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Story by Andy Argyrakis
While his appearance may throw more conservative followers of his folks' program for a loop, Jay hasn't gone off the deep end and succumbed to his families' shortcomings, despite several temptations in the wake of his father revealing an affair and then heading off to prison after being indicted for fraud. Rather he's embraced a culture that's often forgotten within self-righteous circles- the punks, outcasts, club goers and unconventional personalities who are seeking spirituality, but have few places to turn within the nightlife scene. His solution was to start a church called The Revolution, a unique entity that meets in bars with locations in Atlanta, New York City and Charlotte.
"A lot of people have an idea of what Christianity is- that you automatically have to be a Republican who's pro-life- but there are people who just don't want to associate it," says Bakker via phone from his Big Apple home, who not only debunks those stereotypes, but is a self-proclaimed punk, regular smoker/drinker and gay affirming man of faith (though he's personally straight). "People say 'keep me away from religion' because they don't want anything to do with it. They also aren't interested in having Christianity masked as something cool. They simply want you to be real."
And that Bakker has been, as chronicled on his recent reality show "One Punk Under God" on the alternative television staple Sundance Channel. The artsy station may seem like an unusual place to show the unconventional messenger sharing spiritual thoughts in diverse settings such as The Masquerade (an Atlanta music venue where the group meets), but the unpredictable nature of his methods seemed intriguing to producers.
"It's a pretty laid back environment- we play music on an iPod, have a service, people hang out at the bar and some go out to eat afterwards," Bakker explains. "I had offers from several [production companies] to follow me along the way, but I trusted World of Wonder [that previously worked with Tammy Faye] to film the experience and then Sundance expressed interest. It's hard to trust media after all we've been through, but I wanted to get the message out there."
Even though its been two decades since his father's fall from grace, hardly a day goes by when Jay doesn't think about the consequences of the scandal. It's brought up in nearly every episode of "One Punk Under God," but also in his daily interactions with friends, fans and his flock. "There are definitely days I let it go, but for many years of my life I couldn't," he admits. "When I preach, I might use it as an example, just as any pastor would throughout their life."
While his dad has long since bounced back into the television and book limelight, Jay admits their relationship has been strained through the years. Though the glare of the tabloids hasn't exactly helped them get closer, there have been other factors, including not seeing eye to eye on all church-related issues. Even so, Jim is a frequent guest on "One Punk Under God," from driving in a car with Jay to speaking in front of The Revolution.
His mother (who's ironically since become a gay icon) is now Tammy Faye Messner after remarrying, but she still speaks to Jim on occasion, including a family interview on CNN's "Larry King Live" in December 2006. Jay's thankful for her unconditional encouragement and constant support, though is obviously worried on camera and during this particular conversation about her ailing health.
"She's at stage four cancer, which has spread to her lungs and spine," notes a solemn Jay. "It's pretty devastating stuff and she's tired a lot, but she's a fighter. She's already surprised all of the doctors and she's always been a survivor- one who never gives up. My mom's always been one of those people who kept moving forward, despite the people who've been unsupportive, and it's such an inspiration to me."
And that kind of positive reinforcement, along with countless letters from those rescued from lives of addiction and inner turmoil as a result of The Revolution, is the gas that keeps Jay going. But even with all of the impact, there's still a fair share of controversy generated from the situation, such as those who believe mixing religious and bar culture is completely taboo. Even so, Bakker doesn't let those voices keep him down and instead takes the diplomatic approach when reacting to their complaints. "Please don't throw the baby out with the bath water," he urges. "There's too much division and we need learn to agree to disagree. The Bible says to love one another, and that's the most valuable thing, despite our differences."
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