Denomination of Defrocked Bakker Hurt but Hopeful
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Thousands of members of the church that defrocked TV minister Jim Bakker gathered Wednesday for a national assembly, distressed by the PTL scandal but hopeful it will spur others to greater rectitude.
″It’s been a time of embarrassment and humiliation for us,″ said the Rev. G. Raymond Carlson of Springfield, Mo., general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.
However, he added: ″Out of it could come some good fallout of self cleansing and examining of our priorities as individuals. We’ll come out of it better and stronger.″
Bakker’s fall from his electronic ministry came after his admission last March of a sexual liaison with a woman fan of the PTL - ″Praise the Lord″ or ″People that Love″ - television empire he founded.
The Assemblies of God later revoked his ministerial credentials both for adultery and alleged homosexual activity.
More than 15,000 members, pastors and laity, were expected for the biennial general council of the denomination, convening Thursday to run through Tuesday.
The Pentecostal denomination is distinguished by its emphasis on gifts of the Holy Spirit - divine healing and speaking in unknown tongues - phenomena recounted in the earliest stages of Christianity.
Old-line churches generally discounted such happenings, maintaining they ceased after the apostolic age, but in recent years the movement has entered mainline denominations under the name of ″charismatic″ renewal.
The 2.l-million Assemblies of God has become a major Protestant body in America, 10th in size among the large denominations, and the fastest growing of them all.
That growth amounts to 2.19 percent annually, twice the rate of population growth, while major denominations slip in membership, except Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists, both up about 1 percent in the latest figures.
Its warm, lively, often spontaneous style of worship has been cited as a reason for its unusual growth, along with its high sense of God’s presence and zealous evangelical preaching.
The Rev. Terry Terrell, coordinator of district-church relations, said the keen awareness of ″God’s sovereignty″ over all life, plus ″revivalism and worship style″ were factors in the rapid growth.
Terrell said it isn’t likely that the Bakker affair will come up in the proceedings here, other than in a statement about the situation to be presented Friday by Carlson.
Carlson said there would be no discussion or action on the matter then.
Nevertheless, the subject was a keen concern of the people gathering here, about 700 of them voting delegates.
Bakker was not expected to attend, but one of his key accusers, TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, an Assemblies clergyman, was scheduled to be present.
″It no doubt will be on the minds of some,″ Carlson said. ″But our major concern is for renewal and revival in the church, looking forward to strategies for the last decade of the 20th century.″
Partly as a result of the scandal, he said ″I think there will be an expression of desires to return to basics.″
The Rev. Rollin Carlson, an Everett, Wash., pastor and member of a 10- member resolutions committee, said he felt sure the Bakker matter would be on the minds of many delegates.
″It’s a loud clear call for deeper introspection of all members,″ he said. ″Anytime there are extensive ministries, such as by the Assembies of God, there needs to be close scrutiny.
″Everybody needs to answer some criticism. It’s healthy for the denomination″