FORT MILL, S.C. — The Rev. Jerry Falwell and the men he appointed to run the scandal-ridden PTL ministry resigned en masse today and Falwell predicted that disgraced founder Jim Bakker--"the greatest scab and cancer on Christianity in the past 2,000 years"--would soon be back in charge.
Falwell quit rather than fight a bankruptcy judge's refusal to accept his reorganization plan for the television ministry. The judge instead invited the ministry's creditors to submit a plan--a move Falwell said would lead to the return of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.
"Barring a miracle of God," Falwell said, "Mr. Bakker will be sitting here in six months running this ministry, and I cannot think of a greater ill that could befall this ministry."
Bakker backers, on the other hand, were jubilant. Inez Brown, vice president of the Bring Bakkers Back Club, said the high-living Bakkers will be back "as soon as Falwell walks out. As soon as the judge turns them loose, Jim will come back."
Falwell said he and the board of directors, as their last act, had reinstituted a bylaw that would place the entire ministry in the hands of the Assemblies of God church.
"He did what?" said a startled spokeswoman at the Assemblies of God regional headquarters.
John Waites, U.S. trustee in the federal district of Columbia, S.C., said he has already filed a motion before Judge Rufus Reynolds "to have a trustee appointed" for PTL. He said if the judge agreed, he would appoint one person to run the ministry until reorganization is worked out.
"I can tell you I will not appoint Jim Bakker as trustee," he said. He said Falwell had promised him an orderly transition and promised "they would stay on until at least Tuesday of next week."
Own TV Ministry in Trouble
Falwell's resignation was not unexpected even before Judge Reynolds criticized PTL's reorganization plan. His own television ministry, the Old Time Gospel Hour in Lynchburg, Va., has been suffering serious financial trouble and had to drop off of 50 television stations last month due to lack of funds.
Falwell complained that even God was laughing at television evangelists over the PTL scandal, which cut deeply into all their contributions.
The "Holy Wars" over the lucrative PTL and its Heritage USA resort here began in March, when Bakker abruptly resigned, admitting that he had been paying a New York church secretary, Jessica Hahn, to remain silent about a sexual encounter in a Florida hotel room in 1980.
He asked Falwell to take over the ministry, accusing another evangelist, Jimmy Swaggart, of trying to seize PTL. In a matter of weeks Bakker said he was ready to return to the helm but Falwell refused to give it back, accusing Bakker of looting the ministry's coffers of millions of dollars and having homosexual liaisons.
Bakker then accused Falwell of swindling him out of PTL. Falwell said the Bakkers had so depleted the ministry's accounts that it could not pay its $14.2 million debt and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Falwell, a fundamentalist Baptist, was viewed with suspicion by the largely charismatic Pentecostal followers of PTL, and when he announced that the ministry could not honor the Bakkers' promises to the "lifetime partners," open opposition was quickly organized.
"Lifetime partners" contributed $1,000 to the ministry in exchange for three nights free lodging a year for life at Heritage USA. Many own multiple partnerships.
But Falwell said if the partners were included among the ministry's creditors, it could not survive. He claimed PTL had sold more partnerships than the hotels had rooms.