Son of televangelist shuns fame of megachurch world

NEW YORK — Jamie Charles Bakker, a prodigal son, beloved child of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, “Son of a Preacher Man” and “One Punk Under God.”

All of these might describe him, but that isn’t who he is. He is Jay Bakker — a man of God who stands firm in his spiritual convictions.

Bakker pastors Revolution NYC in Brooklyn. He and Revolution firmly stand for sharing unconditional love and the grace of Jesus.

I was on a search to meet the punk preacher and hear his sermon of grace. I found Bakker in Pete’s Candy Store on a sunny yet chilly Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn. In a little room off the bar with faded wallpaper, a red leather ceiling and light from a yellow bulb filling the area with a glow, Bakker sat drinking a diet cola, wearing his signature cuffed jeans, black button-up shirt, gray cap and classic “Beat” glasses.

He admits the road here was hard at times, not straight and still bumpy. But nonetheless, he said his journey is worth the fight for grace.

He is not and will never be a mega-minister. This is by his own choosing. He knows the life of megachurches and ministers. As the son of the founders of the Praise The Lord ministries (PTL), he was raised at Heritage USA, a Christian retreat his family had envisioned, created and had taken away.

Bakker was born into the televangelists’ limelight. Later he was shunned from it, to never return. The same empire his family had worked so hard to create was the same one to kick them down, refusing to offer God’s mercy, forgiveness or grace.

Bakker said he feels church is about community and knowing its people like family. He doesn’t want Revolution to lose what it has worked so hard to be.

“Revolution is a church run by imperfect people for imperfect people,” he said.

Bakker was closest to his mother. This past year was filled with the highs and lows of loss. His mom, Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, fought pancreatic cancer four times but succumbed to the disease.

With her passing, Bakker said he has realized what true loneliness is. It has brought him the cold understanding of the uncertainty of life and a feeling of abandonment. He does smile though, with the understanding of real pain, and that life is too short to focus on false truths.

He now knows we have to grasp what is honest and real in our lives. That we need to seek what is real, and in that truth share a loving, helping hand and a sense of compassion for the common man.

“We don’t need to spend so much time tearing each other down or apart, but more time loving each other and building each other up,” Bakker said. “I think a lot of Christians, we major in minors and make a lot of small things into important issues that really aren’t there, and it kind of distracts us from the important things like love and compassion and grace.”

A real man with human flaws, Bakker is in a stage of struggle. He’s ready to share something that sounds so simple yet is so hard for society to grasp: God’s grace.

Acceptance is key

At Revolution, grace is offered with no strings attached because of a persons’ lifestyle or religious background — gay or straight, black or white, left or right.

Revolution is open to all of God’s children. Revolution meets people where they are in life. There are no status quos, hoops or handstands needed to obtain God’s grace here. You are loved and warmly welcomed before you step through the door.

Standing for what he and Revolution believe hasn’t been easy, Bakker acknowledges.

When some others found that the ministry loved and welcomed all, there was backlash, and many of the so-called faithful disappeared. Bakker said the first to make waves were people in the Christian community.

“A lot of the stuff I was seeing in the church was more about man’s tradition than anything,” he said. “That’s what really caused me to want to make it about a message of grace, love and acceptance. For the most part, we have had a lot of support, and I am just trying to follow my convictions.”

In that first meeting, I knew that Bakker was the real deal. He was the minister I had been searching for through my sometimes wayward, but solid walk with God. He professed an overwhelming and deeply honest love for all mankind — completely transparent, an open door for all to see.

For the first time, I didn’t feel like I was being accepted under an unspoken condition. I was actually doing church and seeking Jesus with people just like me: artists, bankers, punks, musicians, teachers and students — people seeking God’s grace.

Bakker is flawed, broken, lessoned and learned but forgiven in God’s grace, just as I am. I was being loved by Jesus and being given pure grace.

The service was enthralling, with everyone eager to hear Bakker’s sermon.

It is no ordinary church. There were no pews, no traditional pulpit for him to admire us from, no offering plate passed with pleadings for donations. The room was filled elbow-to-elbow with nearly 20 of Bakker’s flock who had gathered in the back room to hear him speak.

Sitting on a black stool with Bible and sketch book in hand, he began to share his message, a message of peace and acceptance for all. This was not your typical sit down and listen service. Bakker at times chatted with us, asked opinions, even asked for the right word. Laughter and stories were shared.

Reaching out online

Revolution isn’t a one-man show. The assistant pastor is a star in his own right. He is the Rev. Vince Anderson, a minister by day and a music man by night.

Marc Brown is Revolution’s business manager who sees that Revolution reaches far more than the small group that gathers Sunday afternoons. With a new Web site and sermons podcasted and posted each week, Revolution leaders have heard of people as far away as Switzerland listening in.

“Last year, Revolution NYC received about 1 million unique site visits. In addition, more than 50,000 listened to services on the Web site, and more than 160,000 people checked out our podcasts, most of which subscribe to the podcast and automatically download the service each week.

“There’s really no way to know how big the online church is,” Brown said.

“We get e-mails from people all over the world that tune in to the service each week, chat on the message boards or just have a quick question. Through the Web site, Revolution has been able to connect with people that cannot find a church to attend in their hometown that accepts them just as they are, requiring no change.”

Bakker is pleased with the response.

“Even some people who just don’t even go to church at all, they kind of look at Revolution as their church. That is a really neat thing,” he said. His message reaches worldwide with small groups and individuals alstreaming in to do church via the Web. In living rooms and coffee shops, Bakker’s message of grace is heard.

Revolution is a patchwork of God’s people, who have come together to be a family of grace.

I feel God grabbed me that day in Pete’s Candy Store and swore to never let go. Revolution NYC is a place for the lost, the found and the in-between — a place for people like me.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday February 25, 2008.
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