Monday, February 18, 2008

Bakker's Back!

The Church of the Orange Sky praises all religious leaders who have discovered ways to make absurd profits through modern telecommunications technology.

Older readers may remember Jim Bakker and Praise the Lord ministries from the 1980s. Back then, Bakker was quite a successful prophet for profit and raised an enormous amount of money to build a "luxury hotel" at his complex, Heritage USA. This was done through $1000 "memberships" entitling members to stay three nights every year at the hotel; far too many memberships were sold to actually leave rooms available if everyone took advantage of the "deal" on an annual basis. Bakker raised more than enough to build the necessary extensions, but most of it was siphoned off into the "operating expenses" of Heritage, and to himself through $3.4 million in righteous "bonus" payments. Another $300 000 was quietly funneled to church secretary Jessica Hahn, whom Bakker had sex with once in Clearwater, Florida. Interestingly, Clearwater is also the site of another religious point of significance: the Church of Scientology's primary "base," where construction on the "Superpower Building" is now underway.

Hahn claimed that she was raped; Bakker insisted it was consensual. Either way this was a little too much for a preacher, and he had to leave Praise the Lord ministries; his replacement was another member of America's pompous pious, Jerry "the Jackass" Falwell, better known for illegally spending millions in religious ministry dollars on political activism, funding the slanderous Clinton Chronicles, claiming that the Teletubbies were part of a gay conspiracy, and claiming that people who are pro-choice, gays and lesbians, and the ACLU were responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks. Bakker himself was sent to prison on various counts of fraud, initially for a total of 45 years. (That was reduced to 18 years on appeal, and he was released on parole after only five years.)

Anywho, Bakker's back after a long hiatus. He's actually been back for a few years, in the form of a new show on a Christian broadcasting network, but now his network of supporters have given him enough money to re-develop his theme park/resort, once Heritage USA, now relocated in Morningside. The "lifetime memberships" are out, but among other things, the project has its own brand of handcream that it's selling to raise money, and it's picked up some venture capital from an investor who was swindled by Bakker back in the 1980s but, like most of those attending the new opening, claims to have "forgiven" Bakker for his past transgressions.

Normally I'm critical of churches' willingness to crucify pastors who have broken the rules, especially when those are rules that others also break on a frequent basis. But why in the hell you'd want to trust a proven con artist is beyond me. The amount of faith these people have in Bakker is astonishing and disturbing, all at once; some proudly proclaim that when they received their small compensation cheques from the original swindling litigation against Bakker, they immediately sent the money back to him as a show of faith.