On his recently launched blog, Bishop T.D. Jakes of Dallas has responded sharply to a story by CNN correspondent John Blake that dismisses Jakes as a “prosperity pastor” who has shunned the message of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
“Prosperity pastors such as Bishop T.D. Jakes have become the most popular preachers in the black church,” Blake writes. “They’ve also become brands. They’ve built megachurches and business empires with the prosperity message.”
Blake contrasts black preachers such as Jakes, Creflo Dollar and Dr. Frederick K. Price with “prophetic” ministers such as the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who “often enrage people because they proclaim God’s judgment on nations.” The money preachers fill the pews, Blake writes, but prophetic pastors don’t because of their challenging message. These ministers, he says, are the ones who embody the message of King.
Jakes takes umbrage at the fact that his photo is featured on the CNN story. He notes his longstanding relationship with the King family and the many community projects his church, The Potter’s House in Southwest Dallas, has been involved in here and abroad. “Many people can talk the talk of Dr. King and his messages,” Jakes says, “but there are many who choose to focus on walking the walk. We walk the walk.”
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Jakes’ response is measured but persuasive. Though Jakes has assumed the role of a “bridge-builder,” avoiding unnecessarily divisive issues as pastor of an enormous, multiracial congregation, I know of no primarily black congregation in this country that has accomplished what Jakes has in ministry to poor communities. As a reporter I regularly ran into random people in Dallas whose lives had been permanently transformed by Jakes’ church, ministry and message -- like the South Dallas man who’d been a simple laborer all his life, then a crack addict. His addictions were treated through the Salvation Army’s excellent residential programs, but it was a message by Jakes that inspired him to reach higher and become a cross-country truck driver. Now he was able to provide adequately for his family.
Jakes never mentions another much more touchy subject. But so many of the religious leaders of the Civil Rights Movement turned out to be morally corrupt. Witness the disgusting recent stories about James Bevel -- an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and the Freedom Rides. Bevel was convicted of having sex with his daughter. Prosecutors said that Bevel had taken it upon himself to train his daughters in the sexual arts.
I’m not implying that other King-era Civil Rights leaders did anything as vile as this, but the late Reverend Ralph Abernathy acknowledges the rampant womanizing among King and his associates in his controversial 1989 book, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down. When leaders in the church engage in these kinds of behaviors -- and they’re still rampant -- the effects are manifested in the flock.
In my view, Jakes has been a necessary corrective in the black church. He has steered a course of moral probity, teaching his congregants that godly living and personal responsibility are what truly empower believers in Jesus Christ. To reduce his complex message to prosperity preaching is terribly insulting. --Julie Lyons