Thank You, Tammy Faye

“Jimmy Hoffa has been found, and he has chosen to come back as Tammy Faye Bakker.”

That was a somewhat morbid and disrespectful joke that circulated in the late 1970s and 80s, as one public figure permanently disappeared and another came to prominence.  I used to tell it fairly often, probably because both of them fascinated me (and maybe because I just couldn’t really believe her makeup). 

Of course, Bakker re-created herself after her first husband, televangelist Jim Bakker, disgraced himself and the PTL movement, even becoming a gay icon for her advocacy of LGBT equality. She died in 2007, after a long battle against cancer. Their son, Jay, is a noted evangelical Christian speaker for LGBT rights (see my post, “A Preacher’s Son Comes Out,” April 29, 2009)

Hoffa most likely was simply “bumped off” by some part of the criminal element that had infiltrated the Teamsters Union that he led for many years.

Why write about this today? It is 35 years to the day since Hoffa disappeared, last seen outside a fancy restaurant in suburban Detroit (not far from my hometown). After convictions for extortion and other crimes, he had been freed from prison by President Nixon but restricted from engaging in union work. He was trying a comeback, after Nixon’s disgrace.

Tammy Faye had been the butt of many jokes. And she did seem to careen from one sad episode to another.

Yet, today, of the three–Bakker, Hoffa, and Nixon–I would choose to sit and talk with her. The life of faith can be bumpy, but it is meant to be lived as honestly as we can.

Thank you, Tammy Faye, for doing your best.