TEGA CAY, S.C., JUNE 21 -- Celebrity lawyer Melvin Belli met today with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker to discuss how to return the PTL ministry to its founders and said that after the Rev. Jerry Falwell hears the facts, "he'll send Jimmy back to his pulpit."
The California attorney spent four hours with the Bakkers at their luxurious PTL-owned house and afterward joined the couple in meeting reporters.
"It's an incongruity that these men of God are in a rassle or a hassle or some litigation," Belli said.
Bakker, wearing a black suit and polka-dot tie, insisted that he and Tammy Faye, who wore a bright pink dress, were "peacemakers" and wanted to avoid court.
"But since PTL has gone into Chapter 11, we feel we must have legal counsel," Bakker said. "We gave birth to the vision and dream of Heritage USA, and our desire and goal is that that ministry continue and all creditors be paid 100 percent. Perhaps even more than that, that all the partners have fulfilled the vision and dream we gave them to have a place of retreat."
Falwell, in a telephone interview afterward, said he was glad the Bakkers "have such excellent representation," but added:
"I personally do not feel that the future of Heritage Village and the PTL ministry will be determined, however, in the courtroom."
The challenge he and the new PTL directors face, Falwell said, is to "raise $70 million for debt elimination and at the same time restore spiritual and financial credibility to a very embattled ministry."
Belli, who was accompanied by two associates -- one a bankruptcy specialist -- said he didn't feel Bakker's side of the story had been properly told.
"We're going to tell it without venom. This is a man of God. Mr. Falwell is a man of God. If there's anything to the limited wisdom the good Lord has given me, I hope He'll give me enough to see these people through their travail."
Belli insisted he came "in the spirit of peace" and added: "I hope we won't get to the point of going into the ring and putting on the gloves."
Falwell's PTL directors placed the television ministry and theme park resort into bankruptcy June 12, two days after the Bakkers returned from California. And it is in bankruptcy court, apparently, that the fight over the ministry will be waged.
Before the lengthy meeting, Belli said of Bakker: "I've always liked the fellow -- I like a man of God anyhow, no matter what his denomination is. I want to get him back on the air and in his ministry as soon as possible and that's what he wants me to do."
Falwell said PTL's new directors "obviously will be looking to the federal district court in which Chapter 11 was filed for guidance.
"The ministry is now totally under the jurisdiction of the federal court, and the Reverend Bakker, in my opinion, will find no comfort there."
Tammy Faye Bakker said last week that she and her husband, who drew millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses from the ministry, had only $37,000 left. Their Palm Springs, Calif., home went on the market last week for $600,000.
Belli refused to discuss his fees.
There were reports last week that Bakker was planning to start over again with a new ministry, but those intentions apparently have been set aside in favor of a head-on fight with Falwell.
The Bakkers resigned from PTL in March when Bakker admitted he had paid $265,000 to hush up a one-time sexual tryst with a church secretary in 1980. He asked Falwell to take over the ministry.
When Bakker decided a week later that he wanted to return, Falwell refused to step down, accusing him of monumental greed, deceit, bisexuality and pillaging the PTL's bank accounts.
Falwell, who raised $8 million for PTL during its "May Miracle," said after church services in Lynchburg, Va., that his own ministry is in financial trouble now and "we need a miracle here in Lynchburg."
The "holy wars" have soured so many contributors, Falwell said, that he has been unable to build a planned home for unwed mothers, who are "going to abortion clinics because we don't have that home built.
"We are going to build it," he said, "but we're frozen in our tracks right now and little babies are dying because of it."
Falwell said, "Had I known three months ago when I was asked to assume this leadership what I know now, I would not have done it.
"We in this ministry have lost millions of dollars," Falwell told the audience watching his televised Sunday services after the service itself was over. "One-third of our television network will be trimmed back at the end of this month if we can't get our books in the black. That would break my heart -- we've been on television 31 years."
In a fiery sermon at PTL's Heritage Village Church, the Rev. Joe Johnson cried that "no committee will get us out of this darkness, no amount of pageantry, no lawyers, no courts -- we've run out of everything. The only thing that will save us is a revival from God."
His brother Sam Johnson, pastor of the church, told the flock that "I am so tired of sham, of bickering and fighting, of badgering back and forth. We've shut down the water park, the trains don't run, we've given Sunday back to God."