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The Rev. Jerry Falwell, returning to Heritage USA to...

By
DAVID CRAIG

FORT MILL, S.C. -- The Rev. Jerry Falwell, returning to Heritage USA to entertain guests a day after saying he'd never set foot on the place again, revealed today he asked Watergate criminal Charles Colson to take over the PTL ministry.

But Falwell, who called the PTL scandals the 'Watergate of Christianity' in his resignation speech Thursday, said Colson, 56, who became a born-again Christian in prison, turned him down.

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'He would have been an excellent chairman,' Falwell said from his home in Lynchburg, Va. 'But Chuck's health and other factors dissuaded him and I certainly understood that.

The bankruptcy court is expected to name a trustee to run the ministry.

Falwell, who quit the PTL Thursday along with his 10-person board, said he was returning to PTL's Heritage USA resort park later today 'to meet with the 750 persons we had invited there. These are major donors of the ministry and I had intended to meet with them and seek their financial support for what we had wanted to do.

'I will be ministering to them today but it is not my plan to be raising contributions at any time in the future for PTL,' he said. 'I do not plan to reconsider.'

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Jim Bakker said Falwell's resignation gives him 'renewed hope for the future of PTL,' and that he and his wife, Tammy Faye, are ready to return to 'our baby,' the television ministry they founded.

But lawyer Jim Toms said Thursday the Bakkers would return only with the consent of a U.S. bankruptcy court.

'We don't want there to be any impression that they would be doing this for their own financial benefit,' Toms sid. 'They would not.'

The Rev. Sam Johnson, the Heritage Village church pastor who also resigned Thursday, agreed to host 'The PTL Show' Thursday. But the show did not go on -- a 'Camp Meeting' rerun was put in its place.

Falwell's farewell at a news conference Thursday was softly spoken but harsh and he vowed, 'I personally intend as I leave today to never return' to the ministry he took over from Bakker March 19.

He called Bakker 'the greatest scab and cancer of Christianity in the past 2,000 years of church history,' and said his offer to ensure a smooth transition did not extend to Bakker because 'I have no intention of getting involved with that fellow.'

Bakker said he hopes 'this is the beginning of the end of harsh words.' He insisted again that Falwell stole the ministry and suggested that the PTL's new leaders resigned because 'they do not want to face a hearing and go to bankruptcy court and face Mr. (Melvin) Belli.'

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Belli is the high-powered, San Francisco-based lawyer who represents the Bakkers.

'We have renewed hope for the future of PTL today,' Bakker said. 'I guess right now PTL's future is in the hands of God, the judge and the people. If they want us to help in any way in the restoration of a ministry we started, we are ready to go anywhere at any time to help restore and rescue our baby.'

It was a ruling Wednesday by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Rufus Reynolds that prompted the resignations of Falwell and his hand-picked directors.

Reynolds snubbed the reorganization plan Falwell's PTL leadership offered last week and asked creditors, including those who paid $1,000 each for lifetime partnerships under Bakker, to offer a rival plan.

Reynolds said with both plans he could negotiate an acceptable reorganization by the end of this year. He said he was taking 'the side of success.'

Falwell called Reynolds's decision 'erroneous, illegal and appealable,' but said he and the directors would not appeal because it would be too costly and they were 'not willing to fight for the right to bring Mr. Bakker back.'

Bakker backers were jubilant and threw a soda-pop party to celebrate what Inez Brown, vice president of the Bring Bakkers Back Club, predicted would be the quick return to PTL of Jim and Tammy Faye.

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Tammy Faye told reporters in a quivvering voice outside the couple's chalet in Gatlinburg, Tenn., that 'our famil hassacrificed a lot to build Heritage USA, and I want to go home.'

But Falwell and his directors reinstituted a bylaw that puts the ministry in the hands of the Assemblies of God church.

'He did what?' gasped a receptionist at the Assemblies of God regional headquarters in Dunn, N.C.

'We are absolutely shocked,' said district superintendent Charles Cookman. 'I had just begun to think that maybe Jerry Falwell is the best thing that has happened to PTL, and maybe this is the hand of God turning it around, and then lo and behold this happens.'

U.S. trustee John Waites said he asked the judge to appoint a temporary PTL trustee, adding, 'I can tell you I will not appoint Jim Bakker as trustee.'

A federal grand jury is investigating PTL's finances under Bakker, including allegations that the ministry raised money for one purpose but spent it on other purposes.

Tennessee evangelist John Ankerberg, who was instrumental in Bakker's admission of a sexual encounter with Jessica Hahn, urged people not to support Bakker's return for three reasons:

'No. 1 is that he does not fulfill biblical requirements of a leader of a spiritual ministry. No. 2, he has not submitted or repented to church authorities. Rather, he has bypassed all of that. And thirdly, he has shown that you can't trust him.'

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Falwell's resignation was not a total surprise. His 'Old Time Gospel Hour' television ministry in Lynchburg, Va., has suffered severe financial reversals in recent months -- he blamed it on the PTL scandal - and had to drop 50 television stations last week.

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