Jim Bakker's Son Tells His Story

July 13, 2001 -- Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were America's reigning king and queen of televised religion, and their son Jay was their publicly adored prince.

But privately, Jay's needs often took a back seat to his parents' ambitions, and when Jay was in his adolescence, the burdens of his parents' fall from grace plunged him into alcoholism and rebellion.

Now, in an autobiography titled Son of a Preacher Man, Jay tells the story of how he battled to overcome his parents' demons as well as his own.

"I see this book as a small step but also a really important step of putting things behind me," he says.

The Good Life

Once upon a time it looked like no doors would ever be closed to the only son of Jim and Tammy Faye. Their ministry, PTL, was the most successful on television.

By preaching the promise of God's everlasting kingdom, the Bakkers raised enough money to build a kingdom of their own called Heritage U.S.A. — part Christian retreat, part amusement park — that eventually drew 6 million visitors a year.

To build the park, the Bakkers had to raise half a million dollars every day, and fund-raising sometimes took priority over child rearing. Jim and Tammy Faye tried to compensate by giving lavishly to their children.

"They got everything they wanted because we felt so guilty about having to work so much— all they had to do is name a gift," says Tammy Faye.

Fallen Hero

In 1987, scandal rocked the Bakker household and the PTL empire. It became public that seven years earlier, while at a Florida fund-raiser, Jim Bakker had left his daughter on the beach while he went to a motel room and had sex with secretary Jessica Hahn.

This revelation of their affair cost Jim his ministry and turned him and his wife into national laughingstocks. Tammy Faye, in particular, was ridiculed for her extemely heavy eye makeup.

The humiliation was difficult for Jay. "I drank," he says, "I'd party … just to get away from it … I wanted to be someone else."

Soon after the affair became public, his father became besieged by legal troubles. Jim Bakker was convicted of fraudulently selling time shares and was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Jay, then 13 years old, watched the trial on television and saw his father have a mental breakdown.

Trying to Rebuild

When Jay turned 16, he was allowed into the prison to visit his father by himself. On his second visit alone, Jay had to deliver some devastating news from his mother: She wanted a divorce.

"I said, 'Mom's leaving you,'" remembers Jay, "And I think it was about three hours of silence there at that moment … It was a horrible day."

Jay says he was worried his father might try to kill himself.

Before he left, Jay promised his dad he would do everything he could to get him out of prison. It was a promise his father says he kept.

"I don't think I'd be out without him," says Jim Bakker. "He called everybody, he called the president of the United States … He called every minister in America."


Eventually Jim got his sentence reduced and was released from prison. Tammy Faye, after getting a divorce from Jim in 1992, married again.

When his father was set free, Jay was then 18 and an alcoholic. Although he had been working for his father's release, he found it difficult living in the same house with him. "We couldn't get along," Jay says. "We were fighting every day."

A few months later, Jay moved out of their North Carolina home and for a while took his drinking problem on the road. After drifting around the country, he eventually settled in Atlanta. There, he says, a pastor friend helped him realize that he needed to embrace religion in order to get sober.

"It was the realization that God loved me and doesn't have an expectation on me to be perfect … that just set me free for some reason," Jay says.

New Job and New Calling

Jay is now in the family business and has become a preacher. He says his Revolution Ministry is dedicated to spreading a message of God's unconditional love to kids, who like Jay, grew up feeling like outcasts. Like Jay himself, many of the members of his congregation look more like punk rockers than churchgoers.

"I feel like the church has ignored punk kids and pierced and tattooed people for a long time … and so we wanted to make a place where they could feel comfortable to hang out in," he says.

In spite of his appearance and the unconventional message he preaches, perhaps the most radical thing about Jay is that through all of the turmoil, he says he never lost faith in his father.

"I'm not saying my father's perfect," he says. "I'm saying my father genuinely had a heart and love for people."