In 1998, simply over a decade after the scandal that landed Tammy Faye Bakker’s husband, Jim, in jail and crashed the couple’s ministry empire, Tammy Faye was a visitor on Roseanne Barr’s daytime present. Roseanne’s opening line of questions rapidly turned obnoxious, even merciless: “I wish to know what within the heck is the make-up a metaphor for? What does it actually imply? As a result of you already know it’s actually excessive.”
Tammy Faye, clearly stung, tried to deflect the insult. Roseanne persevered: “No, your make-up is excessive. It’s very excessive. … What does it imply to you? … Are you defending your self? You’re placing a lot stuff in your face; you’re, like, hiding.”
Michael Showalter’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Searchlight, 2021), a movie based mostly on Fenton Bailey’s and Randy Barbato’s 2000 documentary of the identical title, is not any much less serious about what her “look” meant and means. Jessica Chastain’s efficiency, nonetheless, affords Tammy Faye a dignity Roseanne’s interview didn’t. Hopefully, this distinction indicators a long-needed shift in how Pentecostals—and Pentecostal ladies, particularly—are represented in mass media and common tradition.
Broadly talking, Pentecostals discovered Tammy Faye’s look particularly troubling and dismissed her as a “cruisematic” clown, whereas evangelicals feared her willingness to interact with homosexual individuals and her sympathy for these dying with AIDS. The tradition at massive, insofar because it seen her in any respect, laughed her off as a tongue-talking, Bible-thumping pseudocelebrity.
After I was younger (I’m the identical age as Jay, Tammy Faye’s son), reared by my dad and mom and grandparents in an old style, blue-collar Pentecostal church in rural Oklahoma, the Bakkers had simply reached the peak of their affect. I bear in mind preachers, female and male, routinely parodying Jim’s “well being and wealth, name-it-and-claim-it” message.
However ladies, particularly “wealthy and well-known” ladies, acquired the brunt of the condemnation, particularly, as I recall, Tammy Faye, Amy Grant, and Jan Crouch (who within the early ’70s cofounded the Trinity Broadcast Community together with her husband, Paul, and the Bakkers). These ladies, amongst others, had been reviled as “Jezebels,” the title given to that sort of lady thought to lure males away from the reality by carnal wiles, main the church—and, extra importantly, the nation—into break.
After all, because the Roseanne interview signifies, Tammy Faye was held up for scorn by the broader tradition as nicely. However whereas she solely appeared otherworldly to them, she epitomized “worldliness” for our spiritual group. In our circles, ladies and women, regardless of their ages, weren’t allowed to put on make-up, jewellery, or attention-grabbing outfits, and it might be exhausting even to recommend the depth of our disdain for individuals who did.
Tammy Faye’s look struck us as proof that no sane particular person would ever wish to be “worldly.” She appeared to us the face of every little thing improper with everybody who rejected our lifestyle. “With out holiness,” the preachers shouted, “no man”—and definitely no lady—“shall see the Lord.” We knew not solely what they meant however whom.
Within the movie’s telling of her story, it appears apparent that Tammy Faye’s look set the stage for white Pentecostals to start to interrupt freed from their legalistic gown codes and that her imaginative and prescient started to make it potential for evangelicals to threat seeing gays and lesbians in another way—extra caringly, extra compassionately.
She was, to make sure, “camp incarnate.” A lot of what she mentioned and did was not merely odd or showy however outright silly, and even improper, as she herself typically acknowledged. However in some way, towards all odds, she by no means completely misplaced contact together with her personhood, her humanity. And to its credit score, the movie tries to honor this about her, this childlike openness to the reality.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye, with all its faults and shortcomings, guarantees to alter the way in which Tammy Faye is remembered. However the way in which that the characters round her are so comparatively undeveloped is in step with the methods Pentecostals as a bunch proceed to be perceived and portrayed in mass media and popular culture.
The primary season of HBO’s current Perry Mason, for instance, stars Tatiana Maslany as Sister Alice McKeegan, founding father of the fictional Radiant Meeting of God and an unmistakable interpretation of the real-life Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, the outstanding turn-of-the-century evangelist, religion healer, and founding father of the Foursquare Church. In Maslany’s efficiency, Sister McKeegan, very like Chastain’s Tammy Faye, is proven to be deeply enigmatic and troubled, attractive and theatrical, however by no means decreased to burlesque or parody. Her fellow Pentecostals, nonetheless, together with McKeegan’s tightfisted and highhanded mom, will not be afforded the identical respect.
One thing comparable occurs in Them That Follow(Amasia, 2019), which tells the story of Mara Childs, a snake handler’s daughter in an Appalachian Pentecostal church who finally is compelled by her personal compassion to desert her household, if not additionally her religion. Some Pentecostal communities could be poisonous, as my very own story proves. However the braveness proven by Chastain’s Tammy Faye, Maslany’s Sister Alice, and Alice Englert’s Mara Childs certainly had one thing to do with the spirituality and theology that formed them. Why do the storytellers fail to make that plain?
Earlier than she died, Tammy Faye said she hoped to be remembered for her look and for her stroll with God. Showalter’s movie reminds us that she needs to be remembered not a lot for her blush and lipstick as for her character, not for her eyeliner and eyelashes however for the way she noticed the world.
Regrettably, the movie not solely fails to completely notice its supporting forged but additionally appears reluctant to acknowledge that her character and her imaginative and prescient had been in some actual sense Pentecostal, formed in her expertise of the Spirit and led by her love for Jesus. Within the movie, the extra sympathetic she turns into, the extra she distances herself from the church. The truth is, nonetheless, one thing extra like the other was true.
Close to the tip of the interview that had began so awkwardly, Roseanne makes a request: “You’re an ordained minister. Lots of people don’t know that about you, and at all times consider you because the spouse behind the minister. However you your self are a minister. So, we wish to hear you preach, and we would like you to go over to the organ and sing for us.”
Tammy Faye does precisely that, fortunately belting out a rendition of “(Give Me That) Previous Time Faith.” The gang instantly joins her, smiling and clapping. Roseanne, surprisingly, does too, with an accompanying tambourine. All collectively they sing, faces beaming: “Makes me love everyone, makes me love everyone, makes me love everyone, and it’s adequate for me.”
Nothing could possibly be extra Pentecostal or stand as a clearer witness towards the biases so many nonetheless maintain towards Pentecostals. That lyric, sung in that method, sung with the lady who had belittled her, not solely captures Tammy Faye’s spirit completely but additionally bears glad witness to the Spirit that blows the place he wills, whose ideas will not be our ideas and whose methods will not be our methods.
Chris E. W. Green is a professor of public theology at Southeastern College and director for the St. Anthony Institute of Theology and Philosophy. His most up-to-date e book is All Things Beautiful: An Aesthetic Christology.