It's getting to be too much. Now comes the news that NBC television has hired Jim and Tammy Baker to be consultants for its Movie of the Week, "Fall From Grace," which is one of the most famous tumblels to have occurred in the 1980s. CBS is also doing a movie about the Bakkers, "God and Greed: the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker Story." There's a moral to this story: Scandal sells.
Actually, there seem to be several morals coming out of the televangelical scandals. One of them is that anyone who thinks, or thought, that Jim and Tammy were going to go quietly into that good night, or otherwise vanish into disgrace, is going to be dead wrong. Those two are going to be making news and comebacks, and most assuredly money, for a very long time. They have a knack for publicity and maintaining high visibility that's got to have presidential candidates writhing with envy. Of course, if any of them could persuade his wife to get tarted up like Tammy Faye, he'd get a bundle of publicity, too.
What Jim and Tammy could tell NBC movie producers that they would believe isn't clear, but perhaps NBC thinks that getting the Bakkers in as consultants will lend some authenticity to the project. Tammy wants Sally Field to play her part, and perhaps she can coach her on how to cry on cue. Tammy's got that down pat. She can do it on the air and off the air. The press tried to get some reaction from the Bakkers after the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart publicly confessed to his flock that he failed in his battle with Satan. Bakker said he was "deeply saddened" and that Tammy had cried when she'd heard the news. Bet me.
The sordid details of Swaggart's secret life are just beginning to emerge. If the early photos of his enamorata are on the mark, he stands a good chance of being spared the Penthouse and Playboy photo spreads and interviews that helped keep the Bakker saga going. Deborah Murphree is not a church secretary and she doesn't look like Jessica Hahn.
One thing that seems strikingly clear about both Swaggart and Bakker is that both of those Bible-thumping churchmen have serious problems with women and sex. Jessica Hahn's account of her encounter with Bakker -- if it is true -- leaves the reader with the distinct impression that this is a man who is probably incapable of a loving, sexual relationship.
Sources close to the Assemblies of God inquiry into Swaggarts downfall have said that he has been battling a fascination with pornography and pornographic literature that goes back to his boyhood. What actually transpired when he met with prostitutes is still not clear. Nor is it clear what is meant in this situation by pornography. Assemblies of God fundamentalists, and others, have made the war against pornography a centerpiece of their movement. Fundamentalists were behind the campaigns to foroce stores to stop selling Playboy and Penthouse. Those are not the folks known for drawing fine lines of distinction when they are on the attack. So, who knows? Swaggart's battle with the devil may have been over his reading of Playboy.
Christian fundamentalists have been the heart and soul behind efforts to keep sex education out of the schools, and, failing that, to force schools to preach abstinence. Adultery and promiscuity are right up there alongside communism and godlessness on the list of deadly sins. Those are people who have a quaint, old-fashioned idea about fidelity in marriage. Swaggart made a living preaching against lust. He wrote in his autobiography that the Lord gave him his calling when he was a mere 9 years old, right about the time he apparently began his battle with the forces of evil. A psychiatrist could have a field day with that.
So another moral to come out of the religious scandals may be that it is wise to wonder about people who become obsessed with the evils of sex. What are they afraid of, and why? Or, put another way, people who try to repress normal patterns of human behavior are going to find it emerging in abnormal ways. For Swaggart, his obsession took him into some of the seediest sections of New Orleans in quests that threatened to expose him and topple hime from the most powerful -- not to mention profitable -- teleministry going in America.
He's now scheduled to undergo a period of counseling and rehabilitation. That's a natural sequel to his autobiography. ABC can grab his story for a piece of the action on the televangelical scandals. And in a year or two, Swaggart can be back preaching again and passing the collection plate. The final moral of the story is that there is no such thing as disgrace anymore.