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Charlotte Talks: Revisiting The PTL Era / Acclaimed Play Takes Leap Of Faith

File photo / The Charlotte Observer

Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017

The rise and fall of the PTL empire is revisited in a new book. A conversation with the author, then a look at an acclaimed play on religion, "The Christians," making its Charlotte debut.


Before the megachurch boom, there was the televangelism wave of the 1970s and 80s, and three letters of the alphabet toward over the scene: PTL.

Led by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, PTL https://youtu.be/-lLh7aVEh2o?t=18s" target="_blank">pioneered the “electronic church,” beaming the Gospel - and pleas for money - into millions of homes.

The TV ministry that began in Charlotte became an empire just over the state line in Fort Mill, where millions flocked to PTL’s Heritage USA resort. There seemed to be no end in sight to PTL’s expansion.

Credit Maria David / The Charlotte Observer
In March 1987, as The Charlotte Observer investigated financial and sexual improprieties, Jim Bakker resigned from PTL.

But 30 years ago, a chain of events began that led to PTL’s collapse. A sex scandal and financial abuses uncovered by The Charlotte Observer led to Bakker’s resignation, and within three years Bakker was headed to federal prison.

That gaudy and turbulent era is chronicled in a new book by University of Missouri historian John H. Wigger. He joins Mike Collins, along with a former Charlotte Observer editor involved in the paper's Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on PTL.


John H. Wigger, University of Missouri, chair, Department of History; author, PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire

Mark Ethridge, former Charlotte Observer managing editor; WFAE board vice-chair


We turn from the woes of a TV minister to those of a make-believe megachurch.

“The Christians,” which opened last week at Booth Playhouse, offers a window into a doctrinal divide set into motion by a pastor who abruptly abandons the tenet of heaven and hell.

The ramifications - personal and spiritual - are explored on-stage, as well as off-stage in post-show conversations with the actors and local clergy.

It’s received glowing reviews since its 2014 debut, and now hopes to have start a conversation about faith in this “city of churches.”


Steve Umberger, director, "The Christians"

April C. Turner, actress, "The Christians"

The Rev. Val Rosenquist, senior pastor, First United Methodist Church


Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, through Oct. 1. More information here.