FORT MILL, S.C. -- PTL officials yesterday rejected evangelist Jimmy Swaggart's suggestion that the ministry's $12.5 million water slide is folly and their theme park should be sold.
Swaggart, once accused in what PTL founder Jim Bakker called a plot to take over the ministry, said Tuesday night on CNN's "Larry King Live" show that the Rev. Jerry Falwell planned to sell the Heritage USA recreational park.
"Jerry Falwell told me that he is going to personally, or the board would, really, take out the amusement park part of it, take out the water slide," Swaggart said.
"It would be better if the satellite was spun off to the side and used to preach the gospel, as it is right now, and the amusement park was sold to Disney World or somebody else," he added.
But Falwell spokesman Mark DeMoss said Swaggart didn't mean to say the Lynchburg, Va., minister intended to sell the theme park. "I think he misstated that or didn't adequately explain it," DeMoss said. "We have never said we would sell it. We told him we intend to break out the profit-making entities such as the water park and hotels into separate for-profit corporations." The ministry filed for protection from its creditors June 12 under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code.
Entertainment theme parks, hotels and water slides are not the priority of the current PTL leaders, DeMoss said, but ministry leaders see nothing wrong with providing Christians with vacation alternatives.
Swaggart continued a broadside against the troubled ministry's sprawling Heritage USA retreat.
"I don't think the church ought to be involved in making hamburgers, or building water slides, or having pony rides," said Swaggart. "Man needs salvation. He doesn't need a ride down the water slide."
"He's got a lot of nerve," said PTL spokesman Don Hardister, who spent 11 years as Bakker's bodyguard. "Most of these folks would never consider going to a Jimmy Swaggart crusade. But they come to slide down the water slide and hopefully they are introduced to the Christian life style ... I don't think what happened here has happened because of a water slide, but because of a lack of discipline in a preacher's life," he said, referring to Jim Bakker, who resigned in March after confessing a sexual tryst with a former church secretary and was later defrocked by the Assemblies of God church for adultery and "alleged bisexual activity."
"Our priority, like Jimmy Swaggart's, continues to be preaching the gospel through every available means," DeMoss said. "That includes television, which is something he takes full advantage of.
"I think Swaggart feels strongly that at one time these entertainment facilities became the priority rather than evangelism and preaching the gospel," DeMoss added. "He raises very fair objections."