Why are there so many televangelist scandals?

■ The scandal surrounding Jim Bakker, the head of a 500,000-soul television community of evangelicals, has cracked the credibility of television preachers. Nevertheless, the conservative Protestants in their numerous organizations in the USA with their 221 television stations have enormous political influence

From Tina Glitz

His tear-soaked television appeals to the "prayer partners" to save their church from ruin that was supposedly always imminent, got the donation dollars rolling. Around 500,000 committed themselves to transferring twenty dollars a month, plus the major donors: entrepreneurs and companies. When Jim Bakker (the name is pronounced like "Baker") first hit negative headlines in March, he was running an evangelical Protestant empire called the PTL. The abbreviation also stands for “Praise the Lord” and “People that Love”. The sales value of the PTL cable television station alone was estimated at 50 million dollars, the number of viewers at just under 14 million. And “Heritage USA”, the church's own counterpart to Disneyland, which delighted around six million visitors last year, is worth almost 180 million dollars. Even prominent politicians helped make the Bakker enterprise a success: the Carters and Bakkers prayed in the White House, and President Reagan invited the Bakkers to his inauguration. He was full of praise for their exemplary charity, which could perhaps fill the gaps created by reduced social spending. But last March the idyll came to an end: Jim Bakker had to admit that - seven years ago - he had "committed adultery" with his then 19-year-old secretary. Homosexuality was immediately added to him and, above all, he is said to have turned millions of donated dollars into luxury cars and homes. Bakker's wife, Tammy, received such a salary for appearing on religious TV shows that, in addition to sports cars, jewels and regular drug use (including rehab), she could also afford a fully air-conditioned house for her lap dogs. "God wants everyone to live in a first-class style," the Bakkers justified the luxury life in their television show, which reaches millions every week. The argument might also convince American Protestants because, like their Puritan ancestors, they are inclined to interpret material prosperity as a sign of divine grace. In March the public learned that of the 129 million dollars donated in 1986, just under three percent had been spent on charity. Instead, Bakker went into debt of $ 70 million. The PTL company has already drawn the attention of the authorities to itself: in 1979 the Federal Communications Commission opened an investigation which unearthed solid evidence of questionable management. Then, under Reagan's presidency, the investigation was abandoned without explanation. Back then, Bakker railed against the government's “satanic attacks” on PTL and was thus able to record a propaganda success. He won't succeed this time. Should a review by the tax office confirm that tax-free donations have flowed into the private pockets of the church hierarchy, millions would have to be paid back. That could mean financial ruin for the organization. In any case, the religiously based fairy tale existence of the Bakkers has an end for the time being. Also abandoned by Jesus Jim Bakker was denied the parish office by his church "Assemblies of God"; his position as chairman of the PTL was taken over by his competitor Jerry Falwell. Although the PTL community is disappointed, the majority of the followers believe and pray as always. She also prays for the poor Bakkers who succumbed to Satan's temptations. But it remains unclear which is worse: the sexual offenses or the misappropriation of donated funds. In public, the couple are amicable, a little humble and very willing to fight. They ask for a look on a television show. Thousands of people have come forward to help the Church. Bakker's offenses cast their shadows over the image of all television ministers, whose credibility has hit rock bottom since March. Donations are up to 25 percent lower than in previous months. Even in the country western scene there are doubts: A popular song describes how Jesus turns away from the wealthy TV priests. The political power of the preachers is reflected in the publicity hype surrounding the fate of the PTL and its founders. The machinations of a community are scrutinized on behalf of everyone. Anyone who thinks that mutually competing evangelical sects and groups are happy about the distress of the PTL because they can now divide up the members is wrong. Rather, the preachers see their influence in American politics, society and culture as threatened by recent events. The Bakkers are not indispensable for the political strategy of the conservative Protestants, but the reputation of the PTL, the trust of the “prayer partners” and public opinion are. The power of the American evangelicals, who now account for about 20 percent of all US citizens, has increased significantly in the past 15 years. You are not a closed community, but a movement that includes various groups of Orthodox and Conservative Protestants. In the past, their influence was mainly limited to rural areas and poor, uneducated sections of the population. But in the 1970s their religion modernized. Preachers turned to so-called "city problems" such as family breakdown or drug addiction. The demographic and socio-economic profile of the community has changed accordingly: half of the believers now live outside the southern states; one in three has an annual income of over $ 30,000; one in five has attended a university. Although all evangelicals are conservative Protestants, that does not mean that they follow a uniform religious doctrine. The Bakkers associate themselves with the "charismatic Christians". Your God is not very demanding, but affirms the modern zeitgeist of individual happiness and self-fulfillment. On the other side of the religious spectrum are the fundamentalists. Its strict leader, Rev. Jerry Falwell, interprets the Bible literally, has extremely rigid morals and expects exemplary behavior and strict anti-communism from his followers. In Bakker's congregation, “speaking in foreign tongues” is praised as divine dialogue, ailments and illnesses are healed by the laying on of hands; Falwell sees both as an outgrowth of diabolical machinations. The various Protestant groups have in common that all believers were "born a second time" by having a direct personal encounter with God. They believe that both Satan and Jesus seek a direct impact in their lives so that they are exposed to an ongoing battle between good and evil. They expect concrete help in this struggle from their preachers. They pray for the teenage daughter who ran away from home or raise their donations if God has given them the strength to quit smoking. The majority combine their strict beliefs with a successful, professional lifestyle. The "moderate" preachers do not want to impose or impose their faith on the environment, but rather convince them through their successful earthly life. You are critical of Jerry Falwell's fundamentalists because they claim the right to convert sinners. Despite these - not insignificant - differences, all preachers are anxious to develop their religion as an essential force in American society and to make politics with their religion. Statistics prove their success. 221 Evangelical TV Stations In the late 1970s, preachers gained a boost through sophisticated marketing strategies, most notably the use of television shows and sermons. So important is the role of television that the various religious groups are often referred to as "televangelists". The stars of the "Evangelist Shows" are (alongside the Bakkers) Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggart, cousin of rock musician Jerry Lee Lewis. There are 221 Christian Protestant television channels and 60 different programs in the United States today that are broadcast regularly and seen by approximately 40 percent of the television audience. The Christian Broadcasting Network, led by Republican presidential candidate Robertson, is the fourth largest network in the United States, has an annual income of over $ 200 million and broadcasts its programs in 65 different countries. "National Religious Broadcasters" (NRB) is the name of the umbrella organization that unites all evangelical broadcasters as well as the various organizations of the evangelical movement; all known "televangelists" sit on the board. Today about 1,125 organizations - about a thousand more than 20 years ago - are subordinate to the NRA. A look at the exhibitors and participants at the 1986 annual meeting of the NRA shows that the “televangelists” are by no means only concerned with religion. The South African and Taiwanese governments and the US Army had their positions there between a number of “Christian” groups, Reagan's SDI program, his intervention policy in the “Third World” and propagated rabid anti-Sovietism (e.g. High Frontier, Friends of the Americas, Gospel Crusade, Marantha). The religious television programs are peppered with anti-communism, patriotism and calls for political action. They have an effect: Reagan's election victories are not least due to the electoral block mobilized by the screen and pulpit. In 1984, 80 percent of evangelicals voted for him. Also in 1986 all congress candidates were classified by the Christian Voice group according to a “biblical point system”. Pat Robertson, who makes no secret of his contacts with the CIA, which he has already called "guardian angels", calls on evangelicals to wage the battle for souls at all levels of the US government. Falwell's Empire Indeed, it seems impossible today to be a conservative presidential candidate without Jesus. Jerry Falwell is arguably the most influential representative of the evangelical movement. His rhetoric is no longer as shrill as it was in the early 1980s, but that shouldn't hide the fact that he continues to systematically build up his power. In addition to his Moral Majority organization, which counteracts the country's social and domestic political problems from the right, Falwell has founded the "Liberty Foundation", which, with its six million supporters, propagates Reagan's foreign policy. For the future of his religion - and his politics - Falwell takes care of his "Liberty University", on the site of which there is a large tombstone in memory of the (aborted) "unborn children" and a museum that shows the biblical version of the origin of man " scientifically "reconstructed. The number of students there is to be increased from 7,000 to 50,000 by the year 2000. Falwell's total income from university, political groups, and church in 1986 was $ 84 million. His real influence is difficult to gauge, but the decision to put him at the head of Bakker's still very powerful organization shows that he is substantial. The excesses of the Bakkers should be countered by the strict rules and claims of a fundamentalist in order to restore the credibility of the evangelicals. The assumption is that Falwell wants to rehabilitate the PTL in order to be able to integrate them into his power empire. The fate of the PTL company has not yet been decided. Bakker demands to be allowed to lead his church again and can count on a number of loyal followers. Wife Tammy has acquired a less garish image in the beauty salon. The attorney they hired, Melvin Belli, is as infamous, wealthy, and flashy as the Bakkers' lifestyle was. Today, the telepath claims, he is as poor as a church mouse. Of course, he would like to serve God voluntarily, if God so wanted. But for now, he's asking for a lifelong salary of $ 300,000 a year. Falwell is appalled by so much audacity and greed and cleverly refers to Bakker's alleged homosexuality and questionable morals: “I love Richard Nixon, as do many other people, but that doesn't mean he can be made president again. Praying for someone is one thing. Promoting someone to management positions is another. "