The ruins of Jim Bakker’s Heritage USA are eerie reminders of past evangelical corruption that continues to repeat itself–only such scandals are no longer new so they do not garner much attention. We receive news of another religious scam or affair (such as the recent Benny Hinn fling) and it doesn’t mean much. We just expect TV evangelists to be corrupt.
Andy McMillan went back to Heritage USA to take a series of photographs showing the leftovers of Bakker’s attempt to make American Christianity into a theme park. TIME is featuring all of the photos in a slideshow. There is no religious glory left in the scenes, from decayed buildings overrun by plant life to homeless people wandering about, reminders that all is not the picture perfect in Christian America. The picture to the left is of the amphitheater where the Christmas Nativity and Easter Plays were held.
I encourage you to look through all 16 photos. For lack of a better phrase, they are haunting. Especially if you remember the scandals from the eighties and the embarrassment that Jim and Tammy brought to the Christian faith. I was even surprised to find that Jim Bakker was still alive. I knew Tammy had passed on in 2007 but for some reason I thought Jim went to his grave too. He now does The Jim Bakker Show as he can’t resist the limelight. Same old shit.
The PTL Club that Jim and Tammy originally founded (stands for Praise The Lord and People That Love) was a daily religious talkshow. It was featured on Jim Bakker’s PTL Satellite Network, a television network founded way-y-y back in 1974 in South Carolina. It ran for 14 years and fell apart when Jim couldn’t keep it in his pants and tried to get with Jessica Hahn. Jessica accused Jim of rape and harassment. That led to financial scandals showing the Bakkers were using money to fund a wealthy lifestyle not really in keeping with the humility suggested by Christ. Jim Bakker finally went to prison in 1989 for embezzlement and Tammy Faye went on to host her own talk show, publish books and appear in The Surreal Life–for the Lord! She actually gained icon status and some respectability because she wasn’t afraid to make fun of herself.
The PTL Network still exists. It was bought up and is now known as The Inspiration Network, still located in South Carolina. Corruption never stops Christian media from progressing and keeping the donations rolling in.
Heritage USA was opened in 1978 because every evangelist wants a Christian version of Disneyland free of worldly conflict and moral conundrums. In fact, according to Wiki Heritage USA at the time, “…had become one of the top vacation destinations in the US, behind only Walt Disney World and Disneyland, attracting nearly 6 million visitors annually and employing around 2,500 people.”
To quote further, “The facilities included the 501-room Heritage Grand Hotel, Main Street USA, an indoor shopping complex, the Heritage Village Church, a 400-unit campground, The Jerusalem Amphitheater, conference facilities, a skating rink, prayer and counseling services, full cable TV network production studios, Bible and evangelism school, visitor retreat housing, staff and volunteer housing, timeshares and the Heritage Island water park and recreational facilities.”
The rot of the morality of Bakker can be seen in these photographs. He tried to push an illusion on Americans that wasn’t sustainable. We see TBN doing the same with their “Holy Land Experience “theme park as well as Answers in Genesis creating their “Ark Encounter” theme park to promote Biblical Creationism. Theme parks were meant to create emotional ties to fantasy and not lies. At the very least with Disney, he recognized that it was his imagination–even the idealism of Main Street. It’s no wonder science has such an uphill battle with the public–where’s the evolution theme park? According to this article, there may be one coming called “Adaptation Station.” It’s the battle of the theme parks! Silly, but necessary. As I keep saying, this is a pop culture war.