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Running Time: 192 minutes
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Can a tattooed, pierced son of parents that were at the center of one of the biggest religious scandals of all time lead a flock of fellow worshipers to the Promised Land? Jay Bakker says “You Betcha!”
Jay Bakker has lived a strange life. As the son of televangelist superstars Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker he had it all. But by the late eighties the easy living was over. Jim Bakker had gotten himself into some hot water with the church for cheating on his wife (Jim and Tammy divorced in 1992), and got into even hotter water with the government when he was accused of fraud, tax evasion and some other stuff that can get you sentenced to 45 years in federal prison. As you can imagine, this put a pretty big strain on the family Bakker.
Well, many years have past and young Jay Bakker, who has gone through his own trials and tribulations before finding the Lord again is trying to start up his own church while at the same time attempting to mend fences with his own family.
I was old enough in the 80’s to have my ideas about religion in general and the Catholic Church specifically shaped, in part, by the Jim Bakker scandal. I was young enough at the time to be naïve about religion. I thought everyone who preached the word of God was pious and lived only to spread His word. When I saw that Jim and Tammy were using their follower’s money on things such as air conditioned dog houses the first seeds of mistrust were planted. Today I would say that seed has sprouted into pretty much a total distrust of any organized religion.
That’s why I was pretty skeptical when I starting viewing One Punk Under God, a six part documentary that originally aired on the Sundance Channel. I was expecting to see in Jay Bakker an apple that hadn’t fallen far from the tree; a son who was going to go into the family business to preach some fire and brimstone to a flock of sheep and bleed them dry economically along the way.
I’ll admit it now. I’m the asshole. Not in the sense that I am now converted and a follower of Jay’s church (called Revolution Church by the way), but I started watching with a preconceived idea of who Jay Bakker was, and by the end of the show, I had to eat my words about both him and his followers.
Jay is indeed a preacher, but his church is a smoke filled bar where, instead of opening mass with a prayer, he implores his followers to “please tip your waitress”. He is a young man that is tattooed head to toe and pierced here and there, but is a rather shy person that, unlike his parents, doesn’t look like he wants to be on camera at all. He basically just wants to take people who feel betrayed by God and religion and show them a different path to spirituality.
He’s also a man who is still paying for the sins of his parents, both in public and personally. His life, as portrayed in One Punk Under God, is in a bit of a shambles, leaving Jay feeling adrift and unsure of what direction he should be heading.
By far the best episode is when Jay goes foward in time to snap a few pics with his future self!
The series centers around three major things that were happening in Jay’s life while the cameras were rolling; The conservative group that was funding his church threatening to pull their financing of Revolution over Jay's acceptance of gays in the church, Jay's relationship with his parents, and Jay’s wife trying to get into New York University to study physcology, and how her acceptance to the school could affect his work. While the stuff about the gays is compelling, and the fact that his wife would rather Jay didn’t preach could have made for some interesting moments, it’s Jay trying to reconnect with his father and aid his dying mother that provide the most interesting moments of the series.
Jay does manage to get a few moments with his father early in the show, and it is interesting to see the two of them go at it. Jay is a person who wears his heart on his sleeve and, while soft spoken, is never too meek to say what he is feeling, but his father can’t seem to relate to his own son until there is a series of cameras on him. I’m not saying that Jim Bakker turns on the waterworks for the cameras, but watching jay just kind of sit back and let his father put on a show for his audience attending his new religious program is telling. Jay is a person who wants to share his experiences with those around him in a quieter, more intimate surrounding, not with lights and cameras and action. Unfortunately his father knows no other way.
The moments in the show that Jay spends with his mother are the best parts of the doc. The two talk very candidly about their lives and the mistakes that they have made in there lives. There is a scene at a restaurant that nearly had me in tears. Its raw and emotional and not the usual fair in reality television.
The one thing that we don’t see a lot of in One Punk under God is preaching, but that’s not a bad thing. Again Jay wears his heart on his sleeve. He doesn’t say anything in the pulpit that he wouldn’t say anywhere else. He is an enigmatic speaker, one who may ramble a bit and not have his words perfectly thought out (seems familiar, eh?) before he says them, but he gets his points across well. To me his church is more about pushing a philosophy of acceptance than quoting and following the bible word for word, and I can definitely get behind that. It may not change your life, but it’s definitely one of the more interesting character studies to come out of cable TV. in some time.
One thing I would have liked to have seen explored a bit more closely, aside from Jay’s wife’s concerns over what her husband does, is the relationship between Jay and the members of his church. There are small scenes of him interacting with them and offering them kind words, and also some interviews with church patrons that revere him as if he were a rock star or a sports figure. They have a devotion to him that borders at times on a little disturbing. I am not saying that Revolution church is a cult, not at all. I just wonder if attendance at his church in Atlanta has gotten smaller since he left it to start an offshoot church in New York. The filmmakers never delve too deeply into the question of is it the medium or the message that his followers are listening to.
Not too many extras here. You get a trailer for One Punk Under God, and some assorted ones. Some outtakes that didn’t make the cut, and a photo gallery for your enjoyment.