FORT MILL, S.C., JUNE 14 -- Jim and Tammy Bakker sped out to lunch today at a restaurant that stayed open late just for them, while their supporters held a meeting in an open field to swear allegiance to the PTL's deposed founders.
The Bakkers skipped services at PTL's Heritage Village Church and instead led reporters on a 14-mile high-speed chase from their million-dollar former parsonage to a Rock Hill, S.C., restaurant called Filibusters.
The owner, Gary Taylor, said his restaurant normally closes at 2 p.m. but the Bakkers called ahead and asked him to stay open.
"There's no meeting or anything," Taylor told reporters, who were not allowed inside. "They're only here to eat lunch."
The Bakkers, who returned to South Carolina for the first time in six months Thursday night, had not appeared publicly since Tammy Faye went to the nightly "camp meeting" service Friday.
However, their bodyguard, Don Hardister, said they would return to PTL's Heritage USA resort and theme park before they vacate their PTL-owned house south of Fort Mill and return to Palm Springs, Calif.
He also said today that they could not meet the deadline of Monday to vacate the house, which the new PTL management wants to sell, but he indicated that the Bakkers expected no trouble over leaving late.
About 40 people showed up this afternoon in an empty field half a mile from Heritage Village to praise the Bakkers and vilify the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who Bakker claims stole the PTL ministry from him.
"Jim and Tammy have got more love in their little finger than Falwell has in his whole body," said Bernice Vieton of Rock Hill. "I guess his Bible believes everyone should be forgiven but Jim Bakker. For seven years we've been PTL Partners but this month we didn't send them a payment. We're not going to send them a payment until Jerry Falwell leaves. But we may just triple our pledge if Jim Bakker comes back."
"I sent money here because I love this ministry," said Harriett Burns of Milwaukee. "But I won't send any more money while Falwell is still here. Imagine him saying 'the Pentecostals speak in tongues because they eat too much pizza.' "
All agreed they had heard Falwell denounce their pizza intake, but none could remember when he said it.
While Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker maintained silence, Jim's father Raleigh and brother Norm continued to talk freely with reporters. Norm Bakker revealed that Jim Bakker's sister, Donna Puckett, was fired from her accounting job with PTL several weeks ago.
Neil Eskelin, longtime PTL public information officer, also revealed today that he had been fired.
Heritage Village Church was packed to its 2,000-seat capacity for Sunday services and many were hoping to see the Bakkers. But they did not show up, and the Rev. Sam Johnson warned before the service began that "this is not a television program. It's a church service and we will not tolerate anything but God's moving among us."
Johnson's fire-and-brimstone sermon contained obscure references to "the revelations of the last week," which appeared to have more to do with PTL's filing under bankruptcy laws by its new management than the return of the Bakkers.