What is that old saying, "Those whom forget are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past" or something to that effect? Well Missouri and more specifically Branson has the misfortune of playing host to one of America's most notorious religious con men, the pastor Jim Baker. Jim and (his now deceased former wife) Tammy Baker were the creators/hosts of the once very popular television ministry "Praise The Lord Club” or better known as the PTL Club. According to Jim Baker, the television show was viewed by millions of folks around the world. Much of the success of the PTL Club was Baker's casual, down home style, living room set and his habit of dressing informally (usually attired in a sweater) while interviewing guests on a wrap around sofa. Jim Baker's preaching style was unimposing while his co-host Tammy Baker was known for her outlandish clothing/jewelry and runny mascara (the result of frequent crying episodes during nearly every show).
Jim Baker had a vision of building a religious, Christian faith, family-oriented amusement park which he named Heritage USA. The complex he built was a huge undertaking and the Bakers raised funds for its construction through donations from their television viewers. His methods for funding his building projects included selling goods on his television programs and then receiving a portion of the sales as donations from the owners/manufacturers of the goods he sold for them. He also began selling time shares and hotel accommodations as part of packages of goods sold on air to his followers.
Cracks in the PTL ministry soon began to show while the flurry of construction on the Heritage USA complex continued unabated. Jim and Tammy Baker's extravagant lifestyle began to be questioned by some of the church members. Jim Baker was forced to devote more and more air time pleading for donations from viewers to support (what was recently reported by Jim's son) a $2 million per day overhead for the ministry. There was a pay off scheme to keep a secretary named Jessica Hahn silent over a sexual tryst with Jim Baker. In order to keep the ministry solvent, Jim Baker sold more time shares to his viewers than were accommodations available or even built at the time.
Baker's world collapsed in a spectacular fashion when he was indicted for defrauding his viewers that had unfortunately made donations to the ministry. Jessica Hahn went public with their affair and the subsequent "Hush money" deal which followed. Baker's over-the-top lifestyle was revealed and creditors began clamoring for payment of the $70 million which was owed to them by Baker and his ministry.
Jim Baker was sentenced to eight years in prison of which he only served five years of that sentence before he was released. He has turned up in Branson and begun a new ministry which is very reminiscent of his old television ministry. Once again he is building and it seems he is back to his old methods of raising capital, selling timeshares while at the very same time hawking products to his viewers. So far the time shares are "Unlimited camping" but hotel rooms are once again on his planning board. Baker has purchased a portion of the old Heritage USA property and vowed to buy back more in the future.
Page 2 of 2 - Somehow this man has been able to build another complex at Branson named "Morning side" and construction is under way for a new television studio. Why on earth are folks giving this guy more money to start the incessant building process all over again? How naive must folks be to entrust their money and faith to a man that left people holding $7 million worth of unpaid bills? Jim Baker has cheated hundreds if not thousands of folks out of their hard earned money and yet he is allowed to enrich himself once again by preaching the bible to good folks who should know better. What type of Christianity does Jim Baker practice where he can cheat people, in essence steal from folks, commit adultery and make no effort to make his creditors whole again once he has been released from prison? I say Jim Baker epitomizes the very worst of what it is to be a televangelist preacher in America. I say he exemplifies those that profit from blind faith and I predict that this man will laugh all the way to the bank once again.