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The Everlasting Message Of Reverend Ike

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The Everlasting Message Of Reverend Ike

Remembrances

The Everlasting Message Of Reverend Ike

The Everlasting Message Of Reverend Ike

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Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter, was born in Ridgeland, S.C., to a Dutch Indonesian father and African-American mother. He became pastor of his father's Baptist church at age 14. But eventually he moved to a more charismatic faith — one that which focused on faith healing — and he traded the doctrines of sin and suffering for a philosophy of abundance. He became known as Reverend Ike.

"He was part revivalist, part evangelist, part Johnny Mathis, if you will," says Jonathan Walton, an assistant professor of religion at the University of California at Riverside, who has written about Eikenerenkoetter.

Reverend Ike, shown here giving a sermon in 1977, preached the gospel of material prosperity to millions nationwide. AP hide caption

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Reverend Ike, shown here giving a sermon in 1977, preached the gospel of material prosperity to millions nationwide.

AP

"He would often say these lines such as, 'You know, I come to you today lookin' good, feelin' good and smellin' good.' And this would just kind of ooze off of him. And this charisma just attracted persons from many different ranges of society."

In the 1970s, Reverend Ike's sermons drew hundreds to his Palace Cathedral, a renovated movie theater in New York's Washington Heights. He reached millions more through radio and TV with this message, and started a newspaper and a magazine. He was one of the first to advocate what is now known as the "prosperity Gospel." The idea is that God wants each of us to be spiritually and materially abundant.

At one of his sermons at a Madison Square Garden, for example, he told the packed crowd: "If you can honestly think and feel that you are worthy or deserve a million dollars, that million dollars must come to you!"

"His message is quintessentially American, right?" says Professor Walton. "It's this kind of God is on your side, if you can see it, if you can believe it, you can claim it. And God wants this for you."

And Reverend Ike's own success was Exhibit A. He owned multiple homes and more than two dozen cars, including a few Rolls-Royces. He had many critics, who claimed he was preying on the poor. He faced several lawsuits and government investigations into his ministries. Other Christian leaders derided his theology as shallow and misguided.

Initially, Carlton Pearson, interim senior pastor at Christ Universal Temple, says he was once one of them.

"People would testify, 'I came here in my raggedy car and I'm drivin' away with a Cadillac!' But we just felt it was what we call carnal, unspiritual, that he was talking to the flesh and speaking to the ego and all that kind of thing."

But if leaders didn't like Reverend Ike, his congregants — largely middle- and working-class blacks — did. When others, like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., talked of sacrifice and social reform, Reverend Ike spoke of material empowerment.

"I say there no virtue in poverty," he would preach. "There is no honor in poverty! There is no style in poverty! Poverty doesn't have any class!"

Pearson, who came to appreciate the flamboyant pastor, says Reverend Ike gave his followers license to aspire for more.

"He was helping draw the consciousness of the African American community, that we were not disenfranchised, and we didn't have to be poor and dispossessed, that we can own our own selves and our lives and that we could create money."

That is a message that is alive and well in churches today.

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