Interview: Bishop TD Jakes on Hell, Politics, Film Projects

NEWARK, N.J. – Bishop T.D. Jakes, chief pastor of The Potter's House, a 30,000-member nondenominational megachurch in Dallas, Texas, has been called the "black Billy Graham."

In addition to being a world-renowned pastor, Jakes is also a Christian author, entertainment entreprenuer, speaker and also a minister to President Barack Obama at prayer breakfasts and private services.

On June 18, Jakes was the featured speaker at the 28th annual McDonald's Gospelfest in Newark, N.J., the largest Gospel talent competition and celebration in the New York Tri-State area.

In an interview with The Christian Post before taking the stage at Gospelfest, Jakes spoke about the changes in Gospel music, his latest movie projects, and why nondenominational churches are the fastest growing churches. He also addressed which issues he feels the next president should tackle, the Rob Bell hell controversy and how Christians should respond in the Eddie Long settlement case.

CP: This is your second time speaking at Gospelfest and you've spoken at several others, including ones with Kirk Franklin, whose style has been considered more of a modern take on Gospel music. What is Gospel music and how has the face of Gospel music changed over the years? How are those changes reflected in Gospelfest?

Jakes: I think the amazing thing about Gospel music is that not only does it lift up the death and resurrection of our Lord, which is consistent with the Gospel, but it is uniquely communicated depending upon the generation. It's not locked to sheet music, it's not held in a box. Many times the singer will take it someplace on stage and everybody falls into it. So there's going to be diversity. As diverse as we are, as the people are expressing it, they are going to be equally diverse. And there are rooms for traditional and contemporary and hip hop Gospel music. The methodologies are always different but the message should be the same.

CP: And that's what you've been doing through TDJ Enterprises, through your movies and Sacred Love Songs CD release. What has been the feedback you've received on “Jumping the Broom,” which you told The Christian Post in an earlier interview was a movie that spotlighted the message on abstinence before marriage? There are many people who comment about the movie on your Twitter, so what has the response been?

Jakes: It has been amazing. I mean, it's been incredible. The response was so unpredictable and unprecedented that Hollywood has green lighted for us to do three more movies .They've decided to go international with Jumping the Broom is being played in Nigeria, it's been released in South Africa. Normally, a movie of its genre would not go internationally but it has gone international. We are just looking forward to more and more positive things with the platform that God has given us.

CP: You're currently working on script for “Heaven is for Real” and are in the process of developing that. I'm curious to know how you're going to portray heaven in the movie because the main point of the book is about the journey of a 4-year-old boy to heaven. So do you have any ideas on how you're going to be portraying that?

Jakes: Right now, it is quite intimidating. It's funny that you should bring that up because I just left Beverly Hills where I had I meeting with Sony Pictures and where we were discussing what a tightrope that is to walk, not only in being consistent with the young man's interpretation of what he saw in heaven but even from a Biblical perspective to do ... for man to imitate what only God can do with always intimidating. But I think the real splint of Heaven is for Real, it's not so much in the images that we see but in the fact that this young boy has brought us back this unbelievable account of something that is so euphorically and amazing to us. I think it's going to be relevant to people, of course to Christians, but even for people who are not Christian, who have lost children or loved ones of any kind, we are very interested to know there is something beyond this life. We know that there is as Christians but this is an opportunity that translates that message into a broader audience.

CP: Speaking of “Heaven is for Real,” there's been an explosive debate about hell based on Rob Bell's book Love Wins. He has said that he believes in a literal hell but has questioned the eternity of hell and suggested that in the end God wins. What are your thoughts on hell and that debate?

Jakes: I probably take a pretty traditional view about hell. I'm not very contemporary in terms of that. I had not read the book so let me say that right off the top but my views about hell are very traditional. I think, when we start dealing with heaven or hell issues, what we really need to gravitate toward is that man is an eternal spirit. And if you believe that he is an eternal spirit then all it does, it abandons the body. And the debate is what happens to the spirit, the essence of the man after death, be in heaven or hell? As a Christian, Christ died so that we will have eternal life in him in heaven. What it looks like doesn't matter, what it smells like doesn't matter, as long as Christ is there it will be heaven to me.

CP: You've spoken at a lot of church and collaborated with a lot of different churches. There are reports that white mainline churches have experienced a decline in membership and baptisms. Based on your observations, have you seen a similar trend for black churches? What are some of the challenges of the black churches and are they different?

Jakes: That's interesting. I think that we are all over the place. The more contemporary churches are evolving and doing very well. The traditional churches are having to transition into new methodologies and new ways of reaching people and they are starting to understand that and looking for ways they can increase their relevance to the contemporary society.

CP: Does it matter whether they are nondenominational, evangelical or denominational in terms of their growth and flexibility to reach people?

Jakes: Most of what I have seen, the churches that are growing are the best are those that are nondenominational. But I don't think it's because they are nondenominational. I think that there's a certain method by which they go about reaching out to people that are not as traditional as your mainland churches generally do.

And another thing is that I think as a church whenever we become politically driven, we alienate at least 50 percent of the people that God called us to reach with our political orientations. I think that it's unfortunate that we have allowed politics to use theology to hit areas that we sincerely want to support. But I think that they are using us to some degree because they are using what concerns us to isolate us. Our membership is showing only the consequence of being only able to reach out to certain groups of people who think like you think.

CP: Speaking about politics, Republican candidates are making their bid in the 2012 race for president. What issues should the next president tackle that are important to Christians?

Jakes: I think there are many, many issues that the next president needs to tackle.

CP: What issues specifically, gay marriage, the economy, foreign policy?

Jakes: I think if we don't fix the economy and if we don’t fix foreign policy, we won’t have the luxury of dealing with domestic issues that may be important to Christians but we have to understand that in my view, we've taken our eyes off the ball a bit. We have gotten so nuanced into social issues that we fail to understand that China is buying up our country, we have fallen into debt in such a pervasive way that social security is compromised, we are living longer than we lived before and in order to secure the kind of healthcare that we need without the deficits on our budget, we need really strong leadership that is focused only on the plethora of issues and not just the traditional concerns that have driven us to the ballot box.

CP: Which moral issues would need to be dealt with?

Jakes: Well, when you are talking about moral issues you are talking about same-sex marriage, which has been relegated over to the states. It's no longer a federal issue and yet, we are dealing with it like it's a federal issue but for a large degree it has become a state issue. When you start talking about same-sex marriage, you start talking about abortion, and I think those issues are very very important and very interesting and very right for us to talk about, but when we allow those issues to cannibalize all other issues we find ourselves homeless while we debate about it. I think we have to find a leader who reflects all of our concerns and not just some of them.

CP: I've read that your church, The Potter's House, is a sister church with Eddie Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church?

Jakes: That is not true.

CP: Okay. In September, when allegations against him came out, you commented that Christians should pray for Eddie Long that one person if not all people involved will need the blood of Jesus after it's all done. His case was recently settled out of court and he's returned to pastoring his church. There's been a lot of conversations questioning how Christians should respond now?

Jakes: We should still pray. We have no other authority but to pray. The New Birth church is a church unto itself who has a board and it has a membership. How they choose to handle their leadership issues it's not something that we can control regardless of which side you stay on that issue. It is their church issue and their responsibility and their response. And I'm saying what I always said that we should just keep on praying for the New Birth church family.

CP: The theme of this year's Gospelfest is “Men of Valor” and this weekend is also Father's Day. Can you comment on the theme and also share with us what you will do tomorrow for Father's Day?

Jakes: “Men of Valor” is so very, very important. I'm so pleased to see us talking gender specific messages that are focusing on men on a way I think it needs to be focused in on and I think it's important. I want to congratulate all the men out there who are working diligently to be good fathers whether they are stepfathers, or biological fathers or just spiritual fathers. I just congratulate any kind of way that you are encouraging people to be all that they can be.

Secondly, I'm going to go home and let my kids take over, however they celebrate me that's how I'm going to be celebrated. My church family and all of that is a wonderful thing but my children are already beginning to celebrate me and I'm already feeling that.

CP: What are your tips for being a good Christian father?

Jakes: I think being a good Christian father, your responsibility varies with the age and the stage that your children are at. Instilling values of faith at an early age is important. Listening them through adolescence comes more important than teaching because if you haven't instilled in them at early ages now it's time to listen and get your report card and let them find their way and then as an adult let them stand aside. My children are now adults and just kind of guide them while they allow you to have input in their lives without controlling them the way you did when they were toddlers. These are good steps to use for fathers at each step of their children's lives.

I think being a good Christian father, your responsibility varies with the age and the stage that your children are at.

Instilling in them the values of our faith is important at early ages. Listening to them through adolescence becomes more important than teaching because if you haven't instilled in them at early ages now it's time to listen and get your report card and let them find their way.

Then as an adult, to stand aside, as my children are now adults and just kind of guide them as they allow you to have input in their lives without trying to control them in the way that you did when they were toddlers.

These are good steps for fathers to use at each stage of their children's lives.

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