In 1987 it was revealed that Jim Bakker, founder and TV host of the PTL Ministry in Charlotte North Carolina, had paid hush money to Jessica Hahn as part of a cover-up of a sexual encounter years before. To this day, the role played by Jimmy and Frances Swaggart, who perceived Bakker and PTL as rivals for dominance in the electronic church market, is largely unknown, especially to followers of the Swaggart ministry.
Although there were some viewers who watched both Bakker and Swaggart, the ministries generally appealed to different segments of the TV market. Swaggart preached fire and brimstone and appealed more to classic Pentecostals who shunned “worldliness.” Bakker preached a God of Love and appealed more to Charismatics who had once been in mainline Protestant churches, where movie attendance, dancing, and other similar pastimes were accepted and practiced.
The purpose of this article is to educate former and current followers of the Jimmy Swaggart ministry in the unbiblical practices that the Jimmy and Frances Swaggart employed to hasten and ensure the downfall of the PTL and Jim Bakker. Charles E. Shepard, who worked at The Charlotte Observer for twelve years, was part of the journalistic team that broke the Jessica Hahn story. This story led to the resignation of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker from PTL and their expulsion from the Assemblies of God denomination. It also earned for Shepard and the Observer the 1988 Pulitzer Prize.
In addition to the newspaper investigation, Shepard wrote a book: Forgiven, The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry. It’s a very substantial book, well written, carefully documented, and published in 1989 by Atlantic Monthly Press of New York. The book is over 600 pages in length, and deals primarily with the stories of Jim and Tammy Bakker and the PTL Ministry. But here we will only discuss the 10-20 pages scattered throughout the narrative which deal with Jimmy and Frances Swaggart’s obsession with destroying Bakker and PTL.
In the February 1987 edition of Swaggart’s The Evangelist magazine, Swaggart writes one article complaining about Christian TV programming which features “get-rich-quick” schemes, psychology, entertainment, homosexual guests, and which encourages Pentecostal young people to fill night clubs, honky-tonks, and places of worldly entertainment.
In another article of the same edition, Swaggart acknowledges his reputation as a religious vigilante. An unnamed minister had written a letter to Swaggart. He noted that Swaggart was increasingly mentioning Assemblies of God ministers in his magazine and implying that they were doing things that were sinful. He stated that he had just heard a report that Swaggart had “taken care of one minister and was going after another.
Note: The “one” minister referred to was Rev. Marvin Gorman, a New Orleans minister and Executive Presbyter of the Assemblies of God Denomination. In 1986, Swaggart’s accusations of sexual misconduct against Gorman led to Gorman’s dismissal from the denomination. The “another” seems to be indicating Swaggart’s attacks on Jim Bakker and the PTL ministry.
Swaggart devoted nearly three pages to his reply, which included the following:
“It is being strongly advocated in some Pentecostal and Charismatic circles today that when a pastor or an evangelist commits an immoral act, he is to be forgiven and allowed to remain in his position of leadership. My brother, if that would be the case, it would be tantamount to destruction for the movement.
“If a man in a bank is caught stealing and someone outside the bank finds it out, are you telling me that he should just go to the brother and tell him to quite stealing, and say nothing to the bank officers about it?
“The minister of the Gospel is in a very responsible position, and he is placed there by God. He is to set the example of righteousness. And if that example is not set, it will destroy the spiritual fabric of the church. And to allow a preacher of the Gospel, when he is caught beyond the shadow of a doubt committing an immoral act and then be allowed to remain in his position as pastor (or whatever), would be the most gross stupidity.” (emphasis added)
Jimmy’s wife, Frances, also was very active in trying to bring down Bakker and PTL. Frances knew that The Charlotte Observer had been writing unfavorable articles about Jim Bakker and the PTL for several years.
A young man named Jerald Ogg, Jr. joined the staff JSM in 1983. Ogg Jr. had a law degree and a journalism degree. His duties at JSM involved handling the press. Ogg’s father, Jerald Sr., was an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God and was director of Swaggart’s crusades. Ogg Jr.’s mother was editor of Swaggart’s magazine, and his brother was personnel director and pastor of the singles group.
Upon returning from a trip with her husband to the National Religious Broadcasters annual convention in Washington D. C. (end of January and beginning of February 1987), Frances Swaggart summoned Jerald Ogg Jr., then 31 years old, to her office. Frances was arguably the most powerful executive in the Swaggart ministry. She was a woman of iron will, condemned by her detractors as ruthless, described by those more neutral as controlling and fiercely protective of her husband. She had decided to see to it that the Observer published the Jessica Hahn story, but she didn’t know how to leak information to the paper. For that, she wanted Ogg’s help. Ogg was uneasy working surreptitiously, but Frances Swaggart was anxious to protect the Swaggart ministry from accusations that it had attacked PTL for selfish competitive reasons. Ogg was unenthusiastic, but he did his duty.
On February 9, 1987 a woman anonymously called Charles Shepard at the Observer. This was Jerald Ogg Jr.’s secretary. She said she was calling on behalf of someone else who could help the Observer get the facts to publish the story that would allow the Assemblies of God to take Bakker’s ministerial papers. “They’ve turned their back on it, they’ve ignored it,” she said, “because they didn’t want to think badly of their own.”
The woman and Shepard agreed on the pseudonym “Joe,” who in reality was Jerald Ogg, Jr., and who was working under instructions from Frances Swaggart. Several hours later, “Joe” contacted Charles Shepard. On that first day, and repeatedly almost every day thereafter, Frances Swaggart doled out the fruits of her own reporting to Ogg. He scribbled the information on paper – much of didn’t make sense to him at first – so he could relay it faithfully. As Shepard came to appreciate “Joe’s” access, he would mention topics that he wanted to know more about. Unbeknownst to Shepard, “Joe” jotted down the topics Shepard wanted to know more about and took Shepard’s list back to Frances Swaggart.
Jimmy Swaggart’s intelligence network, including “Joe” aka Jerald Ogg Jr. accomplished what it set out to do. Charles Shepard had spent three of his years at The Charlotte Observer, 1984-1987, writing about mismanagement, deceit, and abuse of trust at the PTL ministry. Shepard’s final series of articles began with the story of Jessica Hahn and the payoff, which prompted Jim Bakker’s resignation on March 19, 1987.
In February 1988, a year after he began his final effort to unmask Jim Bakker’s sexual misconduct, Jimmy Swaggart confessed to his own transgression. Marvin Gorman, the New Orleans minister whose conduct Swaggart had attacked in 1986, had confronted Swaggart with evidence that Swaggart had visited a New Orleans prostitute. The evidence came to the attention of the Assemblies of God executives and to the national press. Jimmy Swaggart made a tearful but vague confession before his congregation in Baton Rouge and televised over national and worldwide TV, which has come to be known as the “I have sinned” sermon.
Rather than accept the rehabilitation program for ministers guilty of sexual misconduct presented by the Assemblies of God, Swaggart resigned and the denomination dismissed him. Swaggart’s decision to leave the Assemblies of God caused mass defections from the JSM staff and Bible College. Among those to leave were the father, mother, and brother of “Joe,” Charles Shepard’s anonymous source, who himself had departed the summer before.
The above information is taken exclusively from Forgiven: The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and the PTL Ministry, © 1989 by Charles E. Shepard, Atlantic Monthly Press, New York. It is used here under the “fair use doctrine” of the Copyright Act of 1976, §107. The material is used here for educational, not commercial, purposes; the material used is a very small portion of the original work; the work is non-fiction rather than fiction, and generally deals with facts rather than creative ideas; and the use here does not in any way detract, hinder, or reduce the commercial market for the original work; it may, in fact, increase the commercial value of the original work.
For those of you who may be current or former supporters of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, and have watched in shock or amazement or disbelief, at what is going on, or has gone on, at JSM: in their fundraising tactics, in their treatment of employees and partners, and in the lives and lifestyles lived by the Swaggart family. For Jimmy Swaggart, when he was caught (and more than one time) beyond a shadow of a doubt committing an immoral act, to have remained in his position as pastor, teacher, and evangelist, was, and is, the most gross stupidity, and it has destroyed the moral fabric of his church. These are Jimmy Swaggart’s own words, not ours! But they are as true today and they were in 1987 when Swaggart published them in his Evangelist magazine and in 1989 when Charles E. Shepard quoted them in his prize-winning book, Forgiven.