Book Excerpt: Jay Bakker

My parents didn't invent the gospel of prosperity. Oral Roberts and others started preaching that God wanted his people to live well in the 1950s. The message took root and became almost a tradition, especially in the charismatic movement. "God wants you to prosper" became almost as common a message as "God wants you to do good," "God loves you," and "Rock 'n' roll is the devil's music." With his satellite network, Dad was simply spreading the word to more people than ever before. And because they liked what they heard, his ministry reaped the financial benefits. Meanwhile on Wall Street, of course, prosperity was taking off in another direction. It was the perfect religion for the time.

The world at large has focused on my parents' preaching of prosperity, but as I sat in their room late at night and listened to them talk while playing with my little toy action figures, my men as I called them, I heard a different message — one of forgiveness and the abundance of God's love. In addition to preaching that on TV, they put their beliefs into action. I remember my dad always seating a mentally handicapped man in the front row, focusing on him, and periodically hugging him. When a little girl was abandoned at the church, my parents brought the toddler home and took care of her for a day until the mother returned to pick her up. They could have pawned her off on any one of a thousand employees or passed her over to the authorities. Instead, they incorporated her into our family and probably would have adopted her had her mother never shown up. And when vandals burned an African American church down, Dad made sure its parishioners got the funds they needed to rebuild. He even sent his own staff to quicken the restoration. His goal was to make PTL a place where anyone with a need could walk in off the streets and have that need met.

Strangely, especially since we were considered by many to be the first family of Christianity, I don't remember my parents talking to me about religion or even reading me stories from the Bible. It was as if I'd absorbed the gospel through my skin during Dad's sermons.

When I did think of heaven, I pictured big white clouds, mansions, and streets paved with gold (I suppose because gold's deemed our most precious material on earth; God's kingdom would be so wonderful that we would be able to metaphorically walk on gold!)

Hell, on the other hand, could be summed up in a single word: fire.

And grace? That was just a song.

Like any good Christian kid, I went to Sunday school and was a member of the Royal Rangers (the Christian equivalent of the Boy Scouts). Between those experiences and the many speakers I was exposed to at PTL, confusion was bound to arise. I remember one of the guests who came on my parents' show announced that Smurf dolls were satanic. I had given my sister a bunch of Smurfs as a present — she threw them back in my room so the devil would get me instead of her.

My Sunday school teacher preached a lot about the rapture, stressing that if we did something wrong, Jesus would take everyone but us to heaven upon His return.

"Are you going to be read?, when Jesus returns, or will you be left behind?" he regularly questioned.

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