They had been hiding in the air-conditioned exile of their Palm Springs home for three weeks, and their world, Jim Bakker told friends, had shrunk to the size of a postage stamp. Then early one morning the Bakkers, hand in hand, stepped out into the desert sunshine to face a skeptical world. "This is the end of my ministry," Bakker said. "This is the saddest day of my life."

It was over. The couple who had climbed from humble origins to the pinnacle of the $129 million PTL ("Praise the Lord") TV empire were outcasts, ruined by their own twin demons of ego and greed. The revelations that caused their fall had begun with a sensational rumor circulating among ministers of the Assemblies of God: Six years ago Jim Bakker had had a one-night stand with a stunning 21-year-old church secretary named Jessica Hahn. Bakker admitted the charges and resigned, but in the wake of his departure came shocking new accusations of homosexual and heterosexual extramarital liaisons, wife-swapping among the ministry and misuse of church funds. The Bakkers, who had insisted to television viewers that they had earned only "a living salary," were revealed by the Charlotte Observer to have earned $1.6 million last year. The pious couple, in other words, was exposed as a money-hungry duo who had brought new meaning to the concept of hypocrisy. Also cast out was Bakker's No. 2 man, the Rev. Richard Dortch, 55, who had arranged a settlement of $265,000 in hush money to Hahn.

The reeling PTL empire, leaderless, heavily in debt, fell under the spiritual equivalent of Chapter 11 and into the protective custody of Moral Majority founder the Rev. Jerry Falwell. "National credibility is at an all-time low," said a dismayed Falwell, as workers painted over the Bakkers' faces on PTL billboards and a song called Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show? climbed the country charts. "I don't remember a time when people were having such a heyday ridiculing all that is Christian."

Surely even Falwell must have known that people weren't mocking the religion—just the false prophets who would use Jesus' name to enrich themselves. Jim Bakker, 47, the diminutive Assemblies of God minister, sported a gold watch and a pinky ring when he hosted the couple's nationally syndicated The Jim and Tammy Show. His wife, Tammy Faye, made no bones about wanting to be the Dolly Parton of TV evangelists—and unbeknownst to viewers had had her breasts surgically enlarged to enhance her looks. She sang the praises of the Lord—pounding home her message that you don't have to be dowdy to be Christian—in four-inch spikes and leopard-skin pants. "I don't care how old you get," said Tammy Faye, "I think a woman...ought to dress sexy and keep herself exciting."

They used their family, including 17-year-old daughter Tammy Sue and 11-year-old Jamie Charles, as players in a kind of real-life Christian soap opera: real folks, talking about their real problems. If Jim Bakker, for all his weeping on television, was known to PTL insiders as an extremely cold fish, Tammy Faye, friends say, would tell you anything, talking about the couple's sex drive (very high), their nervous breakdowns and domestic spats.

Behind the surprising openness of their TV family portrait, unspoken troubles were brewing. According to Southern Baptist minister John Ankerberg, Jim Bakker had affairs with both prostitutes and homosexuals "around the world"—reportedly seeking to protect his identity on one sorry occasion by sneaking off to a Charlotte, N.C. massage parlor in a wig. (Bakker denies the charges.) Tammy Faye Bakker, shortly before her husband's resignation, went public with her own problem: a 17-year addiction to "prescription drugs." There were other problems she had yet to discuss: her own two affairs of the heart, both with gospel celebrities, and her tempestuous relationship with her daughter. ("I hate my mother," Tammy Sue reportedly screamed before one show.)

The Bakkers' act, one might say, was a ministry more marked by Glitter than by God, a great American classic of the corruption of power. They were two dirt-poor evangelists, religious, charismatic and ambitious. In more innocent times they might have had a small camp following, but they were thrust into wealth and prominence by the power of TV—and destroyed by the very insecurities that had fueled them. "Some men are used by God, some men use God. I think Jim Bakker started out the former and wound up the latter," says one former ministry vice-president, who identifies himself as a member of PTL—People That Left. "We started out in a little TV studio in Charlotte, trying to reach people who wouldn't come to church," says one volunteer. "Nobody was making any money. Then it just started coming in, millions and millions of dollars, and they just went amok."

The fascinating thing about Jim and Tammy Bakker is how perfectly their childhood hungers shaped them for television evangelism. Both came from deeply religious backgrounds in the Central Assemblies of God church and had showbiz yearnings that their conservative, Pentecostal faith frowned upon. Jim Bakker, even if he couldn't dance at the sock-hop in Muskegon Heights, Mich., worked as the deejay. Tammy Faye LaValley, growing up in International Falls, Minn., rebelled against church bans on makeup and dancing by landing a local stage role in Oklahoma!. Both grew up feeling unloved and poor. "I thank God every time I get into a bathtub," Tammy Faye once said, "because I never had that when I was a little girl." Jim once wrote, "My father worked as a machinist and made a decent living. But I thought we lived in poverty."

They met at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis in the fall of 1960. Jim had been spending so much time in his room praying and fasting that he was nicknamed "Holy Joe," but when he saw 4'10" Tammy—"absolutely the cutest girl I'd ever seen"—it was love at first sight. He proposed on the third date. They married in 1961 and took up the life of traveling evangelists.

From the first it was clear that Jim Bakker had a fragile ego. When no one came forward to be saved after his first sermon, he fled to the pastor's office, cried, and insisted he would quit. Nor was Tammy the most tranquil sort: In 1965, when the Rev. Pat Robertson invited them onto his Christian Broadcasting Network, Tammy stayed up all night weeping with stage nerves. The Jim and Tammy Show, featuring Allie Alligator and Susie Moppet, two God-fearing puppets, was a success. One year later Jim debuted as the host of a Christian talk show modeled after Carson and called The 700 Club in honor of the first 700 members whose donations saw the show through a difficult launch. In religious-broadcast circles he was becoming a star.

Off-camera, however, the Bakkers were going through troubled times. Jim suffered ulcers, then had a nervous breakdown, wandering around the house in his pajamas for a month. Tammy, who took over the puppet show when Jim was ill, felt angry about her husband's obsession with his work and his refusal to have children. "I was so angry, I wanted to take my puppet Susie and step on her head and crush her," she said. Bakker himself was restless. In 1972—acting under what he told Pat Robertson were orders from God—the Bakkers left the show. Jim, many felt, was a prima donna and perfectionist. The night the Bakkers left, crew members trashed their set, dispatching Susie Moppet with an ax blow to the head.

Two years later the Bakkers moved to Charlotte, where they were familiar to viewers from The 700 Club, and started PTL. "He was immature and so was she," recalls one early producer. "They were just like little kids. You'd have to pamper them with pets and cars, and they'd change them overnight."

"Two of the most insecure little people I ever saw in my life," echoes one former friend. "Jim, he has a charm with people that is frightening, and I think in the beginning he was sincere, but anybody disagreed with him, he was gone.... There was a man worked for him as an executive assistant and told him some of the things he was doing wasn't right. The man came to work one day and found the contents of his office on the floor and the desk was gone. He went from being assistant to the president to a handyman in one day. It just about killed him. Tammy, she's about as stable as nitroglycerin. Had a real problem shopping too. Even when we were starting out and there wasn't any money, she'd go to K mart and fill up a cart."

Jim, for all his on-air charisma, seemed to dislike people offstage, another volunteer said. "He didn't want people around him; he used to hang on to me and say, 'Get me through these people,' " said one woman who worked at PTL as a hostess. "If it was Art Linkletter, [the Bakkers would] spend time with him. If it was one of the little people, they didn't want anything to do with them at all."

Flaky Tammy; cold, egocentric Jim; but oh, how the money came rolling in. In 1974 the PTL network consisted of three stations; five years later they were broadcasting on 215 stations. In 1977 they were taking in $1.5 million a month. "I remember one time I was in the office and saw these two little North Carolina girls, country girls, like you could swear they were in feed-cloth dresses, two old maids, just sitting there enjoying the show," said the former PTL hostess. "They wanted to meet Jim Bakker, but he couldn't be bothered, so he turned them over to me. They said they had a gift for the ministry and asked if somebody could help them carry it from the car. They open the trunk, and there were 11 bars of solid sterling silver. I gave it to the ministry. I don't know what happened to it."

The ministry expanded quickly as the Bakkers bought a TV station in Canton, Ohio, and led fund raisers to establish Christian broadcasting networks overseas. But the Bakkers' plans to spread the gospel were derailed by a project many felt was more a tribute to Jim Bakker's ego than to God—construction of the now-famous Heritage Village, USA in Fort Mill, S.C. He broke ground on the project Jan. 2, 1978—his birthday—personally supervising plans for a retreat that would be both a vacation theme park and, in the spirit of televangelism, a gigantic set.

The project, which would become his biggest triumph, also sowed the seeds of his problems. Money raised on television for overseas Christian TV stations, three former PTL vice-presidents claim, was diverted to construction of the theme park. In 1979 the Federal Communications Commission began an official probe.

Inside the ministry, many had begun to question the ethics of Holy Joe. Dr. Robert Manzano, then the World Missions Director for PTL, testified to the FCC that Jim Bakker used PTL funds to buy Tammy a $2,500 mink coat. Jim Moss, executive producer of The Jim and Tammy Show, claimed Bakker used ministry funds to buy a Corvette. Two days later, Moss says, Bakker gave away the Corvette. PTL spokesman Neil Eskelin denies those claims. The coat, he says, was paid for by Jim Bakker, and the Corvette, purchased for the ministry, was given away as partial payment for a bill.

Unknown to outsiders, steamier issues were worrying the Bakkers in those early years—including one that became evident in the summer of 1977. "We were at an outdoor Jesus rally in Pennsylvania," a former PTL exec recalls. "Bakker knocked at the door and said, 'I think [two vice-presidents] are wife-swapping.' At first [one VP] denied it, but then he admitted it." Bakker did not fire the men, though he reportedly did demote them. If Bakker was tolerant, perhaps it was because he had also sinned in the eyes of his church—in 1977, according to a report on Charlotte's WSOC-TV, he had made three visits to a prostitute. Bakker denies the allegations.

Tammy Faye had always been an emotional pressure cooker. She'd had a yearlong depression after the birth of her daughter. She was plagued by hives, for which, she would later say, she took medication that made her "hyper." She took Valium because of a fear of flying.

A close friend says that she was also ignored by Jim. "Tammy wanted someone who would talk to her about her," says the friend, "and Jim had real trouble talking with anyone else but himself." Enter Gary Paxton. A born-again country singer with a shaggy beard and production credits on a very old hit {Monster Mash), he and his wife, Karen, had met the Bakkers in 1975, becoming fast friends. "All we did was eat and shop," recalls Karen affectionately. "She'd say, 'Oh, my shoppin' demons are hoppin'.' She loved to go to the Western Sizzlin and she always ate the same thing: dessert first. When we met she was real pudgy, exactly 4'10". I wanted her to record a song, 'Four foot seven and I'm going to heaven and it makes me feel ten feet tall.' "

The Paxtons appeared regularly on The Jim and Tammy Show and, as Karen tells it, Gary was more religious than Jim. "He always prayed before we ate, even if we were in McDonald's," she said. "It bothered Jim. He would get antsy. He loved the spotlight. He'd come alive in front of a camera, but he couldn't sit down and say grace without feeling fidgety."

Karen doesn't criticize the Bakkers' relationship, but she recalls episodes that were anything but sweet. "He'd fuss at her about her makeup, her wigs, her hair," says Karen. "And she'd say, 'Well, Jim,' in her little tiny way, and if he said very much, she'd go cry. Tammy always felt that she was not beautiful, and she wanted to be beautiful. That's why she slept in her makeup. Apparently he made her feel ugly."

Gary Paxton, who over the years had begun producing albums with Tammy, apparently did not make her feel ugly. When the closeness between the two became obvious, Karen divorced her husband. She believes, however, that the Tammy-Paxton relationship was not consummated (the two parties also claim it was an innocent crush). However, Jim Bakker took it seriously enough to banish Paxton. "On a Friday, Gary was on the show," says one former Jim and Tammy singer. "On Monday he was scheduled to appear, and he didn't. From that day until now, no mention has been made of Gary Paxton. Nobody gave an official reason, but they didn't have to. It was so clear. A blind squirrel could have found out."

In December 1980 Bakker would have the most destructive sexual relationship of his life. The man who introduced him to Jessica Hahn of Massapequa, N.Y. was Assemblies of God evangelist John Wesley Fletcher, who had preached often at PTL. Fletcher called Hahn—his family's babysitter some years earlier—with a "surprise," an offer to spend the weekend with him and Jim Bakker and their families in Clearwater Beach, Fla.

No sooner had Jessica arrived at the airport than Fletcher reportedly made a different proposition. As Hahn recalled the episode in a lurid affidavit years later, "He told me Jim Bakker was just run ragged...and more than that, he was having a problem with his wife. They were going through a separation, and she was in California. He said Jim was very down. He has no sexual life with his wife what so ever...that it was found out that she was having an affair with Gary Paxton...that he didn't feel like a man." Jessica said Fletcher took her to a hotel room and gave her a glass of wine. Soon after that, he returned with Jim.

According to Jessica's affidavit, Bakker told her, "I didn't know women from New York were so beautiful." By now Hahn said she was starting to feel very sick and began to think there was something in the wine. Jim, meanwhile, told her his problems. The biggest problem of all, he said, was his wife, who made him feel very belittled. Added Jessica: "He said sexually he wasn't satisfied with her and she wasn't satisfied with him. He also told me that Tammy was very big and that he couldn't be satisfied by her. Those were his words exactly.

"[Jim] started pulling me close and said, 'I really do need somebody,' " Hahn continued. "I told him I had never been with a man.... He didn't care. He did just about everything a man could do to a woman.... He was sitting so that I couldn't even push him away. I was choking and he didn't care at all. It was only to please him. I tried to get him off of me, but he held on tighter and tighter.... [Later] I said, 'I ask you not to so many times, and you just kept on—why?' He just kind of laughed and said, 'Don't worry about it, you'll appreciate it later.' "

Shortly after he left, Hahn said, Fletcher returned, and she asked him, "Why are you here?" His reply, she declared, was that "it wouldn't be fair, would it, being I made all the arrangements for Jim and then you left me out?" He tore off her robe, she said, and attacked her. He was "very, very, very rough. He said he was going to keep on until I started screaming.... He said, 'You won't remember Jim, you'll remember me.' "

Hahn said Fletcher then left and she went to bed. That night she saw the two ministers on their TV program. "You had a good rest today," she heard Fletcher tell Bakker. "Yes, I need more rest like that," Jim said. "The Lord really ministered to us today, we need more ministry like that," Fletcher said. A few days after she returned home, Bakker called. He asked, she said, for her forgiveness and her silence. He also gave her a warning. "He told me I would be accountable to God if I caused trouble," said Hahn.

If Bakker had hoped for vengeance, Tammy Faye was one step ahead of him. She had, by this time, reportedly turned her affections to Thurlow Spurr, the musical director of the show. The three worked together in Hawaii on a special Christmas show. Then Tammy flew off—without Jim—to California. Bakker, for his part, returned to Charlotte and, as abruptly as he had dismissed Paxton, reportedly fired Thurlow Spurr.

Tammy returned to Charlotte, and in public she and Jim were the loving couple. But from that point on, a close friend insists, the relationship was a marriage of convenience. "They arrived in different cars, they had different interests. I think they both knew if they got divorced it would have disastrous results on their income, and they were both very happy with their income staying the way it was."

Investigations came, investigations went. In 1981, PTL agreed to sell its Canton, Ohio television station, and eventually the FCC dropped its investigation of PTL. The same year in a less publicized meeting, a young male security guard told a PTL executive he had been propositioned by John Wesley Fletcher. Ultimately, Bakker put the matter before the PTL Board of Elders. They suspended Fletcher for six months. Later that year Fletcher (who has refused to return phone calls) was dismissed for alcoholism as a minister of the Assemblies of God.

The high life of the Bakkers continued. There was a $440,000 condo on Florida's Highland Beach, with $22,000 worth of blue-tinted mirrors and gold faucets; a trip to Europe on the Concorde; a Rolls-Royce. Jim Bakker put a Jacuzzi bath in his office at PTL headquarters, promptly labeled "the Floozie Jacuzzi" by staff. Adored daughter "Suze" was said to have received a full-length mink coat before her 17th birthday. Tammy Faye, Jim Bakker allegedly told a furrier, would nor be getting a coat for Christmas: 14 furs, he said, were enough.

If sincerity was once a part of the evangelists' beliefs, it was no more. In 1984 Tammy Bakker went on television tearfully begging for money to support the station, saying she and Jim "have offered to sell everything I own. But if I sold would probably keep us in business one more day." Responded Jim: "It wouldn't be that long." That same year, the Charlotte Observer reported, Tammy and Jim Bakker earned $1.2 million. "Everything" they owned included $500,000 in cars and real estate.

Nonetheless, nothing seemed to touch them—until the ghost of Jessica Hahn returned. Haunted by her experience, she got in touch with a friend in California who threatened PTL with a lawsuit, settling instead for money. As gossip heated up in the Fundamentalist community earlier this year, Jim and Tammy Bakker, in a taped interview from Palm Springs, said Tammy had had a drug problem for 17 years, citing nonprescription allergy pills and small doses of Valium as the problem. The whole family, Bakker said, would remain in California for counseling.

Two weeks later, on March 19, Bakker tearfully admitted the affair with Hahn, denied the sexual assault and resigned. "I was wickedly manipulated by treacherous former friends who victimized me with the aid of a female confederate," he said.

Family treatment, meanwhile, was apparently not going so well. Tammy Sue Bakker had run off with her boyfriend, Doug Chapman, 24, a former PTL hotel employee, and gotten hitched—without her parents' knowledge. Early this month the Bakkers met with a mob of reporters and admitted it would take a "miracle" to get themselves reinstated. "Financially, we will not be able to survive probably six months, but God is taking care of us," said Jim. "Tammy and I are alive."

"Barely," Tammy interjected.

It was a sympathy plea with a hollow ring: God's work had paid the Bakkers handsomely, a total of $4.6 million over the last 39 months. Two days later, the mob gone, it was time for church. The Bakkers went to worship in style, riding together in their chauffeur-driven white Lincoln Continental.