In August, Jakes will host his second annual Mega-Fest, a giant Christian family conference and festival. Last year's festival broke an Atlanta event attendance record, with 560,000 people. This year's speakers and entertainers include: Robert Kiyosaki, Chaka Khan, Kirk Franklin, Paula White, Stephen Baldwin, CeCe Winans, Donnie McClurkin, and Suze Orman. Recently, Beliefnet senior editor Deborah Caldwell caught up with Jakes for a chat.
What do you love most about Christianity?
The Christian message reaches out to everyone and anyone-it doesn't exclude anyone from an opportunity to reshape their lives. That no one living and breathing is beyond redemptions, grace.
What do you dislike about Christianity?
Sometimes Christianity is used as a pawn for political manipulation. I dislike the fact that we have black and white lines in this country about who is, and who is not, a Christian--and sometimes we market the Christianity to one particular group, or audience, at the expense of excluding other people from it. While Christ is inclusive, sometimes religious leadership can be very narrow and tribal in our tendency to alienate people that we ought to be able to embrace.
Why do you choose to stay Christian? Putting aside the fact that it is central to your career, why embrace Jesus as opposed to Buddha?
Being a Christian, for me, has nothing to do with career. I could have done motivational speaking .I could have written on any subject and enjoyed it. Most of my books are written with a practical perspective on day-to-day living.
I'm a Christian because my faith works for me. It meets me at the point of my personal needs; it gives me a foundation to stand on when all the world seems crazy. The fact that Christ died for me and rose from the dead and continues to live and influence my behavior is significant to me, and it's been effective. Not to say that we haven't had storms or troubles--we've had a lot of them--but I think what proves the validity of faith is how you weather the storms.
So it sounds like your attraction to Christianity is based on the centrality of Jesus' death and resurrection?
Definitely the centrality of his death and resurrection and the fact that Christianity does not hide its bruises. Christ proved that he was the savior by his wounds. And I think the fact that it is not this simple solution that says that everything is wonderful, that there are no crosses, that all that life offers is crowns, is not the Christian message. The Christian message is juxtaposed between crowns and crosses, and I live in a world where everyday I vacillate from crowns to crosses.
Yeah, I guess you really do.
What's your favorite prayer or Bible verse?
Psalms 27: 1-5. "The Lord is my light and my salvation. Of whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked--even my enemies and my foes--came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. One thing have I desired of the Lord is that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple."
It's wonderful. It has brought me through so many storms, and so many tests and so many days that I needed to boil down to just one thing on my list of "Lord I need.just let me dwell in your presence and have your peace"
Psalms 27:1-5 is about peace, it's about protection, and it's about guidance. When you talk about "The Lord is my light.give me guidance." When you say "My enemies stumbled and fell" give me protection and when you say, "one thing have I desired that I may dwell in the house of the Lord"--that's peace. And when you pray along those lines, you pretty much have covered the waterfront of what you may have to go through that day.
Who's your favorite Christian?
Wow. That's a hard question. My favorite Christian would probably be Mrs. Inez Strickland who has gone home to be with the Lord. She was about a hundred and something years old when she died, and she was my Sunday school teacher when I was a little boy.
This was in West Virginia?
Yes. And she was amazing. She was a lady who taught us our Bible scripture. She used to have an old raggedy piano and only half of the keys worked and used to teach us all of these little solos to sing when we were little kids. She spent great time with us. She really walked with the Lord. She loved the Lord. She took care of her children that were ailing and she took care of the community, she went to see everybody when they were sick and she's probably my favorite Christian to this day.
Have you ever experienced a moment when you were absolutely convinced you felt the divine presence? Was there one lightning bolt?
I have never seen anything as holy as holding my mother as she died. I've never seen anything as holy as holding her as the last breath went out of her body surrounded by her children and people who loved her and the grace and the dignity she had as God took her home. It was just an answer to prayer--not convulsing, not riveting in pain, but a peace and a calm and a tranquility, almost like a pronouncing of a benediction in this world and the birthing in a world to come. It was just.it took us a moment to realize that she was dead because it was stunning, the grace with which she exited the room. It left us awed for a moment before we realized what it really meant.
Wow. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced in my life. And when I came to myself, I missed her, I wept like anybody else, but for a moment I was just awed with the grace with which she exited. I had never seen anybody leave like she did. She left like a queen walking out of the room.
How much suffering do you see on a daily basis in your work?
I see suffering all around me. I pastor in the inner city, at a church with over 30,000 members--so a lot of times, you're dealing with crisis after crisis. We've got 350 people on staff, and anytime you're a CEO over that many people, you run into a lot of challenges. I'm the father of five children, and that certainly takes me from crosses to crowns.
You aren't kidding.
And two of them are teenagers, so you can imagine what that's like. And I'm just a human being. When you're a public figure, I think that amplifies and intensifies the process and that's my message to celebrities. I am increasingly aware of the fact that celebrity status or vast income does not exclude us from having adversity. We still are burying our parents and raising our children, dealing with life and dealing with marriage, just like anyone else. And sometimes we have fewer streams to draw from than other people.
Why is that?
Because you are so public and you are so scrutinized and you don't have an opportunity to take care of yourself. Sometimes caregivers are so busy taking care of everybody else that they don't take care of themselves. Often the carpenter's house is the worst house on the block.
Is that how you feel at times?
Not necessarily. I don't know that that's a description of how I feel at this moment. I've certainly seen days that I felt overwhelmed, I won't deny that. It's not how I'm feeling today. But I have had those opportunities and I think that my ministry is borne out of the fact that I have been a patient and a physician, so it's almost like the hair replacement commercials, where the guy says, "I'm not just the owner, I'm a client." And that's the great thing about being a Christian-preachers and teachers are not excluded from the medicine they dispense to others. I'm grateful for that, because I need encouragement from time to time. I need meditation, I need prayer, I need direction like anyone else.
When your father gets sick when you're 10, and he dies when you're 16, and you grow up with a kidney machine in your house, you become a caretaker. And you see life differently from kids who grew up playing basketball and football and tennis matches and white-water rafting. There's a certain sobriety, there's a certain seriousness, there's a certain compassion that exudes out of your speech and out of your character.
And I think my success in ministry--in spite of my large structure and booming voice-- there's a certain compassion that resonates in what I say that makes people feel comfortable with me. I think that my hurt comes through.
What's the downside? Do you become, in a way, egoless?
It's funny you should say that. Two days ago, I burst a blood vessel in my eye and my wife was having a fit because I wouldn't sit down and take care of myself. And I think that's the way life balances things. Sometimes people who care for everybody else don't take time to care for themselves--and God gives people around you who care for you, who make up the difference.
One of the great problems in life is that we think we have to be good at everything. And in reality, nobody is good at everything. You have to be good at something. And then God brings into your life, people who accessorize you and complete you in the most unique and beautiful ways-that's what marriage is all about, that's what partnerships and business relationships are all about, that's what friendships are all about. It's people who complete you, not people who compete with you.
You alluded earlier to Christianity being used for political reasons. What do you think of the nation's current political climate?
It's a very interesting time in our country. I think we're doing some political sweeping, and everybody is having to take another look at their message points and their agenda. I think the last election did bring to the point that moral values are important to most Americans. But I'm concerned that we define morality based purely on hot-button political issues. And I think that we oversimplify the challenge that we all have to maintain the kind of morality that God would want us to have.
What do you mean by that?
We have reduced morality down to just a couple of political issues, like gay marriage and abortion and things like that. Whereas when I teach my children about morality, I teach them the power of keeping your word, f the importance of showing up on time, the importance of paying your bills. When you start talking about morality it's a wider turf. I think that racism is immoral, I think that not taking care of the elderly is immoral, I think that not feeding the homeless is immoral.
And so I would just like to broaden the conversation. And I would like for none of us to get to the point that we assume because we voted this way or that way on a couple of issues that we have mastered morality. In reality, morality is something that we all struggle to manage--it's like weight loss. For some of us, it's something we have to work on every day.
What's it like in Texas now, with that political climate? There are a lot of moral lines being drawn in the sand there, no doubt.
First of all, I love being in Texas--Dallas in particular. And there are lines being drawn politically, but I see people jumping back and forth across the lines.
Oh, yes. It's very important to understand today that no one can assume that they have any group of people locked down. People are jumping across the board. There are people who are signing up to the Republican Party that historically did not and vice versa. And I think it's very, very important that we continue to work hard to serve the community rather than to take sides. And more and more we are proving as African-Americans that we are not monolithic, that we do think differently, and we are interested in whichever party is going to serve the issues and concerns that reflect our community.
Would you ever try to get involved in politics to be a healer?
[laughs] Absolutely not. I've got my work cut out for me. Politics is something that I'm curious about. I don't think any of us can totally divorce ourselves from politics, because we live with the consequences of political decisions. I deeply enjoy my right to vote and I encourage other people to do so. Our church was able to get more people registered to vote than any other church in Dallas. And so we encourage that right, but at the Potter's House we do not tell people how to vote. I think as we teach them to vote, we celebrate our right--but when we tell them how to vote we start manipulating their minds--and I respect my congregation too much to do that.