GUY RAZ, host:
Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
Jay Bakker has one of the most famous last names in evangelical Christianity, or perhaps infamous, being the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.
Unidentified Man: The PTL Television Network presents Jim and Tammy.
RAZ: At the height of their success, the Bakkers' Christian television empire reached 13 million viewers. But it all came crashing down in 1987 after a sex scandal and then a fraud indictment that sent Jim Bakker to prison. It was then when Jay Bakker's life began to unravel. He got into drugs, became an alcoholic and all but dropped out.
But he never lost his connection to faith, and he's written about it in a new book called "Falling to Grace." Back in 1994, Jay Bakker cofounded Revolution Church, a place that was designed to be everything his parents' empire was not. For one thing, the church meets in a Brooklyn bar. And, well, then there's the preacher, Jay Bakker.
Mr. JAY BAKKER (Author, "Falling to Grace"; Pastor, Revolution Church): Well, I'm about 5'8", covered in tattoos. I have full tat sleeves and my fingers tattooed. I wear a leather jacket and jeans usually and a T-shirt.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BAKKER: So, Marlon Brando's probably one of my fashion icons with my hair, which is awesome.
RAZ: I think you look a lot - I mean, strikingly similar to your father, Jim Bakker, if Jim Bakker was in a hardcore punk band.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RAZ: That's what you look like.
Mr. BAKKER: He was for a while.
RAZ: He was before he went into the ministry.
Mr. BAKKER: Yeah, I do. I look a lot like my father.
RAZ: The tattoos isn't just about, sort of describing your appearance, but it's actually a pretty fundamental part of who you are because of what those tattoos say. And I want to ask you about some of them. You have one on your body that says, religion destroys.
Mr. BAKKER: Yes.
RAZ: Can you explain that?
Mr. BAKKER: Well, I got it probably 10 years ago. And it's just the idea that manmade religion and tradition really hurt people. And we use it as a game. And my idea back then, especially, was more of promoting a relationship with Jesus and following the life of Christ and not being religious about it. Religion can be a very dangerous thing, and I think it's a constant reminder to me to be careful.
RAZ: The word grace shows up in this book a lot, and it's a word you use a lot. When you use that word, what do you mean?
Mr. BAKKER: It's, you know, unconditional acceptance, God's love for us, the free gift of - some people say free gift of salvation. But to me, it's just God saying, I love you. I love you just the way you are, not the way you should be. I think grace is accepting that you're accepted. It's just that moment where you're able to say, I am accepted by a power greater than myself.
And to me, that's grace. And grace gives us the ability to love others and love our enemies, which is sometimes a very tall order.
RAZ: You are a pastor. You have a ministry. It meets in a bar in Williamsburg, which is like sort of the mecca, I guess, for hipster America. You know, where you got a lot of kids in skinny jeans riding fixed-gear bikes.
Mr. BAKKER: A lot of adults.
RAZ: You end your sermons asking your members to tip the bartender on their way out. Describe what a typical service is like because you're in a bar.
Mr. BAKKER: Yeah. Well, service is usually, we - people get there early. Some people get drinks, some people don't. I speak usually for 45 minutes to an hour sometimes. Then, we dismiss and then we hang out some more.
RAZ: You have been very vocal about your support for things like gay marriage, that you believe abortion should be legal. I mean, couldn't somebody argue that you have actually just taken sort of liberal or left-wing ideas and applied them to your faith?
Mr. BAKKER: Oh, they argue it all the time. Yeah, definitely. You know, you're always going to have that. You know, I'm following my convictions, particularly with the LGBT issue. I just believe that everyone deserves equal and civil rights, and I believe that the Bible has been misconstrued to say things that aren't there. And I think it's hurt a lot of people.
And I think it's the opposite of what I understand from the teachings of Christ, and even the teachings of Paul, even though a lot of people will blame Paul for what some people call the clobber scriptures against the LGBTQ community. And I believe that the church is unfortunately still the taillight, as Martin Luther King used to say. And I'm hoping that we can become the headlight one day.
RAZ: My guest is Jay Bakker. He's the pastor of Revolution Church in New York and the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. His new book is called "Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self and Society."
I know that you were very close with your mother and with her up to the moment when she passed away. Talk a little bit about your relationship with your dad. What is it like?
Mr. BAKKER: Well, I mean, it's like the, you know, father and son thing. I mean, my dad was in prison for five years so we didn't get to spend a whole lot of time together. So it's definitely like two men trying to express their love for each other, which is sometimes awkward for a father and son. We definitely have different viewpoints on theology and different thoughts like that. And I'm trying to carry on my own thing.
But you know, I understand that if it wasn't for my father and the things that he did and my mother did, you know, I wouldn't be here today, and I wouldn't be doing what I am doing. So I'd like to give credit where credit's due, but at the same time, you know, me and my dad aren't going to always see eye to eye. He loves me, and I'm his son. He always says that. I'm like, you know, Dad, I'm probably going to get you in some trouble. People are probably going to say, you know, why don't you control your son? And he goes, well, son, I, you know, I love you.
So it's gotten to the point where we're not trying to change each other. I think we're just trying to understand each other.
RAZ: You've been accused of sort of engaging in what some people call cafeteria Christianity, pick and choose what you want. On your Facebook page - and I don't - I haven't seen it recently, but it did say that the - under religion, it did say changing.
Mr. BAKKER: Yeah.
RAZ: And you have questioned or wondered whether things like hell exist, whether the Bible really does condemn homosexuality, whether Sodomites were nothing more than simply people from the town of Sodom.
Mr. BAKKER: Right.
RAZ: Can you sort of explain how you sort of get to that point with some of those issues?
Mr. BAKKER: Well, studying the Bible, Greek and Hebrew, and studying the historical background, the cities and the letters that were written, you know, I was always told if I read the Bible, things become more black and white, and that's just not what happened. The more I studied the Bible, things became more gray.
The Bible isn't a book that you can just pick up and just read as a sixth grade level. I mean, it's a good book, and I want people to read it. But as soon as you start to look deeper into the book itself and to the context and to when it was written, things start to change, and you start to see things in a different way and realize that maybe we've been taking a really elementary understanding of Christianity.
RAZ: Do you pray every day?
Mr. BAKKER: No. I try to pray every day but there's sometimes where my doubt gets the best of me.
RAZ: Hmm. I'm sure a lot of people would be surprised to hear that. But you are an abiding Christian. I mean, you are a faithful Christian.
Mr. BAKKER: Yeah, most of the time. You know, I mean, like I said, doubt is a big part of my faith. And without doubt, I feel like there's no growth. So, you know, it's a constant struggle. And - but to me, it's a beautiful struggle.
RAZ: That's Jay Bakker. He is the pastor of Revolution Church in New York and the author of the new book "Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self and Society."
Jay, thank you so much.
Mr. BAKKER: Thank you.