Tammy Faye Messner, better know as Tammy Faye Bakker, left her mark on the American cultural landscape with her unique way of talking about the Bible. Tom Gregory recalls, "Tammy Faye would call her beloved bible 'God's word,' then hand you a copy she had autographed herself -- that was Tammy Faye. She wore pain for a moment and optimism for a lifetime. Her brand wasn't all religion -- it was all Tammy Faye. "
Tammy Faye has always been a controversial figure. As the wife of the American televangelist Jim Bakker, the couple flew around the world, collecting houses and foreign cars and making bizarre demands that they billed to Praise the Lord Ministry, which they founded together in 1972. They were part of the surge of American evangelist to preach the prosperity gospel rather than the virtues of asceticism. Material wealth was a sign of God's blessing and by all appearances, they were one of their deity's favorites.
PTL Ministries dissolved in the mid-80s after Bakker was found guilty of stealing $3.7 million from his flock. The Bakkers were divorced in 1992 and Tammy Faye then married Roe Messner who helped found the Christian-themed amusement park Heritage USA in North Carolina.
Tammy Faye repeatedly defended her extravagant lifestyle. She told Larry King, "People say we went too far - but what's wrong with Christians having some fun?"
But aside from the lavish lifestyle that arose suspicion of the true motives of her dedication to evangelism, she and Bakker will likely be most remembered for their dedication to gay rights. Their understanding of the Bible meant supporting the gay community and they stuck to their message at a time when doing so as an evangelical was almost unheard of.
Jim Mayard, a gay activist (and atheist) in Memphis had this to say:
"Tammy Faye was one of the first 'evangelical' Christians to embrace people with AIDS in the 1980s when Falwell, Reagan, etc. were demonizing gays and people with AIDS. In her later years, Tammy found support among many in the gay community and even traveled to gay pride events to share her gospel of love. [...]
I may not agree with her religious beliefs, and she was not a 'saint,' but if anyone showed the true meaning of 'Christianity' I think Tammy did. She made big mistakes in her life, and suffered greatly. But if you actually read the Bible it is filled with flawed people who made BIG mistakes ("sins"), but found forgiveness ("salvation") through their belief in a god of love. Jesus himself embraced people rejected by society and spent most of his time preaching against self-righteous religious fanatics ("scribes and Pharisees").
Tammy did that too, and her son formed a church in New York that reaches out to those who do not measure up to many "mainstream" churches: poor, punks, homeless, gays, etc. I doubt he will become rich or get his own TV network, but maybe he learned the true meaning of 'Christianity' from his mother. RIP Tammy Faye, I hope you found peace. The way you lived in the end almost persuaded me there might be a god, or I hope you found something like that in the end."