In June, about 200,000 Christians attended Jakes' new program, Mega Fest 2004 in Atlanta. The event combined Jakes' annual conferences, Woman, Thou Art Loosed and ManPower, and added the Youth 3D Experience.
In the 1990s, you were described as the black Billy Graham. I wonder what you think about that title these days? And what you think your role as a preacher is?
That's a hard question. I think people often define others as being like somebody they are familiar with. But in reality, though I'm honored to be compared to someone like Billy Graham, I recognize that each of us is distinctive. And so I've not struggled to try to be a copy or follow in the footsteps of anybody, but to do those things that I feel I was created to do. I appreciated it, I applauded it, but I also understood that each of us is unique. My goal has been to serve my generation well.
You are a boomer.
I'm right in the middle of it. [Jakes is 46.] And I was born with them, I age with them, I'll die with them and I see life through the eyes of people who came out of the era that I did. And as we walk closer and closer to life's edge, I just want to be an encouragement to people who face the things that I do. Raising teenagers on one hand and burying my parents on the other. I'm at that stage of life caught in between two extremely emotionally experiences. My oldest boy is 24 and my daughters are 16 and 15 and I've got a nine- year-old son.
What do you think your role on the national stage should be or will be?
At this point I'm interested in being a coach to other people. I don't think it's really about me anymore. I think it's about coaching other people into their destiny. Whether it's a young entrepreneur who's trying to start a company or whether it's young people who are trying to get a marriage to be functional, I've had so many different great experiences in my life that I'd like to share them with other people.
Once you became "famous" in the late 90s, there were lots of things that must have gotten easier, but I would think some things got harder.
A lot of things got harder. I tend to be a very simple person. That becomes a little bit more difficult to attain. Normalcy is important to me. Harder to come by. Privacy is important to me. Harder to come by. Moments of introspection, solace, silence, tranquility. I can go on and on and on.
How about humility? Is that hard too?
Not really. For me it isn't because I think I suffer from another thing. I sometimes fail to acknowledge my own accomplishments. From being challenged by what I have left to do. I see so many things I've left undone every day, that I never get to gloat about what I accomplished. And I have trouble, sometimes, noticing it. And when I do notice what I've accomplished, I've always been afraid of heights. So I say, "Oh gosh, you're up too high."
Really? So you're actually a little bit afraid of success.
Yeah. Well I'm literally afraid of heights, and so I use it as a metaphor to say that sometimes.let me say it this way: I never set out to be famous, I set out to be effective. And I think being famous is a consequence of being effective, but it's something I endured, not something I sought.
To me it's normal, and anytime you're being just who you normally are, people say, wow--and then you go back and look at it and say, "What are they wowing about, because it's really who I am." I love people. I always have loved people.
What else are you up to lately?
"Woman Thou Art Loosed" has evolved into a film. It's a partnership between Reuben Cannon Productions and myself. We filmed almost all of it in Los Angeles and with a lot of prayer submitted it to the Santa Barbara Film Festival and they accepted it. And it actually won the best film award. So we hope to be on screens in September, as a general release film.
I also want to turn to the news. What do you think of the war in Iraq? What did you make of the prison scandal, the kidnappings of Americans, the fatique of the American soldiers?
Let me share an equation that I wrote when I saw the news about the prison scandal in Iraq: I wrote Power + Privacy = Perversion. It takes a lot of discipline to swim against the current, and I applaud those who did. And I forgive those who didn't because I understand that peer pressure can be quite intimidating when you take teenage young men and women and put them into isolated areas for the first time and give them guns and power. I think we expect too much out of young people when we expect them to be able to manage such extreme power in such a hostile environment, and always do it appropriately, if we don't have leadership there to monitor and direct them. It's hard for us to handle it, and we're middle-aged. I'm not sure our training prepares them for the psychological devastation that comes from being in a situation where you're seeing people killed and you're being shot at and now you're in a dungeon and you're in charge of somebody and you just barely have learned how to master your own emotions and attitudes.
Of course you want to believe that your own kids, or that Christian kids, would be able to withstand it. But can they?
I think it's very important that we understand Christians are not monolithic, that we don't come out of the Christian machine like robots. That we develop differently, that we bring a certain amount of baggage into our Christian experience. Our faith is a compass and a guide, but our feet must do the walking. And even though a young person is a Christian, they're still thousands of miles from home, for the first time, alone in an adverse situation where people they know are being thrown off bridges and hung to death and body parts cut off. If you've ever been a pastor, you know that one of the things you understand clearly is that Christians are not finished products-they are flawed. And unfortunately it's a lot like being an African-American.
Because if an African-American becomes successful at anything and anybody ever interviews him, they always ask him, "What are you doing for your community?" But they don't ask their white counterpart the same question. Because you're always expected to represent your people when you're a minority. So every black person who ever does anything now represents millions of black people all over the world.
And it's very similar with Christians--you become the epitome of Christianity, when in reality you're just a young man trying to ascribe to ideas you have not mastered and probably won't have mastered 10 years from now.
I think the Christian community should extend grace and mercy. I think he should be admonished to do what the Bible says. If you sin, you have an advocate with the Father. He should humble himself and be sure that he doesn't walk in arrogance and pride because we haven't mastered Christ.
You have to get somebody alone and disciple them like Christ did.. He needs a pastor or a father or a friend who comes along and says, "Man, what happened to you? You got off the track."
How do you build character in soldiers so that these kinds of things don't happen?
We need more time with them, training them not just about handling weapons and not just physical dexterity, but training them to understand what aloneness does to the soul. One of the techniques of discipline in maximum security prisons is solitary confinement. Here you take mass murderers and you punish them, not by whipping them or beating them, but by locking them in a room by themselves, because one of the hardest things to manage is being alone. In Iraq, we're taking young men who often had the supportive mom and dad and schoolmates and now they're in isolated environments and adverse conditions and there hasn't been enough training to manage aloneness, and secondly how to manage power. Anytime you give authority over one person to another there's going to be perversion. When I looked at the photos from Abu Ghraib, they reminded me of slavery.
Interesting. Did the thought of slavery make it harder to look at the abuse photos?
No. It made it so much more believable to me. I wasn't nearly as shocked as our nation was.
Because you've seen those images?
Do you mean lynching pictures?
Yes. My great grandfather's mother was a slave. So it's really not as far back as people would like to have you think. We grew up with stories of lynchings and beatings, and I've seen even as late as the 60s people beaten and left in cornfields in Mississippi.
So it's very believable that somebody with too much power and privacy would pervert that power, and abuse someone who had no control. Or strip them down and tar and feather them as they did our forefathers, or rape our women. This has always been amidst the singing of hymns on Sunday morning. It was very believable to me.
What do members of The Potter's House think about the war in Iraq?
We've got a lot of members in Iraq right now. I mean, it's an amazing amount. I know that we brought quite a few down to the front of the church for prayer--those who were leaving for Iraq. It's certainly well into the hundreds (out of 30,000 members).
It's hard to think about God's loving arms around violent people-Muslim extremists, angry Christian soldiers, or whomever.
My ministry is not built upon showing what's right and what's wrong. It's built upon ministering both to the victim and the perpetrator. And I have to balance my words in such a way that both the guilty and the innocent can find redemption at the cross. I don't want the gospel that I preach to alienate the guilty. Because if I alienate the guilty then why the cross? And I struggle with that all the time because I think that sometimes Christianity is marketed in such a way that it becomes an elitist club for yuppies.
That puts you at odds with those who believe the Iraqis and other Muslims follow an evil religion.
But you see, that's what Christianity needs to run to. Christ ran to people who were wrong. He didn't hoard the people who were right. He ran to the disenfranchised and the broken. I just really see it so differently that in wonder where I do fit sometimes.
So you feel like God can put his arms around Muslim prisoners or Muslim fanatics, or even terrorists?
Anybody who would seek Him. My philosophy about Christianity is that its grace is so broad that anybody that would turn toward it could find forgiveness here. And so far-reaching that no matter who was wounded, if they would call on the name of the Lord, they would be saved no matter who they were.
I'm going to tell you my dilemma after September 11th. I was so angry. I just openly admit I was so angry. And for the first time, I asked myself a question. I thought, "If Osama bin Laden were to come in your church and he preached the gospel and he repented and he wanted to be saved, could you lead him to the Lord?"
And I thought, "I wouldn't want to." And it's wrong, but I wouldn't want to. And my point is, grace is bigger than we are. God forgives people we're mad at. We must not believe that grace stops short of some particular sin. Paul murdered Christians. He stoned them to death and went from city to city executing them--and ended up being an apostle. And so when you looked at this, God forgives people we don't approve of.