The Truth About Tammy Faye And Jim Bakker's Relationship

Televangelism is an industry that exists in the hoary world between a legitimate form of broadcasting for which there is an identifiable (and profitable) market, and one of those scams that we all just kind of accept as part of daily life. Sure, some TV viewers may be comforted or edified by their favorite TV preacher, but the industry has, for decades, been rife with fraud, with allegations of big names in the business bilking their followers out of money in exchange for vague promises of blessings.

Perhaps no TV preacher is more emblematic of the travails of the televangelism industry, and the fall from grace that can accompany a disgraced televangelist, than that of Jim Bakker. Along with his wife, Tammy Faye, the couple ran a hugely successful TV ministry for a while in the 1970s and 1980s, before it all came crashing down in the midst of a financial and sexual scandal that saw Jim being sentenced to decades in prison.

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker broke the mold

Typically, preaching — whether at a church or on a TV program — is a one-man (or one-woman) show. The preacher does their thing on the stage, and that's it. Jim Bakker, however, didn't see things that way. As he started making a name for himself in the Christian TV industry, he began to see himself as more than just a preacher. 

As ABC News noted, he saw himself as more of a host, à la Johnny Carson, and indeed, claimed he wanted to start a Christian version of "The Tonight Show." One way in which he broke the typical TV-preaching mode was by having his wife, Tammy Faye Bakker, appear on the show with him. Not only was this unique among televangelists — TV viewers never saw Pat Robertson's wife or Jimmy Swaggert's wife — but Tammy Faye, often in outrageous makeup, was a colorful character in her own right. She would flirt with Jim on-camera, she'd cry and smudge her makeup, and she'd talk about sex, according to Biography. It was unlike anything Christian TV viewers had ever seen before — and it was all a house of cards.

Was it all just a show?

So, were Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker really a dutiful husband-and-wife team who bared their souls to their audience, or were they a married couple in name only, playing the part of a happily-married couple in order to bilk the faithful? As it turns out, the answer is somewhere in between.

As Biography noted, Jim was definitely smitten with Tammy Faye, at least at the beginning of the relationship. They went on tour as traveling preachers, so they could spend more time together. However, as their ministry became more successful, the couple began to grow apart while Jim focused more on the business.

Meanwhile, the couple's lavish lifestyle, in contrast with the message of faith they were delivering, was beginning to catch up to them. Tammy Faye made no apologies for it, saying that shopping was cheaper than therapy. Then came the damning revelation that Jim had paid $279,000 in hush money to cover up a sexual assault, and soon the Bakker's marriage and media empire, and Jim's freedom, were things of the past. Despite all of this, Tammy Faye said in 2002 that she and Jim had a "nice relationship" and that she enjoyed being his friend.