Punk Pastor Preaches Tolerance, Compassion


Dec. 8, 2006— -- Pete's Candy Store is an odd name for a bar. It's an even weirder name for a church.

But it is here, in Brooklyn, at the back of this popular hipster haunt in Williamsburg, that 30-year-old preacher Jay Bakker, son of fallen televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, holds court every Sunday at 4 p.m.

Bakker is the co-founder of Revolution, a nondenominational church for those who feel rejected by religion, and Pete's Candy Shop is his tabernacle.

"Revolution is a church," explained Bakker in an interview with ABC News. "We meet in a bar. We're just kind of a church about God's grace and love.  We just welcome every people.  All people with no expectations of change or anything like that.  Just kind of a come-as-you-are church."

Along with friends Kelli Miller and Mike Walls, Bakker established Revolution in Phoenix in 1994 in response to the community's rejection of "a whole subculture of people based on their appearance and lifestyle."

In its 12 years of existence, Revolution has founded branches throughout the United States -- in Phoenix, Atlanta and in his mother's hometown of Charlotte, N.C. When Bakker's wife, Amanda, got word of her acceptance to graduate school at New York University, Bakker pulled up stakes in Atlanta (leaving friend Stu Damron behind to head the church), relocated to Brooklyn and set up his newest shop at Pete's Candy Store.

Raised in the spotlight of his parents' Praise the Lord empire and shattered by their equally public downfall, it's no surprise that Bakker is not your typical preacher. Sporting a host of tattoos, a scruffy beard, thick Ray-Ban glasses and a pierced lip, Bakker, who is a recovering drug user and alcoholic, is a far cry from the stereotypical Christian pastors many of us are used to.

"Going through my dad being in prison and parents going through a divorce and having every media eye on you at the time allowed me to have an empathy for people who are hurt and suffering and going through rough times," explained Bakker.

"I honestly thought maybe God had made a mistake, and I was that mistake, because I couldn't do these things he's talking about and I couldn't grasp what he's talking about. When I went into ministry, I decided I'm not going to put these crazy expectations on people. It's not fair.  I just felt that I could never be good enough, but then I realized it doesn't matter if you're good enough. You never will be good enough, but you've been forgiven."

More hipster than holy man, the media have christened him "hipstervangelist," "punk pastor" and "punk flocker," but Bakker's Revolution church is part of a growing national movement of youth-centered ministries that prefer the bar stool and the rock club to the pew and the steeple. "To me, it's like the same old church system dressed up with different clothes on. Pharisees can have Mohawks too," said Bakker.

Unlike many of its fellow Christian youth communities, which advocate fundamentalist notions about gender roles, homosexuality and abortion, Revolution touts acceptance, nonjudgmental support and grace as the foundations of its faith.

"The more I follow grace, the more I'm drawn to him [God], the more I'm willing to stand up for people being persecuted," said Bakker. "It sounds so churchy, but I felt like God spoke to my heart and said '[homosexuality] is not a sin.'"

Revolution's acceptance of the gay community was truly, well, revolutionary. It did not, however, come without a cost. As a result, Revolution lost $50,000 in annual support from an anonymous donor and, gradually, invitations to speak at Christian youth festivals dried up.

In the face of such opposition, however, Bakker has stood by his decision, opting to reach out to the faithful few on the fringe rather than sell out to the masses.

"I don't want to be a megapastor. I don't want to put my self-worth in how many speaking engagements I have. I want to put my faith in God," he insisted. "What I'm here to do is tell people about God's love and if that gets me in trouble, so be it."

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