Tammy Faye Messner, the colorful controversial PTL Club co-founder and ex-wife of televangelist Jim Bakker, died on July 20, 2007 of cancer. The following day, the 65-year-old Pentecostal pop icon was cremated and buried. Instead of summoning one of the stars of televangelism to lead the private memorial service, her family selected a central Arkansas preacher to eulogize Tammy Faye. The Rev. Randy McCain, pastor of Open Door Community Church in Sherwood, is friends with Jay Bakker — a fellow preacher and Tammy Faye’s son. McCain wrote this account of her funeral service for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The sun was shining. The white, billowy clouds seemed to shimmer against a backdrop of blue Kansas sky. A small entourage of family members walked from their cars to the blue funeral tent that had been set up by a local mortuary to give shade and shelter to the grievers. Tammy Faye LaValley Messner’s ashes were placed on a raised platform, between two bouquets of flowers. The service was brief. Sobs could be heard gushing forth at times from the broken hearts of Tammy Faye’s two children, Tammy Sue and Jaime Charles. Tammy Faye’s husband, Roe, sat next to them. His face reflected the pain of losing a beloved spouse.
Tammy Faye had announced on Larry King Live, “I want my funeral to be a real happy time. I want everyone laughing and remembering how crazy I was.” But on this day- the day after her death- the grief was too fresh for laughter.
“We are here to celebrate the Life of Tammy Faye,” I proclaimed. What an honor I had been given. Tammy’s son, Jay had asked me to preach his mom’s funeral. I had never met Tammy Faye in person, yet my life had been touched by this cultural icon. As a gay man and a minister, I had been told that I was not qualified to be a reverend. Yet I had felt the call to ministry as Tammy had; in childhood. Some nights I couldn’t sleep, deep in depression because of my feelings of spiritual alienation. I had been told by so many Christians that God hates homosexuals and that if I wanted to know what God thought of people like me I should read in the Old Testament what God did to Sodom and Gomorrah.
During these dark nights of the soul there was a shining light piercing my darkness. It was the light emanating from the eyes of Tammy Faye. I would channel surf until I came across the PTL Club hosted by Tammy and her ex–husband, Jim Bakker. There was Tammy Faye, smiling even through her tears, looking it seemed, into my very soul. She would say in her cheery, upbeat, little girl voice, “God loves you! Just the way you are! He really does!”
I cannot count the times I got through the night thanks to the light from the eyes of Tammy Faye. That light was a reflection of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whom she loved so much. Even in her last interview with Larry King, less than forty eight hours before her death, looking into the camera, barely able to speak because of her shallow breathing, she still was able to crinkle up her nose and squint her eyes as she painfully created a smile. “I think people need to know,” she whispered, “that there is great peace and joy in knowing the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior.”
She was always positive and forgiving. She seemed to literally breathe out grace. As I stood there under the funeral tent, I struggled to find the words that would comfort these broken-hearted family members. “There is nothing I can say today that will take away your grief. I wish there was. But please remember the One of whom it was said, ‘He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,’ Jesus. This is what I believe Tammy Faye would want me to say to you today, ‘Look to Jesus.’ Because even at her weakest, if you got very close to her and looked into her mascara curtained eyes, you would see a reflection of Jesus, her true focus. Today she can say, ‘My eyes are clearly beholding my King’ and Jesus Christ is wiping away every tear from the eyes of Tammy Faye.”
I finished with a prayer committing her ashes to the ground but her spirit into the loving arms of Jesus. We stood around talking about this incredible woman, who once said, “I refuse to label people. We are all just people made out of the same old dirt and God didn’t make any junk.”
In a world where so many have been preaching hate and exclusion, this amazing Christian evangelist, Tammy Faye, preached love and inclusion. As we slowly made our way back to the cars, I looked at the warm rays of sunlight cascading down, forming a halo around the grave plot, and the words to Tammy Faye’s signature song ran through my mind; “The sun will shine again!”