Jim Bakker and the David Ickeization of Christianity

Just how important is Jim Bakker to American Christianity today? He now belongs to an older generation of televangelists, and despite having had a bit of a comeback in recent years, he remains a diminished figure compared to his status before the sex and financial scandal of 1987 and his subsequent imprisonment.

However, his Jim Bakker Show continues to be a favoured platform for evangelical “names”, such as the bestselling “End Times” author Jonathan Cahn, Lieutenant General Jerry Boykin, and Rick Joyner, who now controls the land on which Bakker’s doomed Heritage USA project was built. Upcoming guests include Anne Graham Lotz (Billy Graham’s daughter), the anti-Islam activist Brigitte Gabriel, and Steve Strang, who heads the neo-Pentecostal Charisma media empire. Strang’s Charisma News often carries articles derived from the Jim Bakker Show. Bakker also has links with Joseph Farah of WND, and in 2014 Farah, Bakker, and Cahn led WND tour of the Holy Land.

The pre-1987 Bakker and his then-wife Tammy Faye were kitschy and to an outsider’s eye somewhat risible, but it should be remembered that Bakker fell out with Jimmy Swaggart over Swaggart’s anti-Catholicism. It’s also easy to mock Prosperity Gospel teachings, but the glamour of the Bakkers’ lifestyle was also aspirational and motivational; those of us who have not experienced the poverty and lack of dignity that many of  the Bakkers’ older viewers may have remembered from childhood ought to bear that in mind before sneering. We will probably never know if Jim Bakker’s sexual liaison with Jessica Hahn was consensual or, as she alleges, was a rape, but overall it seems to me that the semi-sympathetic portrayal of Bakker by Kevin Spacey in the 1990 film Fall for Grace is a reasonable interpretation. Spacey’s Bakker is self-entitled and negligent in his financial stewardship, but not a predator or a con-man.

After prison, Bakker wrote a book entitled I Was Wrong, in which he repudiated the Prosperity Gospel. However, he also started emphasizing the End Times: in 1998 he published Prosperity and the Coming Apocalypse, in which he warned that the millennium bug (Y2K) may well “be a highly plausible explanation for what the Bible refers to as the black horse of famine and economic chaos”, and in recent years he has started claiming to have received visions from God about imminent disaster. In this, he certainly does appear to be predatory: notoriously, Bakker now hawks overpriced survival products, particularly grim long-life foodstuffs optimistically packaged with names such as a “30-Day Fiesta Bucket”.

Bakker’s self-serving fear-mongering also includes inviting conspiracy theorists onto his show as guests. Thus Charisma News now reports:

Vatican Built on Bones of Giants in Pre-Noah Age

The Vatican was built on the bones of giants and other artifacts that date to the days before Noah, author Timothy Alberino tells Jim Bakker.

But, “This isn’t a Catholic thing,” Alberino says. “This is the institution of Rome, the Holy See.”

Most Catholics have no idea what lurks beneath the surface of the Vatican, Bakker’s panelists say.

“Hidden away in the vaults and the archives … we discovered proof … that in fact—and this isn’t just some sort of conspiracy theory, it is the truth—that the Vatican has had access to hidden artifacts, especially artifacts relating to the reality of the world before the flood of Noah that they have confiscated and hidden away or covered up,” Alberino says.

This absurdity follows a recent appearance on the same show by Thomas Horn, a conspiracist whose projects include Exo-Vaticana: Petrus Romanus, Project L.U.C.I.F.E.R. and the Vatican’s Astonishing Plan for the Arrival of an Alien Savior (taglines include “The Role of Petrus Romanus for the coming Alien Serpent-Savior”).

Pentecostalism has a strong sense of the other-worldly, and its emphasis on spiritual forces sometimes means a readiness to accept claims about “occult” and Satanic conspiracies. Sometimes, pop-culture science-fiction elements may be incorporated, such as the idea that UFOs are visions of demons. However, the extravagance of the conspiracy theories now being promoted by Bakker are closer to the realms of David Icke’s imaginings than the exhortations of old-time religion or even the old conspiracy theories that were dusted off and made less overtly anti-semitic by Bakker’s old employer Pat Robertson in 1991.

Alberino, as quoted above, distinguishes Catholics from “the institution of Rome”, but it’s clear that his scheme boils down to anti-Catholicism. How else can one reasonably interpret a sensationalist DVD created by Alberino and an associate named Steve Quayle, called The Unholy See: The Vatican Knows all the Secrets, which shows a figure in a black cowl flanked by images of an alien being, St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and an Illuminati symbol? If Catholics are not bad people, it’s only because they don’t know about the Satanic nature of their leadership, it seems.

Other videos on YouTube include Alberino discussing the “Illuminati Infiltration of Christianity” with Fritz Springmeier, or talking with a certain Leo Lyon Zagami about a book called Confessions of an Illuminati, Volume I: The Whole Truth About the Illuminati and the New World Order (see Swallowing the Camel here for more on Zagami’s claims and those of other bogus “Illuminati defectors”).

Even the Bible gets a science-fiction re-interpretation, with Alberino discussing how Cain was “the first born hybrid son of the devil” and how there are “serpentseed links to the Sons of God”. This is completely bizarre and heterodox, and when considered alongside Springmeier’s claims about Illuminati “bloodlines”, alarm bells ought to be going off. The idea that a particular genetic ancestry is somehow the secret key to understanding world trends or events has an obvious endpoint: that some people – or perhaps a specific group of people – are less human than the rest of us.

This conspiracy milieu is something I’ve noted before, and Bakker is not the only figure linking this kind of material to Christian religious beliefs. Sid Roth’s It’s Supernatural is another example, and there’s also Chuck Missler, whose Koinonia House “Christian Think Tank” includes Joseph FarahErgun Caner,  Jerome CorsiAlan Keyes, and Tim LaHaye. At the moment, conspiracy talk about “what lurks beneath the surface of the Vatican” seems marginal and exotic – but the impression given when someone like Anne Graham Lotz sits on a sofa that has just been vacated by someone like Thomas Horn is that crackpot ideas about “alien serpent-saviors” and such may headed for the evangelical mainstream.

This is the David Ickeization of Christianity.