Bishop T.D. Jakes is a best-selling author of 29 books, a Grammy-winning gospel singer, a nationally renowned preacher, and the subject of a 2001 Time magazine cover story that asked: Is This Man The Next Billy Graham? He is also pastor of one of the largest churches in the nation--the 30,000-member Potter's House, in Dallas. His sermons are broadcast nationally on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and Black Entertainment Television. And now Jakes is a movie star, as his first movie, "Woman, Thou Art Loosed" begins appearing in theaters nationwide this week. The R-rated film, based on his famous book by the same title, deals with child molestation and the response by Christians. Jakes is hoping the film will have the same grassroots appeal that Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" had.

Beliefnet senior editor Deborah Caldwell interviewed Jakes recently in Washington, D.C., where he was promoting the film.

You've said you hope your movie would work in the same way that "The Passion" worked, as a grassroots phenomenon.

It almost has to be because it's an independent film, so we don't have a big marketing budget. It comes out [this week] on 400 screens.

In just major cities?

It's major cities, but it's also some small markets, too.

Can you name a couple?

Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Denver, Phoenix, Greenville, South Carolina-there are about 80 cities on the list right now.

So is there hope that it will grow as large as "The Passion of the Christ"?

I don't think that's realistic. This film doesn't have to reach anywhere near that level to be successful. If it provokes conversation and enough people see it that it meets the budget.I have to be real. The investors who have invested in it get taken care of, but far beyond that, I hope it helps to stir up conversation, bring awareness, and becomes a tool of ministry. I didn't measure it against "The Passion." I think "The Passion" is in a category all by itself. This, to me, is just another artery that we can tap into to continue a conversation that I've been having for about 14 years.

What have you've learned in those years about the pain of abuse?

I've learned more than the film can show or the books depict because I've been bombarded with volumes of material from women all over the country who've written and emailed and sent cards and sent tapes and sent dolls and sent articles of clothing and everything imaginable that were emblems of the tragedies that happened to them. Amazing material. I mean, just amazing, some of the letters you can't read them and not cry. And over the years I've worked in prison with inmates who've shared stories of horrific abuses that they've gone through that brought them to crime or violence or drug addictions. It has transcended every barrier, I mean it can be a white woman in Idaho, it can be an inner-city woman in Watts. There is no typical "Michelle." [The movie deals with a woman named Michelle who is now an adult and then flashes back to events in her childhood.] She's any woman, she's every woman, and she's also men.


Yes, it happens with men, and with men it's even more shameful and harder to talk about because we are not given permission, even though we were victims, to be victims because of the sexual connotations. So it is a tremendous education I've had, and it's taken on a life all its own; it's really much bigger than me, and it's much broader than me.

How will congregations deal with the movie?

Many churches are buying out nights at the theater, and they're using it as a tool of ministry. They will view the film and then go back to the church and talk about it, provoke conversations about it, because the movie deals with such a plethora of issues, from domestic violence to child abuse.

You must be exhausted from the sadness and the pain out there.

Yes, it makes me exhausted. Because I stepped on a stage and started talking about things that were taboo. I never, ever thought that people were going to come to my presentations like they did. I wasn't trying to get people to come. I was just saying what I thought. And it was much bigger than I'd thought. All the weight of dealing with the heavy issues and the emotional rollercoaster ride it places you on as you stand up there. When I minister on a subject, I have to become the victim in order to describe the issue enough to get them to be transparent with me. It's exhausting. And you can't do it well if you're tired; you can't do it well if you have crisis in your own life; you don't know whose pain to borrow--yours or theirs--because you're having a human experience as well. It's amazing.

Do you have a statistical way of describing how much abuse there is--domestic, sexual, whatever?

Not beyond the data that's out there, and the data is amazing. We can look at numbers all day long and we say, "Oh that's a tragedy," but one little face sitting across from your desk. And it doesn't have to be a child. I've seen old women staggering down to altars, saying, "I never told anybody," screaming and crying. Oh, it's amazing. It's grandmamas, it's everybody.

Why do you say that Christians need to see this movie?

The church is wide awake about the problems of sexual abuse. There is not a denomination in the world that has not viewed the crisis going on in the Catholic Church and then done some introspection to make sure that we built further walls within our own domain to lessen the possibility of that situation reoccurring. So I think that the church is well aware of the issue.

The challenge has been for many of us to develop walls that we can protect children from hostile situations. At the Potter's House, we have instituted some policies that protect children, whether we're doing a national event or a local event. At our national event, Mega Fest, we had 8,000 children under 12. And 15,000 of them were older than 12 and younger than 20. Close to 200,000 people total.

So we had a police officer at every exit. You had to sign the children in or out; you had to have identification that justified that that was your child. We did background checks on everybody who worked with children, just to make sure that the safe environment was protected for our children. We also duplicate those efforts on a local church level, and we're encouraging pastors to do that as much as possible.

But where churches are being most challenged today is in the area of how do we minister to this growing epidemic of children who are being molested outside of the church, in the home and in other areas? What is our responsibility when we suspect that kind of abuse?

We're using this film also to broaden the discussion about that. During pre-screenings pastors began to say, "What can we do?" And so we worked to help facilitate deeper relationships between social services in the city as well as spiritual services and found to our dismay that often they didn't know each other, but were dealing with the same issues.

But churches have trouble just talking about sex, and because the movie deals with sexual abuse, nobody knows how to talk about that.

It is an epidemic. Sexual abuse is an area of discomfort for the church because we have no template for this discussion. What pastors are excited about is that the movie is a bridge to develop conversation. And the thing that I think is exciting about the movie is the fact that often when children are molested, counselors use dolls to help the child to be able to talk about unmentionable subjects. I hope that this movie in some way will become a doll--and a template--that will give us a way to bring up a much bigger discussion. Is this happening in your church? Is this happening in your house? Is this happening to my daughter? Let's begin to talk about taboo subjects before we're in court and before we're in counseling and in crisis centers.

What are the reasons for sexual abuse?

It's all about power and control. And people needing to be in control. And sometimes people who feel like they have no control find it easier to exercise control over somebody who has less control, such as a child. It has almost nothing to do with sex; it has something to do with power and the abuse of that power.

But there is another thing I want to get to that I think is very important and under-emphasized. Reggie is the name of the character who abused Michelle, but the real drama is between Michelle and her mother, Cassie, because this is where the unbelievable anger is levied. Cassie is the person Michelle told who wouldn't believe her. And that was one of the things I had to learn--that it has as much to do with the man who abused as it does with the caregiver who wouldn't believe the victim. "You trusted him over me. I must be worthless. It's not enough that he has deflowered me, you have destroyed me because I came to you and you said I wasn't even important enough to pay attention to, so my screams went unheard."

But what is so wonderful about the film is that it also deals with forgiveness, which is the final frontier of healing for people who have been through abuse in the past. Sometimes the wound has healed, and you've gone on and gotten married, and you've got the house on the hill, but you still haven't let go of that person who's holding captive a part of your life. And so at the very last scene of the movie, the last thing you see is a little house that she's built out of matchsticks and the door is open. For me, that open door means that she has finally found a place of forgiveness. I think every person that looks at the door sees something different. They may see salvation, and they may see closure, but the fact that the door is open for me says that she is finally free and she's able to go on with her life.

You talk about power, and I know another part of your ministry is empowering men, particularly black men. Is there a need to empower men so that they don't feel the need to hurt women and children?

You have to empower men, and in our community, empowering men deals with the economy and entrepreneurial pursuits and all of that. But the natural response to that would be, "Then why do white men do it?" So it's not enough to empower-- you must also inform. And you must also educate, because a man needs to see what happens to the victim. That's why men must come to see this film; they must see that 10 minutes of gratification or 10 minutes of acting out of rage left her with 20 years of healing from abuse. And until you bring the victim face-to-face with the perpetrator, the perpetrator can't get well. So it's not enough for us to heal all the victims if we're not going to heal the perpetrators, they're just going to make new victims.

You've become this repository for pain. Do you have any further enlightenment on why you have this empathy?

I can hear it. I don't know why. I can always hear it. I can hear anybody who's hurting about anything in a weird sort of way. And yes, I've had a lot of hurt since age 16-I won't give you the whole list-but I know a lot of people who have a lot of hurts who can't hear others. I don't know why. But I can hear them. It's difficult for me to do a funeral if the family breaks up real bad. I can do it, but I have to go somewhere inside of myself and block it out because I can connect with pain.

The scripture says Jesus was "acquainted with grief." The word "acquainted" always fascinated me because it suggested he had this relationship with pain, and I so related to that because I sat beside the bed of people who were dying. You know how when people are dying and nobody will talk to them about dying and they try to act like this elephant in their living room is not there? "Hello mother. It is a beautiful day outside," and mother is dying in the bed and nobody will talk to her about dying

And I had an ability to connect with people in horrific situations and given them some relief. Because our society is so politically correct that we won't talk about stuff. Can you imagine dying and everybody is talking about, "Are you going to the Bahamas next summer?" and you think, "No, I'm not and will somebody please allow me to address this?" We are so polite culturally that we're liars.

We're afraid of death, we're afraid of abuse, we're afraid of sex--but on the other hand, we're probably the most open, therapized culture in the world. What do you make of that?

There are two subjects the church is very coy about talking about and yet covertly has an interest in. One of them is sex and other one is money and they're two taboo subjects. And because we never talk about them, we open up doors for them to be misappropriated. And we're taught to believe that being a Christian means that you should have no interest in either. It's so hypocritical because in reality it's part of the human experience. And either they don't talk about it, or on the other extreme, that's all they talk about.

I'm not going to say I've mastered that, but I have learned how to communicate about it. Because I find as a pastor, this new generation talks about everything. You open up for Q & A, and you might get any kind of question right in front of everybody now. And this younger generation has no problems saying, "This is what I have been into and what does the Bible say about that?" And "This is my boyfriend and we've been living together for a year" and it's, like, Bible class, and you're like (gasp).

What do you say to them?

The first thing I do is not bind them up with religious baggage so that they can't get real answers. I try to inform and inspire without condemning. In a perfect world, I think the church should be like a doctor's office where you can come in and say, "I got a knot on my knee.it's not supposed to be there but this is where it is," where you can be real instead of coming into the doctor's office and saying, "Oh, I'm well, I don't need anything, I'm perfectly fine. I just came because I knew you expected to see me." And that's the way people come to church every Sunday.

Do you think that your quest to keep pushing yourself might be reaching an end? A couple months ago you said you wanted to dial back more and become a mentor.

Well, I'm getting older. I have to start mentoring. I'm getting nearer to the edge of the waters.

See, let me tell you what happens, as long as you have your parents, you judge your age by your birthdays. But when both of your parents are dead, you have no covering between you and death, and it changes everything for you. Everything you did they modeled it in front of you, and then you followed. Well for me, both of my parents have done that.

And so all of a sudden-it's not that I feel old and decrepit-but now I take death seriously, because she died in my arms. So that, plus being 47, says you're still considered a young man, but you have to have a plan. I'm thinking about 20 years down the road right now. When we have over 350 funerals a year in our church-when you deal with death and bereavement and crisis and suicides and depressions and drug addictions-I live in a world where life is turned up louder. It's like a physician who works in an emergency room. I live in a world where people run into church with real issues and crisis. My perspectives on the world are different from a person who works a job every day and they have a death of a friend every now and then, and somebody got a divorce last year-I've got somebody getting a divorce every week. I know anything can happen to me.

What's next for you?

You know, I normally know. But I tell you, what's next for me is probably a vacation. I've been here almost half a century. I'm not dead, but I'm learning to smell the roses in between these mountains and to spend some time with my kids and enjoy my wife and enjoy my life, because life has become more precious as I've begin to realize I have less of it.

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