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Subject: AANEWS for October 23, 2000
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subject: AANEWS for October 23, 2000

Weakening the wall: Al Gore grovels for votes with Promise Keeper T.D. Jakes

In AANews, #836
23 October 2000

George W. Bush had his debacle last spring when he appeared at the pulpit of Bob Jones University.

Now, Vice President Al Gore may have managed a similar gaffe by taking his campaign to the dedication of a new Pentecostal megachurch in Dallas, Texas where he denounced "cultural pollution," "toxic entertainment," and shared the spotlight with "Bishop" T.D. Jakes, a Promise Keepers spokesman and televangelist.

It was all typical of the saturation of religious rhetoric, themes and voter-block appeals which have characterized the year 2000 election contest. Both Gore and his GOP opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, have laced their respective campaign platforms with religion-friendly policies, including pledges to involve church groups in "partnership" arrangements that call for tax funding for faith-based social outreaches. Sunday's appearance by Gore at the new 26,000-member Potter's House church was an appropriate venue. Headed by Rev. Jakes, the church already boasts several programs which under Gore or Bush plans would qualify for public funding in order to provide drug-alcohol rehabilitation counseling, job training and other services.

Gore told the dedication worshippers, though, that he did not accept the invitation of Bishop Jakes to discuss economic policy. Instead, he pounded away on themes which compete directly with the Bush-GOP agenda -- the sanctity of families and the evils of violent, salacious entertainment. Gore demanded that media companies bow to proposals by the Federal Trade Commission that would institute tougher rating standards, and presumably ban the marketing of adult products to children.

"In too many schools," declared Gore, "discipline is eroding and many teachers spend their time on crowd control." He provided no specifics.

Gore denounced "toxic entertainment that too often passes on the wrong values," and told the Potter's House audience, "I believe that the purpose of life is to glorify God." Echoing a statement made last week by running mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman linking religious belief and environmentalism, the vice president added "We cannot fulfill that purpose if we are heaping contempt on God's creation."

The New York Times noted that Mr. Gore quoted Scriptures four times during his 18-minute address, and recited portions of a hymn and paraphrased two Bible stories. "In both content and tone," added the Times, "he waded into waters usually reserved for Republican politicians, a point made explicit by the presence at the same service of Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition founder."

A Jakes Cult? Latter-Day Rain and the Promise Keepers.

Pat Robertson, a close friend and supporter of Gov. George W. Bush was indeed on the platform with Mr. Gore, and the two men shook hands and smiled after Robertson delivered his homily to the audience. Bush was unable to attend the dedication due to a scheduling conflict, but has visited "Bishop" Jakes' church. Proclamations of support from Bush and President Bill Clinton were read to the congregation by Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who praised Mr. Gore as "a man who deeply believes in his God."

The man at the center of the spectacle, though, is "Bishop" T.D. (Thomas Dexter) Jakes, born June 9, 1957, a Promise Keepers lecturer and colorful television preacher whose rising star in the world of evangelicalism and Pentecostal fervor has been compared to that of Billy Graham. Jakes' role, though, as a member of the controversial "Latter-Rain" movement -- a cultish and, some say, theologically suspect branch of contemporary evangelicalism -- and cheerleader for the Promise Keepers should be a wake-up call about the dangerous incursion of extremist religious belief into the year 2000 campaign.

Jakes allegedly began his preaching career at age 17 while enrolled as a psychology major at West Virginia State College. One biographical account at the Religious Movements Homepage says that "as a young boy, he [Jakes) became known in his hillside neighborhood for delivering sermons to imaginary congregations," and earned the moniker "Bible Boy" for always carrying a copy of the text to school. He opened his first church, a storefront ministry, in Montgomery, WV in 1979. Three years later, he relocated his outreach, then known as the Temple of Faith, to South Charleston, WV. Jakes attracted a multiracial following, an unusual feat for a black minister. In 1994, he formed T.D. Jakes Ministries as a nonprofit, tax exempt organization and two years later headed for Dallas, TX. There, Jakes purchased property belonging to the estate of former incarcerated faith-healer and scam-evangelist W.V. Grant for $3.2 million

His three-times-a-week television show "The Potter's House," found support and an audience thanks to the Trinity Broadcasting Network headed by televangelist Paul Crouch. Soon, Jakes' programming was being streamed to eager audiences in Africa and Europe. This was supplemented by a traveling "crusade" outreach and separate conferences aimed at men and women which Jakes said were "to extend healing and restoration on the national level."

His website is an internet paean to Jakes' work as "Pastor, bridge builder, humanitarian, author and artist, conference speaker, broadcaster..." His sermons are described as blazing with "Pentecostal fervor, " and "dense with poetic commentary, startling insights, and contemporary applications of the Bible's timeless message..."

All of this has found a fertile, and contributing audience in Texas. Jakes' church operates a homeless ministry (Ravens Refuge), Operation Rehab which targets prostitutes, and a "Transformation Treatment Program" for drug and alcohol abusers. Jakes has also hit the road with the Promise Keepers organization, speaking at that group's numerous rallies for men. He operates his own version of the PK ministry labeled "ManPower," which "encourages men to live righteous lives and to be positive role models." A separate program for females, "Women, Thou Art Loosed" is based on several books penned by Jakes which are national Christian bestsellers, and include titles such as "Daddy Loves His Girls," "Loose That Man And Let Him God," "Can You Stand To Be Blessed" and "Lay Aside Weight."

Jakes has been criticized, though, for some peculiar doctrinal views and his association with the male-oriented Promise Keepers movement which tells men that they must "take back control" of families, institutions and government.

The Christian Research Journal recently accused Jakes of promoting an "unbiblical" view of the Trinity -- a dispute over the Christian God manifesting himself as a Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This "Oneness Pentecostalism" is also embraced by the leadership of the Promise Keepers movement, who are also identified under the term "Latter-Rain."

Money, Connections, Controversy

While Jakes' embrace of the Oneness doctrine is source for controversy within America's evangelical subculture, closer to home are the evangelist's ties with political and celebrity figures, and his wealthy lifestyle. Like the Promise Keepers, Jakes' ministry is closely linked to high-rolling sports professionals who "found God" off the court or gridiron. Dallas Cowboy defensive star Deion Sanders is a regular stage prop at the "ManPower" conferences, along with fellow Cowboys Emmit Smith and Omar Stourtmire. During a revival crusade in Birmingham, Jakes told the 18,000 men in the audience that when he began to counsel Sanders, he told the Cowboys star that becoming a Christian did not mean changing his outrageous and controversial personality.

"To deny him that would be to deny him who he is as a person," said Jakes. Sanders agreed, declaring, "If I'm going to be flashy and flamboyant, I'd like to do it for the Lord."

Indeed, the Lord -- or Bishop Jakes -- received the largesse of Sander's talent when the Cowboys cornerback donated $1 million to the Potter's House church in April, 1998.

In return, Jakes has promoting Sander's book, "Power, Money and Sex: It's a Man Thing."

There is also the issue of Jakes' lavish lifestyle. The December, 1999 issue of Christian Research Journal and February 4, 2000 issue of Christianity Today took note of the evangelist's $1.7 million home in Dallas, and a $600,000, 16-room mansion in Charlotte, North Carolina. (The Dallas Observer valued the Charlotte property at "close to $1 million.")

"Additionally, Jakes owns a BMW convertible, a Mercedes-Benz, and dresses in expensive, flashy clothing. His ownership of such material items has some people believing that T.D. Jakes preaches such widely acceptable religious views in order to gain financial prosperity ... he uses himself as an example to his parishioners to demonstrate that they too can become wealthy ... also he justifies his financial success by portraying Jesus -- also a religious and minstrel (sic) leader -- as a wealthy man."

The Dallas Observer noted that Jakes "says he is not embarrassed by this, even though his extravagant lifestyle has caused controversy in his hometown that will likely follow him to Dallas. Both he and wife Serita are routinely decked out in stunning jewelry. His West Virginia residence -- two homes side by side -- includes an indoor swimming pool and a bowling alley. These homes particularly caused the ire of the local folks. One paper wrote at length about the purchase and made much of their unusual features. A columnist dubbed Jakes 'a huckster.' "

Jakes has advanced a number of astounding claims, including the one that Jesus Christ was a wealthy man in order to support his numerous disciples and followers. He has also waded into the extreme charismatic camp, and shared the pulpit with bizarre evangelists like Robert Liardon, who claims that he was transported to heaven for a face-to-face encounter with Jesus, and that he visited a celestial warehouse stocked with unclaimed body parts.

Like the glitzy and now expensive Promise Keepers assemblies, Bishop Jake's "ManPower" conferences include a hard sell for promotional items as well as an amalgam of spirited, feel-good, take-charge religion. USA TODAY recently noted the presence of "a small army of vendors" pushing Jakes' books, CD's, T-shirts, caps and other materials at the Washington, D.C. three-day conference. The paper added, "It's a good bet that Texas Gov. George W. Bush had Jakes in mind when he said he would 'look first to faith-based organizations' to help the downtrodden if he wins next year's presidential race."

USA TODAY also revealed that Jakes' conferences reach a wide audience, and are "often simulcast to scores of prisons nationwide." One Associated Press story noted that the ManPower conferences, "which emphasize a military theme to symbolize spiritual warfare, is a three-day series which is beamed by satellite to 150,000 prison inmates..."

Funding Religious Cultism?

Both Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush have called for a greater role by faith-based organizations in the operation of social services. This includes beefing up the "charitable choice' provisions of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, and recent legislation being promoted by House Republicans and the Clinton administration that would establish a network of "renewal communities" throughout the country using tax money to fund sectarian groups. Both candidates see an increasingly diaphanous "wall of separation" between church and state, especially when it involves funding religion-based social programs.

And "Bishop" T.D. Jakes is ready for the day that happens.

For further information

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/eleclob.htm (Archive of articles on the year 2000 election)

http://www.americanatheist.org/spr97/T2/pk.html ("God's Mighty Men: The Promise Keepers Rise Up...)

http://www.americanatheist.org/spr97/T2/pk2.html ("'Godly Men' With a Dominionist Agenda")

http://www.americanatheist.org/supplement/ctram2K-conrad.html ("Breaking Down the Wall at Treasury: 'Charitable Choice,' Faith-Based Partnerships and Public Funding of Religion.")

http://www.atheists.org/public.square/charitablechoice.html ("Charitable Choice, Faith-Based Partnerships, and the Public Funding of Religion")


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