Dave Lauridsen

Scott is a markedly different preacher from Dr. Scott, who was prone to off-color rants about everything from UFOs to his ex-wife ("the devil's sister," he called her). Her sermons are more pedagogical, often involving whiteboards crammed with Hebrew and Aramaic — Scott claims she's taught herself 20 languages. The academic approach resonates with her supporters. "I've just begun listening to Pastor Melissa Scott, and it feels like I'm finally being fed real food after starving for so long," one fan commented on a Christian newsgroup. "As for those who would criticize her for any transgressions in her past, who are you to judge her?"

Asked about the Barbie Bridges matter, Scott smacks her berry-stained lips and scoffs. "It's definitely a freak show. I've seen a good portion of the stuff on the Internet, and honestly, I almost have to laugh at it," she says, flashing the smile again. Pressed further, Scott sighs deeply, then adds, "Okay, I was never an actress in a pornographic movie. So what does that do? You defend that, what else do you start defending?"

That said, Melissa Scott really was a porn star, as confirmed by several acquaintances who knew her when she worked the adult-entertainment circuit as Barbie Bridges. Though it's unclear when she adopted the moniker, by 1994 she'd already nabbed a title — Miss Nude CanAm Exotic — under the name. She posed nude, as Barbie Bridges, for Penthouse lensman Earl Miller and famed erotic photographer Suze Randall. At the time, Scott was married to Paul Pastore, who worked for an exotic-dancing agency called Fantasy Creations before launching a porn distribution outfit called Barbie Bridges Enterprises. (Among its titles: Backdoor Diaries and Heidi's High Heeled Hookers.) "If she doesn't want to talk about [her past in porn], then I'd rather not talk about it. Whatever she wants to do and say, that's fine with me," says Pastore, reached at his West Hollywood office, where he still works in adult entertainment.

Scott didn't cultivate her relationship with Dr. Scott in church, say former associates, but at his California ranch, where the fiery televangelist frequently entertained nude models like Penthouse Pet Chloe Jones and Playboy Playmate Elke Jeinsen. Congregants dubbed them his "pony girls," because he often filmed them riding his stallions in thong bikinis and broadcast the footage during televised sermons. ("Now that you see what I got waitin' for me at home," he told the audience, "you should all be extra nice to me for comin' down here to talk to ya.") "Melissa was there, always dancing for Doc topless, showing her breasts right away," recalls Jeinsen, now a swimsuit model and sometime actress.

Doc often paid his pony girls to attend church, where they acted as a kind of cheerleading squad. "[Melissa] sat in the front row in skimpy outfits. When she came around, I just thought, gold digger," says Christian Shaw, son of Playboy bunny Christine Shaw, a longtime girlfriend of Doc Scott. He says Melissa's life in porn was an open secret. "Doc was big on forgiveness, and he wasn't tripping on her past. She was absolutely Barbie Bridges." Before long Melissa was singing on Doc Scott's broadcasts. Then she relaxed her big, curly hair and traded the thigh-high minis for turtlenecks and pantsuits. By the late '90s, Doc abandoned the pony-girl parties altogether and embraced Melissa as his sole girlfriend.

While Doc was a character, active in local politics, his widow is largely unknown in town. After services, she essentially disappears. Scott will not disclose where she lives, although she allows it is not at her late husband's Pasadena "church parsonage," recently listed for $17 million. "I am very much a recluse," she admits. She is constantly shadowed by a security detail, which enforces the church's strict reservation-only attendance policy. Cameras are expressly forbidden inside. "I have stalkers, people who are obsessed with me," Scott notes.

Some parishioners just don't get it. "I think she'd have a much bigger congregation if she came clean," says a former member who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal. "People would have more respect for her if she said, 'Yes, that was me, but I've repented and turned to Christ.' Instead it's, 'What else are you lying about?'"

But Pastor Scott simply won't. She points to the stained-glass window depicting the scene from John 20 in which Jesus appears to Doubting Thomas, the apostle who demands proof of Jesus's resurrection. Everyone, Pastor Scott coos, has a little Doubting Thomas in them. She pulls the Bible from her lap, licks the tips of her fingers, and flips through the worn pages. "Only three chapters [of the Bible deal with] God's perfection," she says, pinching off a small section. "The rest deals with man's fall and bringing man back. I want people to be able to start over, start a brand-new life. How do you do that if you're condemning them? God is a god of second chances."

A slow grin spreads. "I'm at perfect peace about where I am and what I'm doing. I feel that I fit right in this time and this moment." And with that, Pastor Melissa Scott rises to go. A dozen security guards standing sentinel in the hallway spring to attention and hustle her out of the building.