Based first in Charlotte, North Carolina, and then in Fort Mill, South Carolina, the PTL Club was one of the most successful ventures in televangelism for much of the 1970s and 1980s. PTL stood for both "Praise The Lord" and "People That Love." Jim Bakker (b. January 2, 1940) and his wife, Tammy Faye (b. March 7, 1942), used the popular program as a springboard to develop a Pentecostally-oriented resort, theme park, shopping mall, cable network, and entertainment center called Heritage USA in Fort Mill. The complex drew more than five million visitors annually by the mid-1980s.Bakker, once affiliated with the Assemblies of God, began his career in religious television in 1966 working with Pat Robertson. After leaving Robertson's employ in 1972, Bakker helped form the Trinity Broadcasting System in California. In January 1974, the PTL Club was launched in Charlotte. The Bakkers combined the traditional talk show format with lively religious entertainment, personal testimonies, and frequent pitches for financial support. Personal religious experience, usually of an emotional nature, was touted as the panacea for all problems.
The Bakker empire endured several run-ins with tax authorities, but when a sex scandal involving Bakker erupted in 1986 and 1987, he resigned in disgrace. Bakker turned over the PTL Club and Heritage USA to Jerry Falwell, who remained at the helm only briefly. Bakker later served a prison term for income tax evasion. His wife divorced him and married one of his associates. Parts of Heritage USA endure, but by the 1990s it had ceased to be a monument to televangelism and evangelical popular culture.
Charles H. Lippy