Every year my family and I take a trip to the deep woods of Northern Michigan. I often joke it’s our trip to “the real America,” though Michigan is no realer than Connecticut or Massachusetts or New York. Still, there is something special about it and I look forward to it every year.
My daughter and I were flipping through channels late one night on the satellite TV and in one of the very highly numbered channels, the Jim Bakker show was on. I knew Jim Bakker from syndicated spoofs of his PTL Network show with Tammy Faye Bakker. Something about him symbolized everything wrong with the 80s. The over the top ambitions, the secular building built with money meant for God, not to mention the Theology Lite served up warm in chafing trays to masses who were ecumenical and well-meaning, but ended up having much of their money fleeced from them in what was essentially a time-share scam.
Jim Bakker went to jail for financial misdeeds and had his reputation destroyed by his affair with Jessica Hahn. Jerry Falwell, a disloyal shark in the Televangelist waters, smelled blood and sank his teeth into PTL. The rest was something rather sad. The light, airy tone of PTL and the Bakkers was replaced by a bitter and fanatical Televangelism of the culture wars. Where PTL showed Tammy Faye commiserating with an early sufferer of AIDS, Jerry Falwell pontificated, seethed, and cashed checks.
Well good ‘ol Jim is back and boy has he changed. He’s in Branson now, selling dehydrated food buckets for the end times and has even gotten into the hemp oil business, asking for monthly donations to receive overpriced hemp oil with panacea-like benefits only a quack would stand behind.
He’s also in the Trump business, one of those Evangelicals who stands behind a man who has broken almost every commandment and, by all measures, doesn’t seem to attend church regularly. No matter. According to Jim and his guests, the end times are near and Branson, MO is an important site in God’s vision of the end of the world. I have to admit I’ve always been curious about going to Branson, but more for the famous live music and Americana than a front row seat to the end times.
Trump and Bakker are natural buddies: relics from the 80s seeing things through much darker lenses in the late 2010s. Still with the power to lead so many people astray.