Brandon Knight, Ph.D.
Asst. Professor of Communication
William Carey University
In the earliest days of quarantine, I found myself scouring media and listening to medical experts, hoping to discover what would be an answer to the elusive question of our odd circumstance. Or, if I am being honest, I was looking for an emotional cure-all—something to put my mind at ease.
Online, of course, everyone had an answer. Some said, “It’s not even worse than the flu.” Others shouted, “This pandemic is going to change our lives forever.” As I read, I found myself as James says, “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” not knowing which way to look for safety for myself or my family (James 1:6). I even parroted others’ words in conversations to remind myself of the feeling of hope some of their solutions provided. Time has proven many of these prescriptions to be lacking.
The current pandemic has revealed that we are all looking for a very similar cure-all—a product with quick efficacy that puts our mind at ease about the future. We need such a cure because the rare liminal, or “in-between,” moment that we are currently witnessing on a global scale has pressed us, forcing us to examine our true motives. As such, many Christians have found themselves at a unique threshold, revealing fault points in their faith. A current example is pertinent to this discussion.
Jim Bakker, a televangelist known for his participation with Christian television’s Praise the Lord ministries and Heritage USA theme park and resort, was one of the most famous evangelical voices during the late-twentieth century. After a ponzi scheme was discovered, his fall was great. An inspector involved in the case described Bakker and his practices as manipulating others financially through their faith: “Jim Bakker was what I called a charismatic con man. The difference in his con was that he used God to fleece his thousands of listeners.” Sexual assault accusations notwithstanding, in 1989 Jim Bakker was sentenced to 45-years in prison for wire fraud and numerous counts of mail fraud. Just like his ministry, his assumed end was a global spectacle.
Bakker was released only five years after his sentencing, returning to the life of ministry. Instead of Heritage USA like in the eighties, today The Jim Bakker Show and other programs are presently based at Morningside USA in the Ozark Mountains. Although Bakker’s financial peddling has not changed, there is a distinct difference in the discourse of his current program. Instead of the hope and prosperity-filled sermons from decades ago, the end times have become Bakker’s focal point following his time in prison. As the Washington Examiner reports, “Bakker repudiated his prosperity preaching after he got out of prison, where he claims to have read the Bible in full for the first time. In its thornier passages, he has found a new theme for his ministry: the imminent apocalypse.” Moreover, if you found yourself watching his show, you would be amazed to find that many of his products consist of survivalist gear and buckets of food for the impending days of tribulation and Christ’s return. Interestingly, at the time of writing this column, the Gluten-free Black Bean Burger Bucket, the Italian Variety Bucket, and the Pizza Bucket—all of which sold for $100 per pail—were out of stock.
Jim Bakker is back in the news for selling a cure-all for COVID-19 called Silver Solution. On his show in mid-February, he pushed the product alongside a so-called health expert who indicated that the solution would probably work despite not being tested. Regarding other coronavirus strains she argued, “Totally eliminates it. Kills it. Deactivates it,” implying to viewers that a miracle cure had been sent by God. So, what’s the problem? Well, beyond not wanting to drink a 4-ounce bottle of mineral water with flakes of silver for the price of $80, Bakker was violating Missouri state law by selling a product not validated by the FDA and even known to make some consumers sick. Even the attorney general of New York wrote a cease-and-desist letter to the Jim Bakker show. Last month, Bakker found himself being sued by the state of Missouri and his product being pulled, and now singing a very different tune.
As a result, Jim Bakker found himself pleading with listeners to avoid facing bankruptcy. In a twist of irony, Bakker is looking for a miracle without the gimmicks. He recently said on air, “SOS, save our station, save our ship, help us stay on the air. … We’re asking people to give an offering, and we need a miracle.” So, what are we Christians to learn from the scheming and manipulation of Jim Bakker and others like him? Much.
Bakker’s life and ministry is one of spiritual fraud—manufactured “divine solutions” for those looking for anything and everything to put their minds at ease. Truly, Bakker knows the American church. If not catching attention through wealth and prosperity, fear proved just as fruitful—overflowing their buckets. But he is not the only one to blame, as millions of “believers” buy Italian Variety buckets of chicken for the end times or silver solution for an—at the moment—seemingly uncontrollable pandemic. In my mind, the probable end of Bakker’s second chance in ministry is revelatory regarding our own situation.
We need the real thing and not a gimmick. However, we seem to desire the gimmick instead. But sometimes unlike reading a novel, we are not able to see how many pages are left before the plot finds resolution. From our standpoint as Christians, we do not know how long before God puts evil and suffering dead to rights at last. The same can be said for every trial of life, including the current pandemic. Time has always been a major variable regarding the in-between spaces of life.
Even during Jesus’ ministry, he had to speak to the growth of the Kingdom and whether or not it would happen rapidly or slowly (Mark 4:26-29). Both of Bakker’s ministries illustrate how our lifestyles flow from seeing the growth of the Kingdom: if too slow, we focus on prosperity and wealth—but if too quick, we prepare for the end. Jesus’s teaching indicates, however, the biggest point—we cannot control or manipulate its growth. It seems like we have attempted in many different ways to control the flow of time, manipulating Scripture and God to build ourselves up emotionally, spiritually, or in Bakker’s case, financially. Instead of following the way of the Kingdom, we seek shortcuts instead of the long, enduring road of the cross, which was the final temptation Christ resisted in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 8-10).
The prophet Ezekiel faced a similar occurrence in his day. Others identified as prophets were giving good words and pronouncing blessings as a means to be liked and profit financially as opposed to informing the Israelites of the hard-truth—i.e., that their defenses were weak (13:10). Of course, positive words in uncertain times are persuasive, and who likes to be told that they are vulnerable? Well, the Israelites bought it.
These spiritual guides were even selling wristbands and headbands as magical forms of protection from evil (13:18). Therefore, God spoke through Ezekiel foreshadowing a coming judgment that would show the lacking substance of those peddling hope and lying. In fact, this judgment was an act of God to rescue his people from their manipulative and deceitful practices (13:23).
I obviously do not have God’s-eye view of things, and there is wisdom in knowing that. Nevertheless, I have learned a lot about myself and the Church during these trying times. I have discovered that, like others, I am looking for something to ease my anxiety and emotions during this uncertain time. I have learned that although I scoff at Bakker and his silver solution, I tend to “buy” other ideologies that do not even carry a faint residue of the true gospel. Finally, I have realized that the timeline of God cannot be slowed or rushed.
Sorry Bakker, there is no silver bullet that currently exists to get us past this epidemic. Instead, we will have to wait, pray, and be patient, learning again of true Christian hope which does not disappoint. In that time, we can listen as studies progress and numbers ebb and flow, knowing that God is working and is ever faithful.
As mentioned above, this in-between moment has revealed a number of fault lines for the Church’s—and even my own—faith and discourse. Thus, like Bakker, I too find myself sending out an SOS.
God, help me to be patient during these uncertain times, slowing my heart and tongue when I seek to rush your hand. Open my eyes to see that the road to Calvary was a long, burdensome road with no obvious light at its end. Yet, from that road you brought about a miraculous light that still shines on all nations to this day. Feed our anxieties and nerves with this glorious hope that will sustain us through and beyond this pandemic.
 Smithsonian National Post Museum. (n.d.). “Jim Bakker.” Retrieved from https://postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibitions/behind-the-badge-case-histories-scams-and-schemes-financial-frauds/jim-bakker
 The Jim Bakker Show. (2020). Morningside USA. Retrieved from https://jimbakkershow.morningsidechurchinc.com/morningside/
 Jones, M. W. (Mar. 2, 2018). Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker: A scandal of the self. The Washington Examiner. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/weekly-standard/jim-and-tammy-faye-bakker-a-scandal-of-the-self
 Stark, C. (Mar. 10, 2020). Televangelist Jim Bakker Pushes Fake Coronavirus Cure, Missouri AG’s Lawsuit Says. The Kansas City Star. Retrieve from https://www.kansascity.com/news/state/missouri/article241067436.html
 James, L. (Mar. 3, 2020). “Cease and Desist Notification.” Retrieved from https://ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/bakker_cease_and_desist_letter_notification.pdf
 Duncan, C. (Apr. 23, 2020). Televangelist who sold fake COVID-19 cure asks viewers for cash to avoid bankruptcy. Tri-City Herald. Retrieved from https://www.tri-cityherald.com/news/coronavirus/article242225266.html?fbclid=IwAR2LULE5Bc5CLamuQE267wXqXOi0u6O2jOZ-9JulUd_bFgYXkSe2aUGp3pQ