FILM- Bakker boy: A 'punk's' approach to preaching

Preacher Jay Bakker's early life is all in the public record: his parents, Jim and Tammy Faye; PTL; their unholy fall from grace, and so on. 

But whatever became of the Bakkers' only son? 

Virginia Film Festival-goers may soon find out. Bakker, 30, is heading for Charlottesville to screen two episodes of One Punk Under God, a new reality television series chronicling his life and his controversial Revolution Church.

Bakker is the antithesis of a typical clergyman: he has at least 60-70 tattoos; he sports a lip ring; and he smokes. However, in spite of his appearance– not to mention his last name– Jay seemingly shares none of his dad's taste for a big show. 

Bakker says that his greatest satisfaction as a preacher comes from one-on-one conversations. He describes the thrill when people say, "I never thought God loved me, and then I heard your sermon, and it made me think differently. It caused me to look deeper into the Bible." 

In the 12 years since Bakker co-founded the nondenominational church– when he was only 18– it has expanded to include chapters in Atlanta, Charlotte, and Bakker's adopted hometown of New York. Successful as the venture has been, however, Bakker says he has no desire to become an evangelist superstar like his father.

"I just want to continue to do what I do with the Church," he says, "and continue to love people and meet them where they're at."  

His unconventional ministry has earned Bakker a reputation as a gay-affirming heretic.  

"I just think that's ridiculous," he counters. "Saying something isn't ‘godly' really makes me sick, because I feel like if you think that God created this world and gave us our brains–" he pauses before choosing his next words. "I know there are things that are bad and some things are sin, but I don't think God's up at night, pacin' back and forth, worrying about rock ‘n' roll." 

He then offers one amendment, "Well, maybe nü metal."

One thing that's distracted Bakker from his ministry recently has been his mother's health: Tammy Faye Bakker Messner is battling stage IV colon cancer, and Bakker says the ordeal has given him a new perspective. "With my mom being as sick as she is, I'm trying to focus on today and let tomorrow take care of itself," he says.

But one aspect of tomorrow Bakker can forecast is the new television series he'll preview for Festival audiences. He says the idea for One Punk surfaced when production company World of Wonder was making the 2000 documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which included an interview with her son. "They had always been kind of curious about me," he says. 

Eventually, World of Wonder approached Bakker with the idea of doing a documentary and invited him and his wife, Amanda, to L.A. to discuss it.  

"I actually thought it was going to be a really boring documentary," he says. "I didn't know a lot of crazy stuff was going to end up happening right after that. So it worked out for them." 

That "crazy stuff" includes Bakker leading cameramen on a poignant tour of the ruins of his parents' Heritage USA retreat, a destination that briefly rivalled Disneyland in popularity.

"It was actually very heartbreaking," he says. "I hope never to have to go back there again." 

As for the reality show itself, Bakker says simply, "I hope people will watch it with an open heart and an open mind, and maybe actually think about it. And if they pray, pray before they make a final decision on some of the topics it covers."

Bakker hosts a screening of the first two episodes of One Punk Under God at 10pm Friday, October 27 at the Regal Downtown Theater.

Jay Bakker is the subject of a new reality TV series, One Punk Under God.