Looking At The Eyes

Sometimes miss the obvious. I never thought of the story of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker as something people would pay to see. Even less would I think that Hollywood would treat their story (somewhat) sympathetically.

Maybe that is due to my own prejudices. Even before the scandal that brought down their televangelist Empire I wasn’t interested in the Bakkers. Television evangelists seem so fake to me. 

I think it has something to do with the medium. I remember seeing David Mainse, Canada’s best-known TV preacher back in the late 1970s. On television I found his smile insincere. In person it just seemed natural. 

It wouldn’t have occurred to me to go see The Eyes of Tammy Faye in a theatre. I don’t like to pay to be depressed. When you are stuck in a plane, waiting for sinner to be served, the film seems appropriate somehow.

Jim and Tammy’s brand of Christianity appealed to millions. I wasn’t one of them. Leaving aside theological differences, I felt it took too much money and fundraising to keep the place running. I remember they needed about a million dollars weekly to keep the show on the air. Maybe that is a theological difference.

There is no doubt though that they appealed to millions of people around the world. Their ministry gave comfort to many. Though, as this film displays, they strayed from their own beliefs and got so caught up in “ministry” that they lost sight of God and his calling.

If youwere born before the 1980s, you are probably familiar with the story, or parts of it. I won’t go into plot details here. There were some revelations that surprised me.

Maybe those revelations (of an extra-marital affair – no not that one) simply aren’t true. Looking online I see that rumors of the affair were denied at the time. The movie producers were probably aware that crossing the line between truth and fiction wsn’t anything they needed to worry about when the principals were dead. Dead people have difficulty winning lawsuits.

Jessica Chastain won the Academy Award for Best Actress earlier this year for her portrayal of Tammy Faye Bakker. Having seen The Eyes of Tammy Faye, I can say it was well deserved. Her performance makes you forget she is acting – she is Tammy Faye. (The film also received the Oscars for makeup and hairstyling – also not a surprise.)

Watching this movie I was led to reflect on the nature of North American Christianity and contrast what we do today (or back in the 1980s) with what we read in The Bible. Has the church lost its focus?

Has a desire to be relevant and appealing in the 21st century meant that we have forgotten just what the church is supposed to be? Have we lost the plot in creating our own show?

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a warning, a reminder of what can happen when Christianity goes off the rails. It has a message, but isn’t preachy in putting it across.

This is a film about a fall from grace, about sin, forgiveness and redemption. Definitely not your usual Hollywood fare. Definitely worth watching. Maybe more than once.

One line stuck with me that I felt worth repeating here becasue it carries so much truth. In the film, Jum Bkker says, “Religion is boring and dull, but Jesus is life.”

Religion isn’t always boring and dull, though some expressions of it can be. Certainly though, Jesus is life.

His followers, like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, don’t always live up to their ideals, or Jesus’ ideals. But they keep on striving for them, to share God’s love to a hurting world.

That’s what The Eyes of Tammy Faye is all about.


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