Always, it comes down to money. Actually, it comes downnto an objection to the very idea of money, carefullyndisguised as an objection to “greed.” Since the PTL chaosnstarted, some critics of television evangelists have doneneverything but come right out and say it: How is it that thosenloony bumpkins get millions of dollars and smart people likenus don’t? The answer has to be that they are “servants ofnMammon” and that their followers are ignorant dupes ofnthe servants of Mammon.nIn fact, TV evangelism is a perfect working example ofnthe economic principle of “perceived value” (not to benconfused with the idea that there’s a sucker born everynminute). The principle turns on a simple question: Do thenpeople letting go of the money believe they’re getting theirnmoney’s worth? That is, do they believe they’re getting theirnmoney’s worth? (One is cautious with this principle. It cannbe misappropriated as a defense of relative moral values. Itsnactual function is merely to explain the success of such stuffnas good rock and roll and bad rock and roll, pet rocks, andn$120 Gucci pens. And TV preachers.nThere is no law against a widow (to use the preferrednexample) giving her rent money to Jim Bakker’s ministry.nThere are, of course—need it be said?—legal and ethicalnlimits on what Jim Bakker, as a minister, can do with thenmoney. But there are no limits on the widow’s ownninterpretation of her action; there is no one with the wisdomnor the prerogative to perceive on her behalf the value of herndecision. And the fact is, even after all the investigative andnregulatory agencies have had their welcome and proper saynabout Jim Bakker’s financial free-for-all, the perceived valuenof his ministry, past or future, is left to the determination ofnthe ministry’s supporters.nThat reality is beginning to sink in on the critics ofnreligious television, and their pained awareness of it isnleading them into dangerous territory. Stirring beneath’thenoutrage is the implication, the hint, that the real issue isn’tnthe public accountability or fiduciary responsibility or usenof the public airwaves or even tax exemption—ways tonprevent evangelists from getting money; the real issue isnsimply to stop people from giving money—an elementalnmnISSUE?nAre there other options to thenFind out in “A SOUNDER ANTI-AIDS OPTION”nby John A. HowardnSend this coupon and a check for $2.50 to:nOccasional Papers #16nThe Rocl(ford Instituten934 N. IVIain Street, Rockford, IL 61103n22 I CHRONICLESnnnsolution that not only puts an immediate end to religiousnfrauds (i.e., all TV preachers) but also protects the poor andnthe ignorant from their own misguided perception of value.nThe poor and the ignorant, we are told time and again,nhave rights. Agreed. And for the time being at least, theynhave the right, just like the wealthy and the educated, to donwith their legally acquired money whatever they legallynchoose. (Opponents of TV evangelism have so far beennunable to rationalize the existence of what might be termedn”the rich and the ignorant”; for instance, the wealthyndog-track owner who responded to Oral Roberts’ latestnmessage from God with a million-dollar check. Is he beingnvictimized? If so, is it because he’s ignorant? If not,nwhy?—because he’s rich?)nThe PTL saga might have ended there, a story that begannwith Jim Bakker’s excesses, moved on through Jerry Falwell’snPR dazzler, and wound up with yet another ideologicalnmanipulation of the idea of The Poor. But then Jim andnTammy Bakker went on Nightline. For an hour. To explainnthings. And we moved into another realm altogether.nTed Koppel, described endlessly as “tough but fair,”nbegan the interview by asking the Bakkers if they were goingnto “wrap [themselves] in the Bible” at every opportunity.nThe question was tough; the question was fair. It was also,nconsidering who he was talking to and why, sort of . . .ndumb. What did he think they were going to wrap themselvesnin—the IRS statutes? In any event, it was the lastnquestion of the interview that mattered, the last time in thenwhole PTL mess that relative perspective would be a factor.nFrom that point on, Jim and Tammy Bakker were a contextnunto themselves.nRevelations about the Bakkers’ Christian stewardship hadncentered on personal spending so unrestrained it seemednless a case of corruption than addiction, and businessnpractices so irresponsible they seemed less self-serving thannsuicidal. Now, here was Tammy Bakker, vibrating tensionnas always, defending her shopping “hobby” with a crazyperkyn”But I’m a bargain hunter!”nAnd here was Jim Bakker, ethically stunted, childlike innthe worst sense. He sounded like nothing so much as thenmanipulatively charming youngster who’s got himself cornered,nsaying, in effect, I know I made a mistake, butnsomebody else made me do it, and anyway, I’ll never do itnagain, honest, and if you don’t believe me you can watchnme, and I’ll even remind you to watch me, really. Together,nthe Bakkers were a contest of negative possibilities. Whichnwas worse: that they actually believed what they werensaying, or that they were intentionally blowing smoke? Thatnthey didn’t know any better, or that they did?nBefore the hour was over, however, Jim Bakker rightednhimself, he found his direction, he rallied. He mentionednhis hope for a new ministry, something called HurtingnHouse. He talked of his “dream” of going back on television.nAnd he asked—several times—that “the people”nwrite to him, that they let him know what they think, “hownthey feel.” The ultimate test of perceived value.nAnd proof that what goes ’round comes ’round: Almostn40 years after an inveterate rock and roller was kicked out ofnBible college for putting boogie licks to “My God Is Real,”nan incurable TV preacher was doing a gospel version ofn”Got My Mojo Working.”n