“I do not feel shame, I AM shame.” [Jim Bakker]
“As Christians, we’re sorry for being self-righteous, judgemental bastards.” [Jay Bakker]
I have just watched the Sundance Channel series “One punk under God”. This features Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, the disgraced televangelists. It is a tale of the truly miraculous – how one man survived being a PK (Preacher’s Kid) in severely twisted evangelistic subculture, and has gone on to proclaim a heartfelt message of grace and forgiveness.
Jay is in many ways the antithesis of his media-, religion- and money-crazed upbringing. Of course, things have moved on, Jim served 8 years of his 45 year prison sentance for fraud, and reinvented himself as the “New Jim Bakker”, but somehow never saw much life beyond television. Tammy, she of the false eyelashes and guarenteed-to-run-mascara, died last year of cancer. Despite it all, and approaching the end, she said (paraphrased) “A son needs his Mom to tell him everything is going to be OK, but his Dad to tell him he’s proud of him.”
Never denying his parents, Jay nevertheless places himself in a very different mileau. He is essentially postmodern punk: piercings, cigars and cigarettes, tatoos. He seems quite at home in his skin, too. His wife of 7 years, Amanda, similarly has almost as many tatoos and a shrieking vermillion hairdo. She just wants him to be happy (but does wish he’d quit preaching and find another career).
Jay took the bold step of declaring his belief that homosexuality was not a sin, which cost him the support of a major backer. Of course (especially in the USA) homosexuality is a big political issue. But perhaps the main story running through the series is Jay’s attempt to reignite a relationship with his father.
With great pains, after several ignored calls, he eventually manages to visit him in his studio and appears on his show. Clearly strained after a pre-airtime summit in which his pro-inclusion views are discussed, Jay diffuses the situation and appeals to the basic need for love and acceptance. Jim (who knows with that guy what is real) breaks down at one point and confesses that Jay is doing what he should have done, but cannot.
This conflict epitomises the deep tensions which underlie so many lives: generational, theological, political and cultural, but most of all, with attitudes of the heart. And one pressing difference has to do with Inclusion, or ones ability to live generously and non-judgementally. Clearly, religion, and specifically Christianity, has failed miserably to live up to the inclusiveness of its founder.
I marvel at the grace that has allowed Jay be himself. At how he walked the narrow path, holding the tensions between breaking away from what he loaths and yet honouring those he loves, and seeing them for who they are … such discipline is the deep stuff of the spirit.
Jay … to merely be who you are, a punk and a christian, goes a long way towards the meaning of Incarnation. Holding that “disgrace” who is your dad so in mind, though left bereft of his affections yourself, is a true act of courage.
See Jays church website, Revolution NYC .