Former PTL leaders Jim and Tammy Bakker will not appear next Tuesday before a congressional panel, in part to avoid a public confrontation with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, their lawyer said yesterday.

In a brief statement released by their lawyer, the Bakkers said the "present controversy" swirling around them could "overshadow the important issues under consideration" by the House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight, which plans to look into American TV ministries.

"We do have some things which we would like to say, but sincerely believe this is the wrong time for us to appear," the Bakkers said.

The decision by the Bakkers takes some of the steam out of next week's hearings, but subcommittee staffers said yesterday that a number of prominent televangelists have agreed to give testimony: Oral Roberts, Paul Crouch, Larry Jones, John Ankerberg, James Kennedy and Falwell. Several others, including Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart, Billy Graham and Robert Schuller, have declined, citing other commitments.

The hearings, which have drawn criticism from some religious groups, have been called by subcommittee Chairman J.J. Pickle (D-Tex.) to explore the financial accountability of the ministries and the role of the Internal Revenue Service in overseeing them. The IRS audits most of the ministries, but questions have been raised about the adequacy of the job the agency has been doing, subcommittee staffers say. Among other witnesses scheduled to testify are Michael Murphy, IRS senior deputy commissioner, as well as a panel of tax experts and leaders of religious groups, including the National Religious Broadcasters.

The Bakkers' lawyer Jim Toms said a joint appearance of the Bakkers and Falwell at next week's hearings could result in an embarrassing "confrontation" in the hallways. The hearings could also refocus attention on charges of fraud and mismanagement against the Bakkers, allegations that prompted the subcommittee to convene the hearings, he added.

"It seems to us too dangerous," said Toms.

For the past several months, Jim Bakker and Falwell, to whom he handed over his multimillion-dollar religious organization last March, have been engaged in an increasingly angry and expensive legal battle for control of PTL.