I used to listen to preachers on the radio and television. Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, Rex Humbard, Jack Van Impe, Ernest Angley, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Schuller, Oral Roberts — you name ‘em, I watched ‘em.
There were some locals, like Coy Barker (of First Assembly of God) and Marcus and Joni Lamb (founders of WMCF-TV 45) who could be seen, live and in person, with real TV studios in Montgomery. Barker went on to form a megachurch in Oklahoma and the Lambs began the DayStar Network. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker actually hosted a telethon from Montgomery back in the 1970s.
Further north, you could actually visit Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, where Mother Angelica operated Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). EWTN’s programming was produced in the Birmingham suburb of Irondale and Mother Angelica welcomed live audiences for her entertaining talk show. Mother Angelica passed away on Easter Sunday in 2016.
I was recently reminded of this radio preacher I used to listen to. He sounded like he had just fallen off the turnip truck on the way to the radio station. His scratchy, country delivery was unique; his pronunciations were often so wrong I could barely understand the point he was making.
He once spent an entire episode talking about a parable I’d never heard. In it, a father threw a big party that included a Phanty Cat.
The Phanty Cat sounded mysterious, like a job for Scooby-Doo, Shaggy and the Mystery Machine gang. I envisioned a ghostly feline coming back home for this big shebang that was being thrown. But just where in the Bible was this Phanty Cat?
A couple of weeks ago, I turned on the TV and saw Jim Bakker is back in the TV-preacher business.
Jim Bakker, the guy who lost everything? He was the first host of “The 700 Club” with Pat Robertson then went on to start the Trinity Broadcasting Network with Paul and deceased-in-2016 Jan Crouch before beginning his PTL empire.
Bakker may have been the most famous of all the televangelists, but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. It was revealed he and his ex-wife Tammy Faye were living large on the donations made by faithful PTL Club viewers — and some money had been spent on keeping his mistresses quiet for several years.
Ah, the Prodigal. The word means “wastefully extravagant.” Such a fascinating story, and it was our Bible reading in church last Sunday. A father has two sons. The younger son asks for his inheritance then squanders it all, living the high life while seeing the world. He returns home, expecting to have to beg for a job on his father’s farm. Instead the father orders up a feast for his long-lost son.
The older son, who had stayed loyal, refuses to participate. But the father tells him why they are celebrating: the younger son was once lost but now is found. The father instructs the oldest son to get the fatted calf. This would have been a big deal back in the day.
That old radio preacher in my memory garbled “fatted calf” to the point where it sounded like “Phanty Cat.” But the Prodigal story reminds us all no matter how bad we can be sometimes, we can always come home.
It looks like Jim Bakker did his time. He’s a lot older now. But he was preaching about forgiveness and loving everyone like Jesus did even if they look or act or believe differently than you. Yes, Jim Bakker, who was shamed publicly, was actually talking about those three little words — love one another. That’s something even the Phanty Cat could believe in.