Jim Bakker, a Surprise Phone Call, and an Opportunity to Think

CoffeeCup_BW_1.JPGShe said, "You won’t ever guess who I talked with this afternoon."  She and her husband told me this as I stood in their living room.

She was right.  I had no idea.  I did think she had probably talked with her young son who was in a federal prison.  Her son had been convicted and was serving time for drug-related charges.  

This mother, a member of our church, tried to keep me abreast on how her son seemed to be doing in prison.  She regularly asked me to pray for him.  Since his imprisonment, he seemed to be making some good decisions and was trying to stay out of trouble.  Anyway, her son had called that day and said that he and a new friend had just taken a walk through the prison yard.  The son and this friend had some very encouraging conversations as they talked about their lives and God.

Finally, he told his mother that his new friend would like to talk with her.  The voice on the other end said, "Mrs. Smith?  This is Jim Bakker."   (This took place in the late 80s.  Most everyone who kept up with the national news was familiar with that name.)

As she told me that story, I  couldn’t believe what I had just heard.

Jim Bakker?

Yes, that Jim Bakker.  Again, his name was well-known throughout the world after a very public scandal.  He had been convicted and sentenced to prison for allegedly defrauding (24 counts of fraud) his listeners of $158 million.  When she said his name, I thought of the trial and the conviction.  I thought of the prosperity gospel he had preached on television through what was then "PTL."  On one occasion, while in Charlotte, North Carolina, I  actually drove to the Heritage USA theme park that he and his wife, Tammy, owned.  I walked through the luxurious hotel and then through the mall connected to that hotel.  All of this built by the supporters of their ministry.  I had a very negative impression of this man, his wife, and their ministry.

So when she mentioned Jim Bakker, her son, and this telephone conversation, I listened with great concern. 

She went on to tell me the rest of the brief conversation.  Bakker told her that she really did have a fine son.  He said that he and her son would take long walks through the prison yard, talking about God, life, and the Bible.  She said that at one point Bakker said to her, "I just want you to know that your son is doing OK.  He really is."

As we stood in the living room and talked, she went on to tell me how thankful she was for the kindness of Jim Bakker during that telephone conversation.  He seemed to genuinely want to reassure her that her son was OK.  She then said to me, "You know, he didn’t have to do that."

I thought about this conversation.  There was no press around.  This conversation did not take place behind microphones.  No cameras.  No one knew about this conversation except for this mother and the man on the other end of the telephone. 

I began to realize that I had taken an either/or approach to Bakker and so many other people.  My attitude was, "Since you are doing all of these things that are wrong, since you have swindled these people, etc., then you really are incapable of any good thing."   Period.

What I realized on that day was that Jim Bakker had done a very kind thing for this woman in our church.  And, it was OK to acknowledge that this was a good deed.  Of course, I am not suggesting that a good deed lessens the pain caused by someone’s past wrongs.  I am not saying that one ought to forget another’s misdeeds if that person does a good deed.  I am simply saying that it is OK to acknowledge what is.  It is OK to acknowledge a good deed.

Since then I have tried to learn from this incident.  It is so easy to differ with someone over their behavior or beliefs, etc. and then completely demonize them as incapable of any good thing.  We see this in public discourse on a regular basis.  Some who identify with one political party (it doesn’t matter which party) may find it difficult to believe that someone of another political party might do or say something good, noble or honorable.  On a personal level, we sometimes can be so upset with a person that we completely dismiss any good that person might otherwise do or say.   The truth is that it is OK to acknowledge what is.   It is OK to acknowledge a good deed wherever you may find it.

On a personal level, do you ever find yourself becoming so angry with another person that you can’t imagine that person doing anything good?  Have you ever found yourself so frustrated with a fellow worker or perhaps someone at church that you will not acknowledge a good deed?

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18 thoughts on “Jim Bakker, a Surprise Phone Call, and an Opportunity to Think

  1. Guilty as charged.  I know I’d have had the same things going through my mind if in the same conversation…and have done so in other settings with other people.It’s just so much easier to see people through the one-dimensional lens of their failings (though we want to be seen through the one-dimensional lens of success).  No one is only their weaknesses, or only their past failures, and praise God for that!  If that’s all I were, I’d whence at the mention of my own name.  We tend to hold to static impressions of people, forgetting that people learn, grow, mature, wrestle…forgetting that God is no more done with them than He is with us.  Thanks for the reminder. 

  2. Jim,  What you have described is something I have become aware of in myself and have been working on over the past few years.  I do tend to judge someone based on my limited experience or knowledge of them.  I have realized how unfair this is, and that I depend on the mercy of others myself in their estimation of me.  I have begun to consciously give others the benefit of the doubt and to look for the good that is always present in even the "worst" people.  Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

  3. Jim, I understand what you are saying.
    I think it also goes for other religions. It is okay to note where they are in agreement with God the Bible and our faith.
    Recently in talking with someone I reassured him that we shouldn’t be surprised when other religions have similar ideas on what is good and right. We should be concerned if it was not this way because God made us all and set up all the rules. Anyone, a believer or not, could find them from observing creation.

    I do think that Jim Bakker repented and actually wrote a book that talked about what he believed and why he believed it. I have never read the book but if my memory serves me he realized what he preached was wrong. Anyway, I think it is a great reminder. Thanks. 

  4. We’ve all done evil deeds.  However, Jimmy did them in the name of Jesus.  Wrong!!!  He and his philosophy are NOT to be trusted.  Now he wants YOU to build him a new empire and some are falling for it.  Good luck to all who fall for Jim.  They’re going to need it.

  5. James– I love the way you say this, "We tend to hold a static impressions of people…"  Is that ever true.  Unfortunately, I have done that all too often.  

  6. Connie,It is interesting the good that is sometimes present in the "worst" people if I look for it and am willing to acknowledge it.I can recall the surprise of seeing such good in others and almost feeling uncomfortable at seeing this good.  I would like to learn to rejoice over this instead of feeling discomfort. 

  7. No matter how much I imagine myself to be a non-Pharisee, it is in being confronted with an event like the one you describe in this post that I discover how mean-spirited my thinking can be. There is absolutely a place to judge another’s theology, but there is never a place to broad-brush/demonize another person with "you always" and "you never" thinking.

  8. It is such a shame to be in a situation where two people are talking about something encouraging and when one leaves the other tries to take the ‘wind out of the sails’ of the thing that has just been said. I have certainly been guilty of not believing the best in people, it is a great challenge because unfortunatly the church seems to be a place full of a ‘one-up manship’ which comes from a low self esteem. This post is a great example of why we should believe the best in people, even those who we write off. I also liked the phrase used in the comments ‘static impressions’ that is really at the heart of it all and makes me wonder whether we can become willfully lazy in our relationships and that can also be a contributing factor to not believing the best.

  9. Abraham said " If you look for the bad in a person you will surely find it" Jesus lived and taught the opposite . It is rough when our sinful nature gets in the way. Thank goodness the Holy Spirit helps us to see clearly

  10. I’ve been thinking on such things for a few days now, for different reasons. It’s funny how we can do this (decide a person can do nothing good because of certain bad things they’ve done), yet when it comes to ourselves we can be gracious indeed.

  11. Michelle,Thanks.  I like in particular your remarks in the last sentence about the "you never" and "you always" kind of thinking. Liam,I like what you said about becoming "willfully lazy" in our relationships.  I want to give that one some further thought. Tim,Thanks very much for your comment. L.L.,You make a great point.  It is funny how we will behave and then insist that others be gracious toward us. 

  12. Good thoughts here. I was so glad to read of Jim Bakker’s repentance from his book, "I Was Wrong". He seemed genuinely real in that book, not trying to sugarcoat his life or past at all, nor anything or anyone else. Yet the grace of God in Jesus seemed evident to me, in reading in it, at the time.