Beginning December 13, the Sundance Channel (unfortunately, unavailable here in Canada) will be airing a new 6-part series called One Punk Under God. It’s a documentary that follows Jay Bakker, the only son of former PTL Club founders Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, as he tries to deal with the pressures of pastoring his own “alternative” Revolution Church.
Jay certainly didn’t intend to enter the ministry. After his parents’ ministry collapsed in the late 1980s after charges of financial impropriety and his father’s affair, Jay abandoned the church and the faith and plunged into a lifestyle of substance abuse, punk rock, and tattoos. He’s left the drugs and alcohol behind, but the do-it-yourself ethic of punk (and more than 60 tattoos) remain at the heart of his ministry. He calls Revolution a church “for people who have given up on church” and “those who feel rejected by religion.” Part of the revolution plays out in front of the camera and involves his embrace of the gay and lesbian communities, which causes rifts with some of his original backers.
Jay is a tremendously likeable character trying to escape the lengthy shadow of his parents’ legacy, and though there are still a few moments that make me cringe, I find myself rooting for him. In the first episode (available free at the iTunes store), he revisits Heritage U.S.A., the “Christian retreat center” (theme park) founded by his parents. Now abandoned and overgrown, the site seems like a metaphor for the ministry of Jim and Tammy Faye, who, despite their obvious faults, come across as basically decent people. Jay is trying to follow Christ as authentically as possible, with the added burden of feeling somehow responsible for his parents’ many sins.
The show is extremely compelling to me personally. As someone who has had a rocky relationship with the (admittedly milder Canadian version of) evangelical subculture, this speaks to me deeply about wanting to keep Christ while ditching so much of what passes for organized religion today. Sure, the appeal of Jay Bakker’s church to younger people might appear trendy and shallow. But it might just be an expression of the sort of unconditional love that the gospel is all about.
Unfortunately, the screener DVD I was sent only contained the first four episodes, and by some horrible twist of fate, episode 2 was repeated twice while episode 3 was missing entirely. So, until I can download these for myself, I’ll just have to assume that the rest of the series is as interesting as the first hour.
Good article about Jay Bakker from Radar Magazine
One from the New Yorker and another from New York magazine.
P.S. Make sure you click the Heritage U.S.A. link. There are some really great photos of what the park looks like now, and no matter how you might feel about Christian theme parks, there is something sort of sad in these pictures.
P.P.S. How annoying that the Apple Store in Canada doesn’t have the free episode, and any attempt to set up an account at the U.S. Apple Store fails because my credit card has a billing address in Canada. I can’t even download free stuff. Bad Apple!!