OKLAHOMA CITY, AUG. 7 -- The chief officer of toppled television evangelist Jim Bakker's denomination said today that Bakker and his top associate refused to defend themselves at church proceedings that led to their ouster as ministers.
"The door was left open to them throughout the proceedings," the Rev. G. Raymond Carlson, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, told thousands of representatives at the denomination's national convention.
"Neither of them chose to avail themselves of these opportunities," he said, although both Bakker and his top PTL network aide, Richard Dortch, were invited to participate in airing or appealing the case.
Carlson advised church representatives not to discuss the matter publicly, but said "we are deeply saddened, ashamed and repentant before God for these problems in our church family."
Bakker left his $129 million-a-year TV empire in March after admitting to a sexual encounter with a young woman follower, Jessica Hahn.
In May, the 2.1 million-member Assemblies of God deposed Bakker and Dortch as clergymen, Bakker for adultery and alleged homosexual acts, and Dortch for paying hush money to Hahn in an attempt to cover up Bakker's actions.
Carlson briefly summarized the official action in the case and added, "Sadly, the convictions of holiness and personal piety have been eclipsed with self-interest and prosperity. Creature comforts have become the idols of too many today. Even the religious communities have been invaded by an emphasis on pleasure, prosperity and personal gain."
At a rally Thursday night, he told church representatives from across the country that the "failure of prominent ministers has given the enemies" of Christianity "reason to rejoice."
"We have been through difficult days," Carlson said.
At the rally, Carlson did not refer explicitly to Bakker or Dortch, but he clearly had them in mind in hitting at the harm done by notable clergymen who go astray.
"The cause of Christ has been ridiculed and maligned," he said. "But we must recognize that even in times like these God speaks to us. Perhaps this is a way he must use to get our attention.
"Error and truth travel side by side in the marketplace, in the dwelling place and even in the holy place," Carlson said. But he defended the church as a "divine institution" against which "the gates of hell shall not prevail."
"The church is a shining light in the darkness of a crooked and perverse generation and stands as a bulwark against the onslaughts of immoral filth which seeks to engulf our world," he said.
More than 15,000 delegates and visitors are present for the six-day convention, which opened Thursday with a round of greetings, announcements and departmental reports. The meeting runs through Tuesday.
The convention is the top legislative body for the denomination, and some of the proposed resolutions had an indirect bearing on the Bakker case and could be amended to specify it.
The Rev. Jimmy Swaggart, the Louisiana evangelist who had sharply criticized Bakker, was among the Assemblies clergymen at the convention.
The denomination, a Pentecostal body that stresses spiritual gifts such as divine healing and "speaking in unknown tongues" as marks of holiness, is the 10th largest among major Protestant denominations. It is also the fastest-growing with 16.3 million members worldwide, up 7.3 percent in the last year.