Recap of Part I: October, 1988–Powerful televangelist and right wing culture warrior Jimmy Swaggart is caught on camera in the company of known prostitute Debra Murphree at a dilapidated brothel motel in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, Louisiana. Fellow Pentecostal evangelist and Swaggart rival/enemy Marvin Gorman prompts the sting. Gorman confronts Swaggart outside Murphree’s motel room. Swaggart is delayed at the scene of the tryst by a staged flat tire.
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”–Jesus Christ; Matthew 6:24
Ministers are not just preachers, they are counselors too, attending to congregations–and persons therein–that are not always inclined toward psychological counseling but in need of it nonetheless. Preachers wives have an especially difficult role in church life–moving often, always hosting and forever scrutinized they have very little privacy and precious little personal identity–so it isn’t surprising that Lynda Savage, the wife of Reverend David Savage sought Marvin Gorman’s counsel. Mrs. Savage was having marital problems, on that issue, her and Gorman’s account is compatible.
According to Gorman on December 28, 1978 Lynda Savage called him at his office. Alone at a local motel she said she was severely depressed. She threatend suicide. Reverend Gorman dropped everything and rushed to her side.
At the motel he found the door unlocked and, upon entry into the room, Mrs. Savage draped in a robe and sitting on the bed. An open bottle of pills was on the nightstand.
Afraid that she had taken the pills he rushed over to the bed and sat down with her. That was when, he said, Mrs. Savage let the robe drop. She was naked.
They embraced and began to kiss. He unzipped his pants and attempted intercourse but was overcome by guilt and remorse. He stood up and composed himself. After apologizing to her profusely, Gorman told her that what they were doing was wrong, that he had to leave. And he did.
Naturally Mrs. Savage’s version of events differs considerably. According to her, she and Gorman had sex between eight and nine times during an affair that lasted two years. Savage claimed that the affair began during a counseling session when he diagnosed her with Anorgasmia (the inability for a woman to have an orgasm). He told her that he could show her how to achieve one. Mrs. Savage said she was the one who ended the affair because of conscience pangs and that Gorman tried on several occasions to reignite it.
As for threatening suicide, Savage denied it. “I did not threaten. I might have made a statement like, ‘I feel like the best thing might be if I just died.’ But I did not threaten.”
Both Gorman and Savage believed that only they knew about their “affair” even if they disagreed about the duration, intensity and number of indiscretions that comprised it. They were wrong.
The year 1986 was proving to be a good one for Marvin Gorman. Due to his good looks, impressive stature and genuine love of people and a willingness to meet them where they stood in life, (as well as his tolerance of, and outreach to, lapsed Catholics) the First Assemblies of God congregation in New Orleans that he pastored had grown from little more than 100 members to a jaw dropping 6,000 strong.
Not only that, Gorman had been elected to the national Executive Board of the Assemblies of God where he had a hand in the doctrinal and disciplinary matters within the denomination; and, perhaps most significantly, he was in the process of finalizing the purchase of two television stations with satilites. Additionally, he was about to break ground on a new building project only a few blocks away from his current church site.
Though things were clicking on all eight cylinders for Gorman in New Orleans, all was not quiet on the Pentecostal front from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Charlotte, North Carolina. Just 80 miles north of New Orleans, Baton Rouge was the bastion of the Assemblies of God denomination and the home of its famous firebrand televangelist Jimmy Swaggart whose television show A Study in the Word was broadcast to over 3,000 stations at the time. Eight hundred miles northeast of Baton Rouge lies the major metropolitan area of Charlotte, North Carolina which in 1986 was the hub of Pentecostal televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s PTL (Praise The Lord) Network empire. The Bakker’s and Swaggart did not see eye to eye.
Jimmy Swaggart buttered his bread with a more traditional, fundamentalist Pentecostalism. He railed against “Catholic apostasy”. He forbade dancing of any kind, even aerobics, and demanded that women be subservient to their husbands. He was particularly strict on sexual matters going so far to denounce oral sex between a husband and wife as perverted and berating young men and women for masturbating. Pornography was anathema.
Swaggart’s preaching style was dramatic, accusatory and physical. He would contort his face to demonstrate the horror and vileness of sin. He whooped and hollered. A tall, broad shouldered man, he lunged and swung at the demons of the air. He pleaded and cajoled. He captivated and entertained. He asked for money from his “faithful friends of the ministry” so he could save the prostitute. The pornographer. The adulterer. The apostate. And the money poured in.
Jim Bakker, on the other hand, was softer–in every sense of the word. He and his wife, Tammy Faye, modeled their television empire on the Johnny Carson Show. The PTL club was conspicuously wholesome–the hosts chatted up well known preachers of the day and gospel singers performed–while at the same time ostentatiously garish–there was a fetid vibe to Jim’s baby fat face and luxury casual wear and Tammy Faye’s spider webbed mascara, bejeweled fingers and extreme crying jags. In his “keys to success” self help books Bakker extoled the tenets of the “prosperity gospel”: God wants you to be happy. God wants you to be succesful. God wants you to be rich.
Of course, according to Jim Bakker, ‘God’s largess was contingent upon “you” being generous. Therefore “you” should demonstrate your generosity by donating “whatever you can” to the PTL Network. The more you give, the more you receive,’ so went the preamble of Jim and Tammy Bakker’s pitch. And it was successful. At the height of the PTL’s popularity it was worth well over a hundred million dollars.
Swaggart took umbrage with the prosperity gospel, outwardly because it was unbiblical and anti-Christ, inwardly because he was envious and threatened by Bakker’s success. When he went on one of his many televised tirades about “limp wristed preachers” few, if any, viewers doubted who he was fuming about. Jim Bakker canceled Swaggart’s scheduled appearances and his televised sermons on PTL Network.
Though Marvin Gorman tried to stay out of the feud, he was friends with Jim and Tammy Faye. That friendship and his rising star within the Assemblies of God circles put Gorman and his energized ministry in Swaggart’s crosshairs.
It had been an unremarkable but busy, summer day in New Orleans when the phone rang in Marvin Gorman’s office. He took the call.
“Marvin, this is David Savage,” the caller said. “Do you have time for me to stop by and see you today?” “Sure,” Gorman answered. “But the earliest I can see you is four o’clock this afternoon.”
“Very well. I’ll see you then,” Savage said.
Gorman hung up and went about his day as usual, noting that whatever it was that Savage wanted, it seemed a little urgent. Even so, he wasn’t the least bit alarmed. He knew Savage well, having mentored him in the ministry. It wasn’t unusual for the young preacher to ask Gorman’s advice about church matters. At four o’clock Savage was right on time.
As soon as Savage entered the room Gorman sensed something was wrong. His guest didn’t bother to sit down. Instead he turned and faced Gorman, looking him dead in the eyes.
“We know about you and my wife,” he said.
It was July 15, 1986. Marvin Gorman’s life would change dramatically that day. And as hot as it was, things were about to get even hotter.