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PTL Follower's Crisis in Confidence

March 27, 1987|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer

"Jim and Tammy Bakker present Move That Mountain." "Jim and Tammy Bakker Say You Can Make It." "Jim and Tammy Bakker Offer a Grand Celebration for Triumphant Living."

"Jim Bakker gives Six Powerful Messages That Will Change Your Life." "Tammy Bakker Sings Enough Is Enough."

This, by no means, is all of David Miller's library of books, videotapes and record albums--at least $500 worth--which he has bought from the Bakkers' TV ministry known as People That Love since his conversion three years ago by a voice that told him, "Turn on the television set" when he was contemplating suicide.

Albums, Books and Tapes

The books he has proudly piled on the dining room table of his Ventura home have begun to yellow, especially "Showers of Blessing" which features a loving portrait of the husband and wife in day-glo rain slickers. The record album covers are peeling in places. And the videotapes' plastic protectors are cracking, particularly around the edges of the Bakkers' broad smiles.

Now something else of Jim's and Tammy's that Miller has treasured has become soiled and damaged: the reputations of the Bakkers themselves.

"When I became a Christian," the 29-year-old room-service waiter says, "I didn't know any other Christians, and I could come home after work and watch 'The Jim and Tammy Show' and look at these materials and be built up in the Lord and really feel great. But, I don't feel so great right now."

Don't misunderstand, Miller is quick to point out. What's bothering him is not that the Bakkers are embroiled in a scandal involving sex, drugs and blackmail. Or that they have been branded as "a cancer that needed to be excised" by fellow TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. Or made to look like laughing stocks by Johnny Carson, who joked in his monologue that Jim Bakker really checked into a Florida motel room in 1980 not to have an affair with a PTL secretary but "to study up on the Gideon Bible."

No, what bothers Miller is that the Bakkers aren't on the air.

"It's just that it isn't the same watching 'The Jim and Tammy Show' nightly without Jim and Tammy. I enjoy it a lot more when they're there."

"See, I don't know what's going to happen, what God plans for them, what God plans for PTL. It has been Jim and Tammy that have made that ministry. I don't go for all this division in the body right now. I don't go for hearing about lawsuits. I don't go for pointing fingers. Yeah, I've heard about what may have happened. But this doesn't change my feelings toward them. I'm just hoping they come back to TV."

The Disillusioned

But not everyone is. Outside the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Christians attending a special Easter service seemed disillusioned with the couple and worried about the scandal's effects on TV evangelism in general.

Marian Jenkins, 50, a cathedral usher from Santa Ana, says bluntly, "I don't like any immorality and deception on television." She worries that the PTL scandal will hurt the innocent TV evangelists "who are genuinely sincere in their beliefs. But people draw general conclusions."

Miller's ties to the Bakkers are stronger than some other followers. He credits them with saving his life.

He remembers every detail. The day--March 17, 1984. Even the time--11:55 p.m.

He had come home from work "and I decided I was going to kill myself," he says. He was coughing up phlegm from his third-straight bout with walking pneumonia "and the doctors had told me I was on my way out."

He had also fallen into a deep "bottom-of-the-pit" depression after breaking up with his girlfriend and that was jeopardizing his job. "Since I was dying anyway, I just wanted out."

Then, "and I swear this on a million Bibles," a blaze of light filled the room, an "all-knowing" person stood beside him "and a small, very calm voice inside of myself said, 'Turn on the television set.' "

'I Was Healed'

He turned it on to PTL's Christian television network. Fort Worth, Tex., evangelist Kenneth Copeland was signing off just as "The Jim and Tammy Show" was about to come on. Then Tammy Bakker appeared on the screen "when I had my conversion. And she was telling me to give it all to the Lord. It was just the most phenomenal thing and I was healed from that day forward.

"It's because of Jim and Tammy's determination in saving souls for the Lord Jesus Christ that I'm alive today. Because I would have committed suicide."

Immediately, Miller became a devoted follower of the couple and their ministry. Reared as a Catholic who went to church only on Christmas and Easter, he found an assistant pastor at the Channel Islands Christian Fellowship who also was a PTL fan and began attending services weekly. He replaced the "unsaved" tenants in his $80,500 town house with "born-again Christians." "I wanted harmony in my house," Miller says.

And he tried to do whatever the Bakkers asked their TV audience.

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