NEW YORK -- Most Americans have little faith in television evangelists, and many believe the sex and money scandal involving evangelist Jim Bakker and his PTL ministry won't be quickly forgotten, according to a Media General-Associated Press poll.
In addition, 53 percent of the 1,348 adult Americans in the nationwide telephone poll said they didn't believe money collected by television evangelists generally went to good causes. Only 27 percent believed the money was used for good purposes, and 20 percent were unsure.
Seven in 10 respondents said the scandal involving Bakker would hurt all television evangelists. Six in 10 said it would have long-term effects, while 36 percent thought it would be quickly forgotten.
Of those who thought all evangelists would be hurt, three in 10 said the Bakker scandal raised questions about television preachers' believability. An additional 25 percent said it raised questions about how they are spending donations, and 25 percent also said the public would confuse Bakker with other evangelists.
Bakker resigned as head of the 500,000-member PTL ministry in March after a sexual liaison with Jessica Hahn, a church secretary from West Babylon, N.Y., was revealed.
PTL, about $66 million in debt, has filed for bankruptcy. Documents show that before he left, Bakker paid enormous salaries to himself, his wife and close associates.
Bakker's attempts to regain control of his evangelistic empire have been rebuffed by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who took over when Bakker resigned in March.
In the Media General-AP poll, three in 10 Americans said they watch religious programming regularly or occasionally, but only 14 percent of respondents said they had made charitable donations to a television ministry.
Billy Graham's ministry was the most popular, receiving money from 17 percent of those poll respondents who made donations. Twelve percent said they sent money to Oral Roberts and 11 percent made donations to Pat Robertson. Five percent said they made donations to Bakker or PTL, and 5 percent said they donated to Falwell's ministry.
Among those who made donations, 43 percent said the Bakker scandal would cause them to donate less money than they had in the past, while 48 percent would make no changes. Three percent said they would donate more money, and 6 percent were unsure.