New York - He was born into the glare of televangelist parents Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Then the "Praise the Lord" empire collapsed in scandal. His father went to jail for fraud.
The Rev. Jay Bakker spent his teens in the darkness, rebelling and bent on self-destruction from alcohol and drugs.
Now, with his 31st birthday coming Monday, this tattooed, multi pierced pilgrim is on a righteous path: preaching God's grace to a flock of young, downtrodden and disillusioned parishioners.
The Rev. Bakker is the focus of One Punk Under God: the Prodigal Son of Jim & Tammy Faye, a reality series that airs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays on the Sundance Channel about the back-to-basics church he calls Revolution, which, notwithstanding his decade long sobriety, holds services in an Atlanta bar.
Keeping the faith while keeping Revolution going will prove to be a challenge.
"I think Revolution is kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place," he muses in the first episode, which aired this week. "With some groups we're too Christian, and with the Christians we're not Christian enough."
The Rev. Bakker has other concerns, however, as the six-episode series unfolds.
His mom is gravely ill from cancer; the Rev. Bakker will be traveling to her North Carolina home for visits. His dad, now remarried and with a new TV ministry, is estranged from him - a rift the Rev. Bakker will make great strides repairing. A fter several years' devotion to his church, he will be uprooted when wife Amanda, a young woman with fluorescent red hair and a beatific smile, is accepted by New York University for its doctoral program in psychiatry.
In short, this year is eventful for the Jay Bakker - far more than he imagined when One Punk Under God began filming in February.
He was initially reluctant to sign on, and even camera shy, he insists during a recent interview.
"I feel like I'm just a guy who has a church with 15 people that meets in a bar," says the Rev. Bakker, who left the Atlanta church in another minister's care to start a new branch that meets in a Brooklyn, N.Y., pub.
He has no wish, he says, to leverage his TV exposure into an ongoing video pulpit, as his parents had on such a grand scale with The PTL Club, which at its peak reached about 13 million cable households.
"If anything, I'd like to write more books," the Rev. Bakker says.
Five years ago, his first book, Son of a Preacher Man: My Search for Grace in the Shadows, testified to his troubled past and deliverance from it.
Now, One Punk Under God finds the Rev. Bakker continuing a mini crusade for an alternative to the God he could never make peace with: a wrathful God who hated him for all the flaws he hated in himself.
"God loves us for who we are," contends the Rev. Bakker, explaining that it comes down to grace: "God's love for all people, and his unconditional love.
"God isn't counting our sins against us. Yeah, we'll have to pay the consequences; life has consequences. But God isn't keeping a record. 'You better watch out, you better not cry' - that's not God. That's Santa Claus!"
In defiance of both his billing as "punk" and his calling as preacher, the Rev. Bakker is an affable, unassuming chap who happens to wear a stud in each ear and a lip ring. And tattoos: He got the first of many - it praises Revolution - at 19 while living in Phoenix, where he helped found the church. In the series's finale, he will get a tattoo in tribute to his mother.
The Rev. Bakker has tattoos because he likes them. He never set out to be the punk anti-Bakker for a lost generation. Nor has he disavowed his parents, whose past disgrace could fuel skepticism about his ministry.
"I don't have a strategy like, 'OK, I'm going to distance myself from them, so I can build a church and be my own man,' " the Rev. Bakker says. "Me and my dad have a hard time getting along, and now, with my mom being as sick as she is, that's hard - but I love them, and they did a lot of great things, as well as make mistakes."
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