The pastor plans to bring his unconventional Christian church to a Minneapolis bar.
Jay Bakker walks the campus of the Minneapolis school where his famous televangelist parents Jim and Tammy Faye first met and fell in love.
Bundled in a black leather jacket and hat, he sits on a bench in the park next to North Central University where his parents stole kisses. From the campus bookstore, he buys a pendant bearing the school’s insignia to give to his father.
“I wouldn’t be here if not for that school,” said Bakker, 37, over a cup of coffee. “I do feel a kindred spirit here.”
Bakker is not just here for the memories. After nearly seven years as pastor of a popular New York church, Bakker has moved to Minneapolis to start a new congregation — in a bar.
His move here reflects Minnesota’s growing prominence in the Emerging Church movement, an unconventional, broad-minded brand of Christianity that questions traditional religious labels and practices.
Covered in tattoos and piercings, Bakker looks more like a hipster than a minister — quite different in style and beliefs from his evangelical parents, who made headlines in the 1980s for their PTL ministry and subsequent fall from grace amid scandal and fraud. Bakker is liberal-leaning on social issues and a fervent gay rights supporter. He has married same-sex couples in New York where the practice is legal.
Keeps in touch with father
While Bakker spent his early youth in North Carolina where the PTL ministry was based, he has strong roots in Minnesota. His mother was from International Falls. His parents met at what was then North Central Bible College. His father served nearly four years in federal prison in Rochester for his part in the PTL fraud, and Jay visited him there as a teen.
He keeps in touch with his father, who leads a church in Branson, Mo. His mother died from cancer in 2007.
Bakker said he and his wife were drawn to Minneapolis for a number of reasons, chiefly the thriving Emerging Church presence. Leaders count close to a half-dozen Twin Cities area congregations.
“In Minneapolis, I’ve seen so many intellectual believers,” Bakker said. “People are open-minded. I’m excited to dive into that and see more of that in the city.”
In Brooklyn, members of Bakker’s Revolution church meet at Pete’s Candy Store, a hip bar where Bakker has delivered a sermon from a stool or talked about religious questions he’s wrestling with. Up to 75 people attend; others find his talks online.
Bakker is looking for a Minneapolis location where he can mimic this stripped-down form of worship. No live band or music, no ornate trappings or traditions. Participants can talk about most any religious subject matter. Members of Emerging Church congregations like Bakker’s have often become disillusioned with institutionalized religion.
“For some people, they’ve been so hurt by the church that the fact they can have a beer or drink in order to come back to church is a baby step,” Bakker said.
Falling away, finding faith
Bakker himself became disillusioned following the fall of his parents’ ministry. He said pastors and other supporters abandoned his family when they were in need of help.
“No one wants to have anything to do with you,” Bakker said. “Your dad’s sitting in prison. Your mom is trying to raise you as a single parent. ... It wasn’t the Christian message I’d heard growing up. My parents were always real positive. ... They were like, ‘God loves you, he really does. And you can make it.’ Life hands you a lemon, make lemonade. That kind of stuff.”
“When we went through this, I didn’t see any of that. So in a way I got real disillusioned because I thought, that must be just talk. It’s all talk.”