Bishop T.D. Jakes, one of the country’s hottest preachers, who may one day succeed Billy Graham as America’s unofficial chief evangelist, will bring his unique blend of self-help stylings, motivational musings and fire and brimstone sermonizing to the Westchester County Center tomorrow evening.
His appearance in White Plains comes only two months before Jakes, ushering in a new era of multimedia ministry, makes his acting debut in 500 movie theaters.
Jakes is ostensibly on a book tour, promoting his latest, “He-Motions: Even Strong Men Struggle.” He promises to tell men how to shed macho stereotypes and refocus their emotional lives, and to advise women on how to help their men through the process.
But any time Jakes takes a microphone, he can be expected to deliver the goods that have made him a national sensation: Gospel-inspired messages of hope and healing combined with motivational pop-psychology. And maybe some rapping.
- Concerns About The Teachings Of T.D. Jakes
“T.D. Jakes is the prism through which we can learn about contemporary American religion,” said Shayne Lee, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Houston, who is working on a book about Jakes to be called “American Phenomenon.” “He is a black, neo-Pentecostal preacher who has become one of America’s most important preachers. He is compared to Billy Graham, but while Graham’s strength is the simple, yet compelling message of salvation, Jakes’ strength is addressing complex pathologies like sexual abuse and addictive relationships, more like Dr. Phil.
“He is the model of the new postmodern preacher — business savvy, high-tech, multidimensional,” Lee said. “Jakes is not only the symbol of where the black church is heading, but postdenominational Protestant America.”
It says a lot about Jakes’ status that he is touting his current tour, including his stop at the 4,335-seat County Center, as a series of visits to small, “churchlike” settings. Heavily Catholic New York is not exactly a stronghold for a national evangelist like Jakes, but when he appeared at the County Center last year, many people had to be turned away.
Tomorrow, the doors will open at 5 p.m. for his free, 7 p.m. appearance. People will be coming from as far away as Canada and Massachusetts, said Bishop Wayne Powell, pastor of Strait Gate Church in Mamaroneck, a close friend who is responsible for bringing Jakes to Westchester.
“He’s the main spiritual leader in America today, not just for African-Americans, but for everybody,” Powell said. “Everything he touches turns to gold. This will be a great event, and we’ll be turning people away.”
Jakes is accustomed to preaching before crowds of more than 50,000. His own congregation in Dallas, known as The Potter’s House, has some 25,000 members and is visited by the country’s most notable Christians, starting with President Bush. His four-day “Mega Fest” in Atlanta two months ago attracted 130,000 people.
Jakes, 47, is best known in the South, but his media empire is spreading quickly. He’s written a dozen best sellers, including several meant to soothe and inspire women, like “Woman, Thou Art Loosed!” “Loose That Man and Let Him Go!” and “The Lady, Her Lover, and Her Lord.”
He’s also a playwright and songwriter and has penned greeting cards for Hallmark. His sermons are broadcast weekly on Trinity Broadcasting Network and Black Entertainment Television
Lee said Jakes is a product of his time who absorbs cultural influences — he’s been known to mix in raps by Yonkers native DMX — and reflects the priorities of his flock. Lee estimates that Jakes is worth more than $50 million, based on the sales of his books, CDs and other products.
A major project on the horizon is “Woman, Thou Art Loosed: The Movie,” which is set for nationwide release in October and could pump up Jakes’ profile like nothing before. The film stars Jakes as himself, counseling an imprisoned woman trying to recover from a lifetime of tragedy. Prison ministry is one of his calling cards in Dallas and elsewhere.
“T.D. Jakes is first a pastor — that’s what makes him tick — and he happens to the pastor of a very large church,” said Mark DeMoss, president of DeMoss Group, an Atlanta-based consulting firm that represents many of the nation’s major evangelical figures, including Jakes. “Beyond that, he’s brilliant in so many ways. It’s fair to say he’s the most effective Christian communicator in the country. He’s difficult to label, a visionary, who also outthinks and outworks everyone around him. It’s hard to limit where he might go and what he might do.”
Jakes is hardly a traditional black preacher. His congregation is increasingly multicultural and he rarely talks about racial issues, a fact that has drawn criticism from a few black ministers.
He’s also received some barbs for living, without apology, a fairly extravagant, publicity-minded lifestyle. He lives with his wife and five children in a lakefront mansion. When Jakes baptized Dallas Cowboys Emmitt Smith and Deion Sanders several years ago, pictures of the immersed stars were mailed to the national media.
“He minimizes the importance of race in his appeal and reaches a broader audience with his Oprah/Dr. Phil-type practical advice for human fulfillment,” said Robert Franklin, presidential distinguished professor of social ethics at Emory University in Atlanta. “He does not seem to need the traditional black church network as a base of support. He reaches the semi-churched and unchurched.”