GATLINBURG, TENN. -- PTL founder Jim Bakker emerged from his mountain chalet here Saturday to tell a group of supporters that Jerry Falwell "stole" PTL from him and that the changes at the ministry drove one staff member to suicide.
"I did not give PTL to Jerry Falwell," said Bakker, standing with his wife Tammy Faye outside the 12-foot-high steel fence around their home. "Falwell stole it."
Bakker spoke for more than an hour to about 50 PTL dissidents who drove more than 200 miles from Fort Mill, S.C., for a "love rally." "If the people want Jerry Falwell to head PTL, they should send their money to him," Bakker said. "If they don't want him there, then don't support him."
Bakker, who relinquished control of PTL to Falwell in March after disclosure of a 1980 sexual tryst between Bakker and church secretary Jessica Hahn, said the Devil was envious of Heritage USA, the PTL theme park at Fort Mill. "For the first time, spirit-filled Christians had a retreat and a park and I think the Devil hated it, and the only way the Devil could destroy it was from within the church," he said.
Bakker said that one PTL staff member committed suicide in her grief over the PTL change.
"She could not stand what she was going through," he said. "Tammy Faye and I, our hearts were broken when we heard about that. I want you to pray for the other people who are pawns in this game." Bakker declined to identify the suicide victim and did not elaborate.
Falwell, contacted about the statement, said he was unaware of such an incident and said Bakker's "sins" have made him irrational. "Reverend Bakker has my sincerest sympathies," Falwell said. "It is understandable how he could be so irrational when one considers the terrible trauma his sins have led him into."
Bakker's brother, Norm Bakker, 53, led the supporters to the chalet, where they stood outside the fence for more than an hour before the Bakkers and their children, Tammy Sue, 18, and Jamie Charles, 12, came out.
A spokeswoman for the Association of PTL Partners said the rally was planned at the last minute, so no large turnout was expected.
"This is by word of mouth, just for the past couple of days," said Helen Reeves. "We decided if Jim can't come to us, the partners are going to come to him."
Norm Bakker said he made arrangements to lead the supporters from a Gatlinburg motel to his brother's home after hearing rumors earlier in the week that a rally was planned.
"You know how Jim is," he said. "It was supposed to be a surprise for him, but I had to talk to him to make sure he was going to be there.