In a development worthy of The Simpsons or Sinclair Lewis or Stephen Colbert's old This Week in God, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Jim Bakker, televangelism's most notorious felon, who went to jail for ripping off his followers by selling non-existent shares in his Heritage USA Christian theme park, has rehabilitated himself with a new TV program -- and a new investment scheme. The plan: a Christian community called Morningside, admittedly modeled on his fraudulent and failed Heritage USA, in which thousands of people invested and collectively lost over a hundred million dollars. At Morningside:

[visitors] stand surrounded by a surreal indoor streetscape of Italianate store facades and condo balconies. A grand chapel sits at one end and a portico at the other, the entire color-bursting scene playing out under a ceiling painted like a cloudless blue sky. It looks so real one woman decides to keep her coat on.

This is even more than Jim Bakker promised them. For months they had heard Bakker on his TV show touting his impending move here. Bakker, the disgraced TV minister of PTL-and-Tammy-Faye fame, said the day was coming when he would no longer broadcast his bare-bones show from inside a converted restaurant in nearby Branson, as he had for five years. He talked about moving to a sprawling complex being built for him as the new headquarters for his television ministry, the heart of a 600-acre development named Morningside . . . . [a development that] The development has its own sewer and water treatment plants. The main building, with the domed sky, is 200,000 square feet of mixed retail and housing. It holds 115 condos, going for $80,000 to $350,000.

How is is possible that a "Christian," convicted of multiple counts of mail and wire fraud, was shown to have been a philanderer and an adulterer, had his ministry's tax exemption stripped away, and saw his ministry descend into bankruptcy with over $70 million in debt, can return to the airwaves and convince anyone to give him money? Bakker's dedicated followers believe he's a man of God, that his conviction was a miscarriage of justice, and that God will ultimately take care of the money they give to him -- even if they gave him money for the Heritage USA scheme. There's a sucker born every minute, and people's faith in Bakker's resurrection gives a whole new meaning to being born again.

--Sarah Posner

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