IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHO T. D. JAKCS IS----—
IF, IN OTHER WORDS, YOU DIDN’T BUY ONE OF THE 7 MILLION BOOKS HE HAS IN PRINT TODAY,------
IF YOU’VE NEVER SEEN HIM PREACH TO A PACKED HOUSE OF 8,000 SOULS AT HIS POTTER’S HOUSE CHURCH IN SOUTH DALLAS, -------
IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN HIM ON CNN OR BET OR TBN, ------
IF YOU SOMEHOW MISSED HIM ON THE COVER OF TIME WITH THE HEADLINE “IS THIS MAN THE NEXT BILLY GRAHAM?” --------
THEN YOU HAVE NO IDEA.
IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHO T.. D. JAKES IS,
THEN YOU ARE, MOST LIKELY, WHITE.
YOU JUST DON’T KNOW.
YOU’RE IN THE DARK.
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B UT IF YOU DO KNOW WHO BISHOP JAKES IS, let me hear you say, “Amen.” “Thank you, Jesus! Touch the person next to you and say, “I know who Bishop Jakes is.”
If you know who Bishop Jakes is, you know.
You’ve watched him sweat and wipe his big, bald head with a maroon towel. You’ve heard him scream at you, brother. And he’s not afraid to let loose with some glossolalia, either. No sir. Salagadoola. He’ll do it.
And he’ll get down ---- ha —and crawl around onstage--—ha——in his new custom-made suit--—ha——then get back up and crack a joke about kicking his grandtna in the head. Amen. He’s put Jesus in your heart.
You know it. He’s America’s best preacher.
That’s exactly what that Time article called him in 2001,the week before the towers came down and President Bush summoned hun to the White House to seek his counsel. And it goes far beyond his staggering gift for mere rhetoric or theatrics.
Ah, but there’s a rub. Because Jakes isn’t just America’s best preacher; he also might he America’s wealthiest preacher. There are people who know who Jakes is—or think they know—and it makes them uneasy. They know he owns a new Bentley . They know he wears a certain amount of jewelry. And they have a hard time abiding it.
“People see me on TV as a preacher and they say, in his best Caucasian accent] ‘We don’t know what else he’s doing, gosh golly. He wears a bunch of new suits and he’s got a diamond ring on his finger and who is he?’ But the secret to what I do is not what you see on TV.”
The secret is, first, he doesn’t sleep (“Sleep? Who needs it?”).
Second, though, T.D . takes turns out to he as good a businessman as he is a preacher. The Potter’s House is a nonprofit church, yes.
But T.D. Jakes Enterprises, that’s something else entirely.
That’s about as for—profit as it gets, a multimedia empire that produces best-selling books , Grammy-nominated albums, award-winning musical plays, and, now, its biggest and bravest effort yet: this month, October, 2004, you can see Bishop T.D. Jakes in Woman, Thou Art Loosed: The Movie.
* * * * * * * *
But first, as the Good Book says—
IN THE BEGINNING, which was 1979, Thomas Dexter Jakes was a 22-year-old part-time pastor in West Virginia. And he drove a Trans Am.
“Of all the things I thought you’d bring up, I never thought it would be the Trans Am,” Jakes says, giggling. He’s sitting in the cafe at the Preston-Royal Borders on a recent morning, talking about the early days, before he moved to Dallas, and there is littic doubt that the shoppers at the Preston-Royal Borders do not know who T .D. Jakes is. Immaculately dressed, wearing a dark blue window-pancd suit, Jakes goes unrecognized for two hours—until a black man passing by on the sidewalk, just outside the bookstore’s windows, stops in his tracks to wave. Jakes returns the gesture but seems embarrassed about being noticed.
“Oh, man, that car was the bomb,” he says, deploying the phrase gracefully, even at 47. “A 1979 silver anniversary Trans Am. It had a red dashboard that lit up and a t-top and a great sound system. I couldn’t drive a stick, but I faked it. I came to pick up my wife for a date, before we were married, in that Trans Am. Blew her away. And I did funeral processions in that car.” Though he says he kept the glass tops on for the funerals.
In factual truth, 1979 was not the beginning.
Before the Trans Am, young Jakes sold greens from his mother’s garden. He memori:cd scripture, toting around a Bible so often that he got saddled with the nickname “Bible Boy.” From the age of 12 until he graduated high school, he sold Avon products.
He helped clean and feed his sick father for six years, until Ernest Jakes finally died of kidney failure. And he preached so loudly in his living room that the neighbors said they could hear him all up and down the street. But the Trans Am is a better place to start.
And after Jakes married Scrita in 1981 and after they had such hard times that Jakes had to plead with the local utility to keep the electricity on in his house, he did something that would change his life forever.
In 1993, he published Woman, Thou Art Loosed, a self-help hook for women dealing with the pain of rape (the title came from the gospel of Luke). Jakes used $15,000 of his own money to self-publish it. Today it has sold 3 million copies.
By 1996, Jakcs already had about a dozen books in print. He’d sold so many that, for instance, he could afford the electricity for not only a $600,000 house but also the bowling alley inside it. Let’s just say he’d graduated from the Trans Am.
And when he held a Bible conference in Charleston that brought in such a multitude that people had to sleep in their cars, the Charleston Gazette took a shot at this preacher with the fancy house. Not that he’d done anything illegal, mind you.
The money had come from publishing, not the pews. But come on. A bowling alley?
Jakes fel t betrayed. Here he’d brought about $3 million into the city during that conference, and then the newspaper suggested he was a huckster because he lived in a nice house. The reporter who wrote the story had actually eaten ice cream out of the same bowl with Jakes ------ the same bowl.
Now, don’t believe for a second that the harsh article alone sent him packing. Heck, logistics dictated a move . He couldn’t even get enough flights in and out of the city for that conference. Jakes had outgrown Charleston. “I have always been somebody outside of the box, especially when the box is small,” he says. “And that was a small box.”
So in 1994, he led 50 families out of Charleston, a city of 50,000, to a new church in South Dallas. He bought a building from W. V. Grant Jr., a televangelist who no longer needed it because he’d been sent to prison for tax evasion, Jakes’ church flourished, he built a new $45 million sanctuary, and today the Potter’s House, with nearly 30,000 members, is one of the fastest-growing mega-churches in the country, approaching the size of Charleston itself.
Today, Jakes and Serita live in a $3.3 million house overlooking White Rock Lake, and he gets around in a private jet. With all due respect to the silver anniversary Trans Am, the Lockheed JetStar II is really the bomb.
Which brings us to the money thing. At the Potter’s House, when it comes time to take up the collection, everyone—even the gospel singers onstage—puts his money in a white envelope and waves it joyously over his head. Thousands of white envelopes.
People singing about how happy it makes them to tithe. How can you tell that all that money goes where it should? Say, for instance, to one of the 60 or so ministries the church operates? The Potter’s House, after all, doesn’t have to file financial statements with the IRS.
One way you can tell is that the church paid for that new $45 million sanctuary in just three years. The other way you can tell is to ask a man named Ole Anthony. Anthony runs an outfit called the Trinity Foundation, which, among other things keeps an eye on televangelists lt was the Trinity Foundation that brought down Robert Tilton after going through his trash and discovering discarded prayer requests.
Trinity also helped land a man named W .V. Grant Jr. in jail. Anthony has acquired certain documents and says that Jokes’ operation appears completely above board—though Anthony himself has taken a vow of poverty and hopes that Jakes will one day come around seeing things his way and do the same.
This is not likely to happen anytime soon.
T .D. Jokes Enterprises, with just five fulltime employees, projects rcveni.ies this year of $ l 5 million. And that’s not counting the movie.
THERE IS ANOTHER SECRET to what Jokes does: he’s self—conscious. The man who gets up every Sunday in front of 8,000 people and TV camer as broadcasting his sermons around the world, that man is still a bit uncomfortable with his own image.
The movie, for instance. He says, “The first time I saw it, I was so busy looking at me---—How did I look? Did I sound silly? ---—that I had to see it a couple more times to get past, you know, that.
He doesn’t particularly enjoy being photographed, either. It makes him nervous. He stiffens and starts to look like a different man than the one who stands behind the pulpit. “That’s because when I preach, the message is the issue,” he says. “I don’t worry about me. I’m distracted by what I’m saying, so I don’t think, ‘ Are you smiling?”’
That fatuous gaptoothed smile. It’s quitc something, really. A child could almost put his finger through it. In conversation, it causes him to lisp. He’ll talk about it if you ask him. “I never liked the gap, and I used to not smile because of it. But I found that sometimes it was more important to smile with it than to not smile and hide it.” Now his kids—he and Scrita have five—.—havc convinced him it’s his trademark.
And besides, something amazing happens when Jokes gets up to preach . In that transformation where he forgets himself and concentrates solely on the message, that lisp disappears. Curtis Wallace, the COO of TV. Jakes Enterprises, says the same thing happens in business pitches . “He is incredible in meetings,” he says.. ~‘What you see onstage can really come across in a boardroom.”
It comes across in the movie, too. Woman, Thou Art Loosed is a fictional account of a woman who was raped by her mother’s boyfriend as a child and who winds up, as a result on death row. The woman is played by Kimberly Fuse, whom you might recognize from her rolc alongside Denzcl Washington in The Manchurian Candidate.
Jakes plays himself, ministering to Elise’s character in prison and preaching in church scenes, which were filmed during actual sermons.
It’s a tough film to watch, in parts. But the first time it was shown to an audience, at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival earlier this year, it won the top prize. It brought the audience to tears
“You couldn’t say Santa Barbara was the target audience for this film,” says producer Reuben Cannon. “But white women stood up and said, ‘Thank you for telling my story.”’ It so affected a gathering of black pastors at a showing that several volunteered to pay for advertising billboards in their communities. It’s that sort of grassroots effort that has Jakcs’ people estimating—reasonably—that the film could gross $20 million (it cost about a tenth of that).
There is more to talk about. As he finishes his coffee at the Preston-Royal Borders and the manager brings over a stack of books for him to sign, T.D. Jakes has finished with the past. He’s laying out his vision for the future.
Jakes is involved in (though not making money on) a new 231-acre master- planned community called Capella Park, in South Dallas. Next summer, he’s again going to Atlanta to stage Mega Fest, a four-day conference that last year averaged 140,000 people on each of its four days and brought something like $150 million to the city. One day, he’d like to do it here, in his hometown, if the cits could just build the infrastructure he needs to pull it off.
The lisp is leaving him. “As America is turning brown like the leaves in the fall, it’s redefining itself,” he says. “And Dallas needs to he part of the conversation. Beeatmse we need each other. And I’m saying to the black commtmnity: we can’t just function in a vacuum.” Someone get him a maroon towel. “ And I’m saying to the white community: you can’t ignore an Olympic-size event and millions of dollars.
Because at the end of the day, Atlanta is walking away with the cheese here. Forget the moral issues. The money alone ought to he enough to drive you to do business.”
And if you let him, Bishop Jakes will just keep going.
D MAGAZINE Magazine
October 2004. (Pgs.42 - 174–175)
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993