FORT MILL, S.C. — The Rev. Jerry Falwell said Thursday that if followers of the PTL ministry do not send in $7 million by the end of the month, he will shut down the whole scandal-plagued empire.
"We need the most sacrificial gift you can send," Falwell told viewers of the ministry's daily "PTL Club" television show.
"If we're going to honor our creditors, we need to raise at least that by May 31, and probably $20 million to $25 million over the next 90 days," Falwell said. "We have no alternative. We either do that or shut down."
When he took over the television ministry and Christian theme park-resort from its disgraced founder, Jim Bakker, on March 19, Falwell pledged not to "beg for money on the air."
He said Thursday, however, that the PTL is on its last financial legs.
"We must raise at least $7 million between today and May 31 or this entire ministry will be in dire jeopardy," Falwell told viewers. "If you don't want this ministry to continue, just ignore me. If you want this ministry's doors to stay open, you write to me today."
Debt to TV Stations
Falwell said the ministry owes the television stations that carry its program more than $8 million and must make significant payments on the debt by the end of the month or the program "will cease to be on the air."
He also said the ministry owes its primary creditor, contractor Roe Messner, more than $10 million. Messner ordered his workers to board up the unfinished $27-million Heritage Grand Towers hotel at the PTL's Heritage USA resort and theme park Wednesday.
On May 7, Messner filed a $14-million lien against PTL in York County, S.C., but later withdrew it. Jerry Nims, chairman of the PTL board's executive committee, said Messner is willing to work with PTL until his debts are paid.
Nims announced last week that PTL was $65 million in debt and that 200 employees were being dismissed to reduce the monthly payroll by $1.2 million.
"It is taking everything we can do to make payroll tomorrow," Falwell told viewers. "We will make it, but just barely. From that point on, we have nothing. We can make it somehow, but we're on very thin ice."
Falwell said the ministry has lost between $1 million and $4 million a month in operating costs during the last year. He did not specify how much of that had occurred since Bakker resigned because of a sex scandal.
Falwell told viewers that the "exorbitant salaries and bonuses" paid to PTL executives during Bakker's reign had been discontinued. Falwell said he would provide details of a financial audit to every contributor within the next few weeks.
Falwell took over the ministry at the request of Bakker, who resigned after admitting that he had had a sexual encounter with a former church secretary in 1980.