- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 10, 2007

DAYTON, Ohio

When a loved one falls morally, the pain experienced by the family can be overwhelming. In some cases, it can take a lifetime to pick up the pieces. At least that’s what Jay Bakker discovered.

The son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker (now Messner), Mr. Bakker grew up in the media spotlight of his parents’ Praise the Lord ministry.

Because of an illicit affair with the church secretary, Jessica Hahn, Jim Bakker stepped down from PTL ministries in 1987. He was later convicted of fraud and tax evasion and sentenced to prison in 1989.

Eleven-year-old Jay experienced the trauma of his father’s public descent, the relentless media coverage of the scandal and the pain of his parents’ divorce.

“It was quite a devastating time,” Mr. Bakker says.

“It was one thing to know that your parents made mistakes and that my dad had an affair, but it seemed like all the criticism and negativity really overshadowed that. You get to a point where you accept that. But people don’t stop attacking — especially when it’s other believers. It made it very hard.”

The church can be a burdensome place when your family is marked by scandal.

Mr. Bakker recalls visiting a church in Arizona after his father went to prison: “The first thing that happens is the youth pastor starts telling jokes about my parents. He didn’t know I was there,” Mr. Bakker says.

The effects of his father’s sins would set him on a pilgrimage filled with alcohol, drugs and a search for acceptance.

“I was looking for some people who would care about me,” he says.

Mr. Bakker admittedly didn’t feel that he belonged in the church, but he says he always felt “called” by God. After experiencing the emptiness of his edgy lifestyle, he returned to his faith and, with help, started Revolution Church.

Mr. Bakker preaches every Sunday at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn. It’s not your typical church — more punk than pious — and it’s a bold contrast with his father’s PTL Club.

Mr. Bakker wanted Revolution Church to focus on acceptance over judgment. “I saw what my parents went through, and I didn’t want to see other people go through that. Not enough people are hearing about the message of grace,” he says.

When asked how the church should respond to those who have a loved one who falls, whether it’s from sexual immorality, alcohol abuse or another destructive behavior, Mr. Bakker says: “Love that family. Stop gossiping. Don’t tear that family apart. Love that family and help restore that family.”

He adds, “For me, what would have helped a lot more is seeing a community rally around my family for restoration and love without feeling like they have to chastise them and tell them why they believe they were wrong.”

When a religious leader succumbs to scandal, it’s a vivid reminder that ministers are not immune from the sins against which they preach.

But when a pastor confesses to some form of immorality, the next question typically is, now what? Should he or she be fired immediately, placed back in the pulpit the next week, or something in between?

For Mr. Bakker, the church should be the catalyst for healing. The biblical meaning for restoration is “better than new,” he says.

“We should be restoring ministers back to the pulpit. We shouldn’t be throwing them away. My advice for the church is love. Learn to love people. None of us are perfect — pastors are not.”

Mr. Bakker adds: “Really, this is the time for us to be the church. How far have we fallen from the message of Christ? We’re like a hospital that throws out their wounded.”

Brian Orme is an associate pastor at Community Church in West Milton, Ohio, and a freelance religion writer.

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

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