The following testimony from JD Hall regarding a recent visit to Jim Bakker’s studio and Morningside Ministries was sent to Pulpit & Pen for publishing.
While on a working vacation in Branson, Missouri on August 2 – just prior to my debate on Cessationism and Charismaticism in Cleveland the following weekend – I spent time with my extended family on the campus of College of the Ozarks. While there, I planned to visit the television studios and survivalist retreat (for lack of a better word) of Jim Bakker, the disgraced televangelist who had a multi-millionaire fund his ministry come back and who is now hustling survival supplies in the name of Jesus. Prior to leaving on vacation, I planned this visit to Morningside and received permission for what I had expected would happen from my local church leadership, lest anyone think I am a completely crazy man who had gone rogue or something like that. My leadership gave me the okay to do what I, indeed, ended up doing.
First, a few things about Jim Bakker. Bakker is a charismatic preacher who has had his ministry ordination revoked by his former denomination, the Assemblies of God. A sex scandal, which included allegations that he and another evangelist had raped a woman, eventually led to his imprisonment and divorce from his equally infamous wife, Tammy Fae Bakker (the one with the ridiculous makeup – no, not Jan Crouch, the other one with ridiculous makeup). Bakker received his start by working at Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and helped to start the 700 Club. From there, Bakker went on to host his own program, the “Praise the Lord” show for Paul and Jan Crouch on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. The Bakkers then launched out on their own and started the Praise the Lord (PTL) Club. The PTL Club grew into a television network. In the 1980s, the Bakkers built what amounted to a Christian-themed amusement park called “Heritage USA,” and raised upwards of a million dollars a week to expand the park. It’s during this time that Bakker raised the attention of the secular press regarding the excess with which he and his wife lived in opulent luxury while using the charitable tax status of his organization to obtain great wealth. Eventually, Bakker was caught giving upwards of 300k to the woman he had raped from the tax-exempt money given to the ministry, and the eventual investigation led to law enforcement determining that Bakker had defrauded his real estate investors and owed a lot of money to the federal government. Bakker was indicted on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy, and he was sentenced to 45 years in the federal penitentiary. Later, the sentence was reduced to eight years. To this day, he still owes the IRS about six million dollars.
While in prison, Bakker says that he was saved and for the first time, led to Christ. Financial backers have given Bakker access to more than 600 acres of prime real estate twenty miles from Branson, Missouri and built a strange mix of television sets, condos for aging citizens, and a survivalist retreat replete with security. Today, he broadcasts television shows that highlight some scary prophetic scenario that portends world-ending omens and then (conveniently) offers survival supplies to his audience.
The question is not why I did what I did, but how could I not do what I did, considering I was only 20 miles away from this cesspool of wickedness. It seemed a shame not to preach some truth in that darkness.
I approached the gates of the Morningside compound at roughly 11 AM CS4T on August 2, with plenty of time to spare for the show that was to begin an hour later. After making it through the security checkpoint and receiving directions through the compound, I wound my rental vehicle through the hills and made my way to the main facility – a television studio, apartment complex, “book store” and restaurant all in one building. Parking in the parking lot, workers were busy under tents doing either construction or landscaping, so it seemed.
Walking into the facility reminded me marginally of the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, with a fake sky and blue, ambient lighting reflected from the corners that imitated the appearance of the sky. Immediately to the right was the “book store,” and to the left was a friendly greeter, a woman who appeared to be in her late seventies or eighties, bound to a wheel chair (she was written about in an article I ran across in the secular press, and she was still at her station, still serving Jim Bakker). I asked for a tour of the grounds, and the volunteer pointed me to the window across from her where I could plan a tour. The “tour guide” was already on a tour, and the window was vacant, but I obtained photos of the paperwork left behind; it was essentially a checklist for salesmen that I regularly saw when I worked with timeshare companies when I owned my direct sales business. The “ministry tours” are essentially sales pitches to potential “investors.”
The “book store” had (by my guess) less than a dozen books, all of which were written by heretics and guests of his program. The “book store” was instead filled wall to wall with survival supplies. There were food buckets, pocket knives, sanitary toilets made out of 5-gallon buckets, flashlights, water purifiers, and so forth. Being that I am an outdoorsman and Boy Scout at heart (always prepared), I was familiar with virtually all the products for sale in the book store (and own many of them), and so I could see that there was a 300-400% markup on virtually all the products compared to their fair market value that one could expect to pay at ordinary retailers (for example, water filtration straws that I previously bought for my hiking and kayaking excursions, which I paid $35 for 3, were sold for $49.95 each). The book store did have Shemitah and Four Blood Moons DVDs and CDs on special discount, and considering those prophecies failed in 2015, it shouldn’t have surprised me that they were the cheapest products in the book store.
The studio for the program was busy with camera people and producers, and I made my way to a cameraman and asked if I could have a photo in Jim Bakker’s chair. He asked if I was a fan and I responded, “I listen to a lot of what he does.” I made my way to Bakker’s seat and the cameraman happily took the photos for me. This made my day, but I really wanted a photo with Jim Bakker.
I found my way to Jim Bakker’s office, in which sat a man and a woman at different desks. The man had long, dark hair, forearm tattoos, dressed in all black with an assortment of gold jewelry and looked like he should have been a leg-breaker for the mob. In his hand was a large stack of cash, and he was counting it. Before he saw me in the doorway, he said to his co-worker – and I quote – “It’s all about the money, baby, it’s all about the money.”
When he looked up and saw me, he and his female counterpart both blushed and asked how they could help me, as though perhaps I was lost.
“I was hoping to get a photo with Jim. Is that possible?” I asked.
The woman responded, “Oh, no sir. We are all volunteers, and not even the volunteers get to see Jim. He doesn’t come out unless it’s time for the show. I haven’t been able to talk to him in years.”
That’s interesting, I thought. I was persistent, asking, “What about when he comes out? Is there any milling around that happens, do you think I could approach him to ask for a photo?”
“No,” the woman responded. “He only comes out when it’s time for the show. He’s in the green room, talking with God. Then he goes back immediately after the show to talk to God more.”
“Well,” I asked, “when should the show begin, so I know when to be back?”
“There’s no telling,” the woman responded, “because it could be noon or one or three o’clock because he doesn’t come out of the green room until he’s heard from God.”
“Just like Moses on the mountain,” I asked. She responded, “Yes, exactly like Moses on the mountain.”
So, with Jim Bakker talking with God in the green room and the tour guide went on a sales pitch, I decided to risk it and drive around Morningside. Let me tell you – it is creepy. There’s a false town that looks like a town but is only a false front (like a movie set or the town in Blazing Saddles). I have no idea the purpose of that. A vehicle was very clearly following me around, and though it was unmarked, I know security when I see it, and so I did not want to risk taking pictures and getting escorted out as uninvited press (if the officer had Googled my name, not only would it come up as a polemicist, but as a reporter and columnist for several newspapers). This fake town, should you doubt its existence, has been written about by numerous national outlets. It’s real. It exists. I don’t know why.
Sprinkled around Morningside (even in the studio complex) are condos paid for by the residents of the compound, who are mostly all in retirement, and many well beyond retirement. Virtually all of them grease the wheels that make Morningside work, volunteering for virtually every aspect of service needed to be done on the sprawling estate.
Making my way back to the main complex, I began to speak to the twenty or so senior citizens finding their way to the studio audience. I asked them questions.
“Have you bought any of Jim’s survival food?” I asked a woman clearly in her eighties, barely mobile.
“Oh, yes,” she responded, “I spend my whole social security check on his food every month.” Two other women gave me the exact same answer.
An elderly volunteer asked which table I would like to sit at in the audience, and I asked to be seated at the very back. The “crowd” began to gather (again, less than 25 senior citizens) and I was the youngest person in the audience by at least 30 years, except for one man about my age who was there with his father or grandfather, helping him get around. I made small talk with those around me, asking if they had ever spoken to Bakker. None of them had. All of them, however, revered him even though he had never once spoken to them. After all, he was in the green room, talking with God. He was busy.
I kept my eye out for security, and a few minutes before Jim took the stage with his new wife, daughter, grandson, false prophet John Shorey, and the owner of the survival food company that Jim peddles, the lone security man came out. I “made him” instantly, as having that “security guy look,” even short of a Secret Service earpiece. Unfortunately, I think he also “made me.” I’m sure I stood out like a sore thumb, and he found his way right behind me in the back. This was bad news because I knew that I would only get out a few words before he would grab me by the neck or tase me or something.
Right about then, a volunteer came up and asked if I would like to move forward to the front row to “make it look more crowded for the cameras.” I happily obliged, knowing that given the layout of the room, the security guy would have to wade through twenty or so octogenarians to get to me, which would afford me an extra 30 seconds or so to say what I wanted to say.
As the program began, Bakker and his “wife” talked about her sick mother for about 30 minutes or so, and Tammy Fae #2 wondered out loud why God would allow a good person like her mother to be sick (no one answered the question). Clearly, a theology of suffering was absent from any of the experts at the table. Then, John Shorey launched into a mini-sermon in the next segment about how it was never God’s will for anyone to be sick, and everyone both on stage and in the audience seemed oblivious to the fact that they just spent 30 minutes hearing about how Jim Bakker’s godly mother-in-law was sick. I was looking around the room to see if anybody caught the contradiction, but everyone was smiling and nodding at the health-and-wealth gospel being preached.
It was important to me not to interrupt Bakker until he gave a false prophecy, considering it is his false prophecy that is most detestable to God (it carried a capital punishment in the Old Testament). There were dozens of times I could have interrupted Bakker concerning some abject stupid thing he said, but I was waiting for the perfect opportunity. After talking about sick grandma, the opportunity presented itself.
A chef off to the side of the audience was cooking pancakes on the griddle, and the volunteers were busy serving the pancakes to the panel on stage (the chef was NOT using the pancakes from the survival bucket, but a store-bought mixture, which I know because I checked under the table to see what they would be using when the program began, as the chef-station was set up before hand). The audience was then being brought free pancakes, to many “oohs” and “ahs.”
It’s here that Bakker recalled having a prophetic dream a few nights earlier when God gave him a vision to offer a discount on pancake survival buckets.
I turned on my iPhone camera laced around my neck and turned on my GoPro (I received permission to use my camera from the Morningside office, so long as it wasn’t on flash) for back up, and interrupted Jim.
When I asked about Bakker’s failed prophecies, you can hear a sweet old woman behind me say, “these things happened.” Of course, the prophecies did not come to pass, and she is deluded. Bakker said (if you listen closely you can hear him), “You must listen to the men of God, so you can understand [the prophecies].”
Bakker then said to “kill the cameras.”
What you can’t see is when I said, “I’ll go, I’ll go,” is that I was not responding to the female producer whispering in my ear, but the security guy who was making a rush for me. Then, you hear me saying, “Don’t touch my camera, and don’t touch my person.” This is in response to Bakker’s grandson telling the security guy to confiscate my camera. To his credit, the security guy did not attempt to take my camera or lay hands on me (which is good for him, because he didn’t look like that tough a guy).
As I was walking out, the leg-breaking mobster guy from before was lurking behind while I was being escorted out by security. It was a fairly quiet conversation, because it was important to be able to say that I stopped speaking as soon as I asked to and left as soon as I was asked to – both for the sake of potential litigation and because I really do believe in private property rights. It was their right to ask me to be quiet and leave, and that is what I did, and I did it immediately out of respect for the law.
The security guy told me that if I returned I would be arrested for trespassing and then threatened me not to release the video I had because it was “copyrighted.” Of course, you cannot copyright my video, especially when you gave permission for cameras to be used. It was an idle threat.
He followed me to my car and took photos of my license plate (I feel sorry for the guy renting it next from Enterprise, who might happen to wander onto Morningside). Security guys at the compound’s gate gave me strong glares on my way out and radioed that I was leaving.
That’s my account, and that’s the story of the now infamous video. Please pray for the senior citizens being led astray and preyed upon by this wicked false prophet.