Morningside Church Productions Inc., with his flagship program "The Jim Bakker Show."

But according to a publication based in Charlotte, South Carolina, the same area where his television network and Christian theme park were once headquartered, it seems Jim hasn't entirely avoided the long arm of the law. In September, the same month "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" premiered in theatres, Charlotte Magazine reported Jim is once again in hot water over barking and selling unapproved, untested, and baseless cures for COVID-19 .

Mainly, Jimr sold colloidal silver supplements through advertising, which, per The Atlantic, are at best a placebo, and at worst, a snake oil primarily used to con consumers for their coffers. As Charlotte Magazine noted, Jim's alleged supplement racket led to a number of lawsuits in Missouri as well as Arkansas, which were settled in June of this year — though, as the Associated Press reported at the time, Jim did not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement.