Mega Church Leader Bishop T.D. Jakes

He has packed the Georgia Superdome with more than 80,000 faithful, he broadcasts to millions weekly, and in a span of 10 years, he transformed a humble church of 50 families into a multi-million dollar ministry.Thomas Dexter Jakes, Sr., also known as Bishop T.D. Jakes, talks about his ministries and a new book Mama Made the Difference: Life Lessons My Mother Taught Me.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

From NPR News in Washington, D.C., I'm Neal Conan, and this is TALK OF THE NATION. Bishop T.D. Jakes has been described as the most powerful black man in America, as the next Jesse Jackson, the next Billy Graham, and the most gifted preacher of his generation.

(Soundbite of T.D. Jakes sermonizing)

Bishop T.D. JAKES (Senior Pastor, The Potter's House): Have you ever had somebody tell something about you and it wasn't a lie, but it still wasn't true? You did do it, but that's not really who you are. It did go down like that, but you don't understand the situation. I wish I had somebody who could be a witness.

CONAN: Bishop Jakes joins us to talk about religion, politics, social justice, money, and about his mother. Plus, lessons learned after yesterday's Day Without Immigrants. It's still the TALK OF THE NATION, after the news.

(Soundbite of news broadcast)

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. He's been likened to Billy Graham, Barry White, Oprah, and the Dalai Lama. He's prayed with presidents and prisoners. He's packed the Georgia Superdome with more than 80,000 of his faithful. He broadcasts to millions weekly, and in 10 years transformed a humble church of 50 families into a multi million-dollar ministry that reaches around the globe through television, radio, and the Internet.

He's a rock star among evangelicals, and some call him the most powerful black man in America. Thomas Dexter Jakes Sr., better known as Bishop T.D. Jakes, is the senior pastor of Potter's House in Dallas, Texas, which counts more than 30,000 members. Today, Bishop Jakes joins us to talk about his ministry, his success, his politics, and his new book, Mama Made the Difference: Life Lessons My Mother Taught Me.

If you have questions for Bishop Jakes about religion, social justice, leadership, or the business of mega churches, give us a call, 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK, or you can send us an e-mail, talk@npr.org. Later on in the program, we'll revisit yesterday's rallies and boycotts and take more of your calls about legal and illegal immigration and the affect of yesterday's rallies. But first, Bishop T.D. Jakes. He joins us now from our bureau in New York City, and welcome to TALK OF THE NATION, Bishop.

Bishop JAKES: Thank you, it's a pleasure to be with you.

CONAN: And are you the most powerful black man in America?

Bishop JAKES: I certainly don't--I certainly don't phrase myself in that fashion.

CONAN: Nevertheless, you've created quite a success story. You started out in Charleston, West Virginia.

Bishop JAKES: That's right.

CONAN: And there had a small church. And several years ago, you made the decision to transplant it to Dallas, Texas. Why'd you do that?

Bishop JAKES: Well, you know, I really felt like I had accomplished the purpose that I was in Charleston, West Virginia, to do. I really had been there all of my life, 38 years of my life, really enjoyed my time of service there in West Virginia, but I really felt like in order to do the global outreach that I'm now doing, I couldn't do it from that location.

CONAN: I've read that, indeed, one of the problems in Charleston was the traffic congestion around your church on Sunday.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It just wasn't big enough.

Bishop JAKES: Yeah, it was amazing, and then traveling in and out of Charleston is a little bit difficult. You have to--we used to tease and say you had to go through Pittsburgh even if you wanted to go to heaven.

(Soundbite of laughter)

So that was a little bit of a challenge for us. As the demands on my schedule became more intense, I suddenly began to recognize that that was really gonna be difficult to maintain the level of schedule I do from the location that I lived at the time.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. In a way, in writing your most recent book about your mom, you must have revisited your roots back there in West Virginia.

Bishop JAKES: Definitely so. I spent all of my life there, grew up there. I really, really enjoyed my experiences there, and I really enjoyed the early days in West Virginia. They were humble beginnings in many, many ways, of simplistic goals and ideals that I still hold very dear to me, no matter where I live.

CONAN: I read that you used to sell Avon products with your mom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Bishop JAKES: Yeah, well, my mother really sold them. I think I got drafted into that job.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, maybe delivery rather than selling.

Bishop JAKES: Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: But, we're laughing, but a lot of your childhood was troubled by your father's illness.

Bishop JAKES: Very troubled. I mean, my father got sick when I was 10. He died when I was 16. He died of renal failure. He was dialyzed twice a week. It was a very devastating thing for a young man to go through. It caused me to have to develop a maturity at an early age, and responsibility was required. There was not much room in my life, in the early years of my life, for childhood or games because we were called to accountability and to be responsible.

CONAN: And like other children who've been forced to confront mortality at an early age, I suspect you had to ask yourself, you know, why him, God?

Bishop JAKES: Yeah, it was difficult. I didn't really understand it, but we were thrust into it, and we had to deal with it. And dialysis has certainly come a long ways today from what it was back in my father's era, so a lot of the technology was not nearly as advanced as it is currently. And I grew up confronted with life and death decisions everyday and surrounded by people who didn't have medical care and often were not able to get the help that they needed. Thankfully, we did have medical care at the time.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Bishop JAKES: But it certainly brought a certain sobriety to my thought process at that time.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Tell us, in this most recent book, you not only talk about your mother, but you talk about--talk to several other people about their mothers, as well; but what was the most important difference that your mother made in your life other than the obvious fact that, of course, she gave you birth.

Bishop JAKES: Well, you know, I think, my mother was an educator, and she had a philosophy that she used to share with me. I'll use this as an example. She said that the whole world is a university and everyone in it is a teacher. When you wake up in the morning, be sure you go to school.

That type of ideology taught to a child at an early stage in your life gives you a broad respect for other people's opinions. It causes you not to be narrow-minded or critical, and opens your mind to at least hear other perspective whether you agree with them or not and to learn and to grow by that experience. That kind of approach to parenting was very, very significant to me.

And the other thing that I thought that was important, of course, she taught me to have faith in God and to develop spirituality, but the other thing that was really significant is that she taught me to believe in myself. And I find that a lot of times, without proper parenting and mentoring, that's the only chance that we get to really build self-esteem.

There are no college courses to build up self-esteem or high school or elementary school. If you don't get those values at a early age, nurtured in your home, you don't get them. That's why I wrote Mama Made the Difference, because I think mothers don't often recognize and are not often told how important their role is in developing character and infrastructure in the hearts of men and women.

CONAN: You say your mother taught you to love God. When did you feel--I don't know whether it was a call, or when did you try out the idea of the ministry?

Bishop JAKES: Well, it kind of evolved. I actually grew up playing the piano in the church and was deeply involved in music ministry. I've always been fascinated with spirituality, and, over a period of years, I was called the Bible Boy when I was a teenager in school, because I've always been fascinated with scripture and really enjoyed spirituality and accepted my call to ministry. And I do see it as a calling, not just a vocation.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Bishop JAKES: At around 19, I began to minister. In fact, this year we'll celebrate 30 years that I have been preaching the gospel.

CONAN: 30 years?

Bishop JAKES: That's right.

CONAN: Do you keep getting better? Do you keep learning?

Bishop JAKES: Oh, you keep learning. I don't know that you get better, but you certainly keep learning everyday. Every time you interact with somebody, you learn more and more about life, and I've ministered from so many different perspectives, from the rural areas and very meager areas in the back hills of West Virginia and some of the coalfield camps as a boy. That, to having some of the opportunities that I do now, you get a good panoramic view of life and people that really causes you to continue to grow and evolve.

CONAN: Our guest is Bishop T.D. Jakes. If you'd like to join our conversation, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, talk@npr.org. And Mark(ph) from Charlotte, North Carolina, is on the line.

MARK (Caller): Hi, y'all doing today?

CONAN: Very well, thank you.

Bishop JAKES: Fine.

MARK: Well, that's good. Brother Jakes, I just wanna let you know I appreciate you.

Bishop JAKES: Thank you.

CONAN: Mark?

MARK: Hey.

CONAN: Your problem is the--don't listen to the delay on the radio. Just listen to your telephone here.

MARK: Okay.

CONAN: All right.

MARK: All right.

CONAN: So if you have a question for the bishop, let us know.

MARK: OK, the question is that I was wondering at what point in his life did he know that he was called to be a preacher?

Bishop JAKES: I think that at first--well, let me answer it this way. When I was eight years old, I was going to hear my mother speak, who often spoke for sororities and what have you, and I told her, I said, right now I'm going to hear you speak and they call me Miss Jakes' son. The time will come you'll come to hear me speak, and I'll--and they'll call you Tom Jakes' mother.

At that--that was some inkling that I had as early as eight, and it was really strange because I wasn't this deeply spiritual child. I went back to being a crazy brat, but I just caught a glimpse for a moment of some destiny call on my life. I think it became a little bit more refined at 17, and by 19 I had really sunk into the depths of understanding that this was my purpose, or, at least, a part of my purpose for being here.

CONAN: Mark, thanks very much for the call.

MARK: You're welcome.

CONAN: Bye-bye. I've heard your church described as a Pentecostal. I've heard it described as evangelical. I've heard it described as non-denominational. Which, if any of those, is accurate? What kind of church is it?

Bishop JAKES: That's a very interesting question. We consider ourselves to be non-denominational. I come from a early background in the Baptist church. My father was AME, African Methodist Episcopal. And I certainly, in my latter years, teenage years, joined the Pentecostal church. So I am somewhat eclectic as it relates to spirituality and our church is non-denominational. I think that my preaching style and many of my ideas and ideals about faith are based in both Pentecostal and Baptist background.

I like to see myself as a bridge builder, that is me building bridges between people, between races, between cultures, between politics, trying to find common ground. And that's--so that's why you often hear, depending on who wrote the article and what their perspectives are, we're described different ways, often for the use of the journalist or the person who's interviewed on our behalf.

CONAN: Ah, you talk about--we never make mistakes--you talk about the different races. You certainly speak in the black tradition, you came up in the black church, yet, as I understand it, a significant percentage of your congregation is white.

Bishop JAKES: You know, that's a great--when I was in West Virginia, 35 percent of my congregation was white, and that was very unusual in West Virginia at the time. And now, in Dallas, I'd say about 30 percent of our church is--represents other nationalities, other than African-Americans, they're not all Caucasians. Some of them are Native Americans, some of them are…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Bishop JAKES: …Hispanic. And so there's quite a bit of diversity there. And I think that some of that--and I do think that I preach after the traditional African-American style. But as America grapples with understanding a culture, and we watch on television and get, from the safe postures of our living room with the remote control in hand, an opportunity to look at each other, we're beginning to find out that we're really not that different. We may express ourselves differently, but our goals, our dreams, our ideals for living, are really not as different as our parents and forefathers might have made us believe.

CONAN: You also mentioned a few minutes ago that you were also interested in a music ministry. I should probably mention that you--did you win a Grammy Award at one point?

Bishop JAKES: Yes, I--we won a Grammy--the Potter's House Choir, which is signed to our record label, won a Grammy for our project. I also write lyrics for some of the songs that we have done and continue to do. I have my own record label and have various artists signed to that record label, and it's just been an adventure for me, a hobby in a way.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Do you play? Do you sing?

Bishop JAKES: I play a little, and I sing when my throat is not ripped up from preaching.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I can understand that. That's probably not on Sundays.

Bishop JAKES: Right, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're going to have to take a short break. We're talking today with Bishop T.D. Jakes. His new book is called, Mama Made the Difference: Life Lessons My Mother Taught Me. And we'll, of course, take more of your calls: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK; e-mail us, talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Bishop T.D. Jakes has been called the next Billy Graham and the most powerful black man in America. He's with us today to talk about his ministries, his politics, and his mother's influence. If you have a question for Bishop Jakes about religion, politics, the church, give us a call: 800-989-8255; e-mail is talk@npr.org. And let's turn to David(ph). David's with us from Nebraska.

DAVID (Caller): Hi, Bishop Jakes. It's an honor to talk to you.

Bishop JAKES: Thank you, David.

DAVID: What I want to ask you is: the Duke--the lacrosse rape case, and I want you to comment on--I hear from lawyers, I hear from defense attorneys, is there any role for Christianity, for preachers in that area, can America move past this and heal? Because it seems like nobody's going to win, both black or white, in the situation. And what's your feeling on the whole situation?

Bishop JAKES: You know, it's a very complicated issue. I'm certainly not an expert in any regard, but whenever there's a crisis in the community, there's an opportunity for the church to build bridges between segments of the community where there has been division. I don't think that we can begin to produce healing until we have facts as to exactly what did happen. And so the legal system has to run its course until we get the facts. And then, once we do that, I think that then a healing process can begin, and that's a huge responsibility for the church.

And, I think, as I talk to more and more pastors around the nation, we assume that responsibility, but we also do it understanding that many times the church has been somewhat segmented and segregated in its own philosophies to spirituality. And sometimes, I'm not as aware and up to date as to what the mission of the church ought to be as it relates to reconciliation between races and cultures.

So we've really got a lot of work to do, and I certainly don't want to suggest that we've mastered the work. But we certainly should assume the responsibility. Government cannot change the hearts of people. We can change policies, but we can't change hearts; and I'd like to think that through faith we can change the hearts of the average citizen.

DAVID: Thank you.

CONAN: David, thank you.

Bishop JAKES: Thank you.

CONAN: And why don't we get another caller in? This is William(ph). William in Oakland, California.

WILLIAM (Caller): Yes, hi, good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

Bishop JAKES: Good afternoon.

WILLIAM: Thank you for your show, Mr. Krasny. My question for Bishop Jakes is really twofold. The first was, I was wondering what his opinion was about the current popularity in professing faith among politicians? And secondly, how he stands on the issues that surround the discussion about church and (unintelligible) these days?

Bishop JAKES: Boy, that's a big question. Well, first of all, I don't think that it's a new thing that politicians are talking about faith. I certainly remember, as a young man during the Kennedy administration, we were clear in understanding that they came from Catholic backgrounds. They never were required to hide that information previously. But I do think that the conversation has heated up a bit.

And, as a religious leader, I'm concerned that we do not allow God to be assigned to a particular political persuasion. I think it's dangerous--not that the politician has faith, I think that's wonderful if they have faith and they're able to express that they have faith, as long as they understand that their responsibilities as politicians are for the betterment of all people whose views may not be represented within the context of their own theology.

And so I don't deny any human being the right to have their faith, but my only concern, as we move forward, is that so many people today are trying to get God to be on the side of their party or their ideology. But I think that God is supreme, and it's not about him joining our parties, it's about us joining in with him.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Bishop JAKES: And as long as we keep it within those contexts, then faith is appropriate. There are areas where there needs to be separation between church and state, but I don't think that those separations are so sharp that the people who make decisions and votes are not affected by their faith. Faith has affected our art, our history, our ideas about morality, as long as we have been in existence, and I think that it will continue to do so. But we don't want to franchise God down to a particular party and act like, this one is God's side, and that one is not God's side. I don't think we have the right to do that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. You have appeared with presidents of both political parties at various times--with President Clinton, President Bush. I wonder, when you get those requests--I mean, sometimes it feels--President Clinton in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky affair that--do you ever feel exploited, that he's trying to be able to point to you standing over there, see I'm good with God?

Bishop JAKES: Well, in that particular case, I didn't feel exploited at all, because I think that most pastors are used to being called in when families and marriages are in crisis. And so I don't think that that's unusual, that a minister is brought in when people are going through moral challenges or spiritual challenges in their lives.

Often how people--what people read into it, you cannot control. It's like an ambulance called to the scene of a crime, you've got to go, regardless to how people interpret it. And my role, as a pastor, has been to be broad enough to respond both to Democrats and Republicans in the time of need. And yes, sometimes I do think that those responses are misunderstood.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Bishop JAKES: But I have always been clear, my rhetoric has always been the same, that I am non-partisan. And you're right, I've worked just as much with the left as I have with the right. And I think that our country often survives because of those polarities. Too much of either one would be detrimental to the welfare of our country. We survive by the balance between the two extremities.

CONAN: Do you see yourself in the tradition of ministers like Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson, for that matter, people who took social justice as their cause and led their people in great crusades?

Bishop JAKES: I deeply admire those people who have gone before us and accomplished so much. They created a right for me to be who I am, or for my children to go to public schools and drink from fountains that are not labeled colored. My father is from Mississippi, my mother's from Alabama, and so I deeply remember how things were during the '60s and some challenges that still continue to exist today.

The thrust of my ministry, however, has been focused on some other issues. That does not mean that I am not aware of the concerns that exist in this country about race and poverty. I do care deeply about those social things, and I support those people, when I agree with them, about what ought to be done in those areas.

I am not, in my calling, trying to imitate Dr. King or Jesse Jackson, or Billy Graham, or any of the other people…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Bishop JAKES: …I've been compared to. I tend to think that God makes one of each human being and that he never duplicates, and so my goal has never been to be a cheap copy of a great original, but to try to be the best person that I could be.

CONAN: William, thanks very much.

WILLIAM: Thank you so much.

CONAN: Let's turn now to Chris(ph), Chris with us from San Antonio. Hey, Chris?

CHRIS (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: You're on the air. Go ahead.

CHRIS: Hey. Good to talk to you, Neal.

CONAN: Thanks.

CHRIS: And Jake.

Bishop JAKES: Thank you.

CHRIS: Driving on Loop 410 here in San Antonio, and I'll cheat on the twofold question. I was watching your ministry one time on TV and just had a question. I had to run out of the room, but you'd mentioned something along the lines of poverty--poverty being a curse. And I just wanted to get your take on that one sermon.

Basically, I guess, there's something to be said about the truth and how we deliver that truth of being--having the power of the pulpit; most of the world would be cursed in that effect. And the second question is what do you think about Open Theism? I'll take my answer off the air, thank you.

CONAN: Okay, thanks for the call, Chris.

Bishop JAKES: Okay, let me deal with the first question. I kind of have a few questions about the second one, itself, but I--don't misunderstand my terminology when I deal with the word curse. I'm just saying that there's nothing wonderful about poverty.

Katrina surely revealed to this country that poverty is very reprehensible and something that we all need to be aware of and fight against. And it's tragic that it takes those types of adversities for us to become aware of the reality that there are people in every city, not only New Orleans, but in every city, who are hungry and destitute, and cannot leave quickly, and do not have mobility.

Also, I had just come back from Africa, where our congregation had been digging wells, and continues to dig wells for indigenous people that don't have water. And I'm just saying that there's nothing wonderful about being poor. When you hear me minister, I'm ministering--though it is broadcast around the world, I'm ministering to people who are in the--in part in the inner city, challenging them to get their children back in school, challenging them to own property.

47 percent of African-Americans own their own homes, as opposed to 74 percent of Caucasians. I'm challenging them that there--there's nothing wonderful about not being able to send your children to college. And so we do have to deal with those issues and encourage people to do that, and then hold those above who are successful responsible, that we need work very hard to make sure that everybody has a nice place to sleep and something to eat at night.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Bishop JAKES: There's nothing wonderful about starving to death.

CONAN: The other question was about Open Theism. I don't know exactly what that is.

Bishop JAKES: I--that's why I wasn't prepared to answer that, either; I'm not sure what he meant by the question.

CONAN: All right, maybe we'll take that question and put it aside. Let me ask you, though, obviously, given the recent history of preachers and some scandal, your ministry, like many others, has been investigated by skeptics and truth tellers. And, thus far, they've never found anything corrupt or wrong at all in your ministry, except that the fact that it generates so much money. Now, I know that the church's money is separate from your money, but does this cause you any discomfort at all?

Bishop JAKES: Well, you know, the wonderful thing that has happened to me down through the years--the questions are often raised. I'd like to deal with it in two parts. First of all, when you start talking about scandals in the ministry, we go back 10 and 20 years to bring up names. What other occupation can only name a couple of names that have had scandals?

You know, when you start talking about journalists or countless names of people who've had scandals, physicians, politicians, any walk of life we have people who have had scandals. That does not negate the fact that there are many sincere physicians, journalists, and other people. And the ministry's no different from that. We certainly have the right to ask those questions and raise those issues.

When you're dealing with the church that provides service to 30,000 people, just providing a facility for my congregation required quite a bit of money. If you're going to seat that many people you have to build a building. And we no longer live in the day where people would give you free wood and brick and block because you're building a church. They charge you the same thing that they would anybody else.

And in order for our parishioners who give the money to have a place to worship, and be married, and be buried, you have to build a sanctuary that accommodates your congregation. When I had 30 members I built a church that would seat about a hundred people. When we grew bigger we had to raise more resources to accommodate that. And there are a myriad of services that go on with making things available to them.

I was just telling a friend of mine, our church, for example, has about 300 funerals a year and we feed the families of those funerals at our own expense. We provide support for people who are infected and affected by the AIDS virus, counseling services for those people. We produce our own products. We provide our own tapes. We hire our own graphic arts design people and we've hired almost 400 people.

We have a school, K-12, called Clay Academy that we built and put about 14 million dollars in, because education is important in our community and it's not enough to just be a spiritual institution if you're going to change people's lives. And so for all of those reasons there has to be some financial endeavors there.

But you're right we have passed the fiduciary responsibility test effectively and I might add as it relates to my own finances, I'm a clergyman, I'm a preacher by calling, but when it comes to vocation I'm also an author. I like to write and I'm here as a guest of Penguin Putnam and when I write a book they treat me like they would anybody else who wrote a book and there's no difference there at all.

CONAN: T.D. Jakes, Bishop T.D. Jakes. His new book is, Mama Made the Difference: Life Lessons My Mother Taught Me. And it's out in bookstores now. If you'd like to join our conversation, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another caller on the line. This is Annette. Annette with us from Portland, Oregon.

ANNETTE (Caller): Yes. Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

ANNETTE: I'm a Muslim here in Portland. I'm part of a Shiite community. And we had a wonderful interface dialogue last weekend with a local Unitarian church. And I'd like to ask you please to speak about concrete experiences you've had as far as interfaith dialogue goes. And also would like to ask you, do you feel that only Christians could hope to enter Heaven?

Pastor JAKES: Very great question. When it comes to interfaith experiences, I'm currently serving by the appointment of former President Bush and President Clinton, as co-chair of an interfaith advisory committee to help people get back up on their feet.

And we do have on the board Muslims, Catholics, a Jewish Rabbi, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals across the board. And we're working together very effectively because we all care about common goals. We have our distinct theologies and our own ideologies but there are common grounds that we can work together very effectively in many, many cases.

When it comes to Heaven, I try to leave that up to God. I certainly believe that Christianity is right, but when it comes down to the final test--who goes and who doesn't go--Jesus said, Other sheep have I who are not of this fold. Them also must I bring. I'll let Him identify who those sheep are and I stay out of the conversation.

CONAN: Mm hmm. Thanks for that. Bishop you don't stay out of that conversation necessarily when homosexuals are the issue.

Pastor JAKES: What makes you say that?

CONAN: Well, I've read that you consider homosexuality a sin, so if you're a practicing homosexual, you're not going to Heaven.

Pastor JAKES: You know something, I don't know anybody of any faith who can say that they have no sin in their lives. I mean, whether it's homosexuality or lying on your income tax, or speaking rudely to somebody at a window. What we call sin may differ from person to person, but who amongst us can say that they have no sin. Jesus said that. And He said he that's without fault among you let them cast the first stone.

I'm certainly not casting any particular stones at any particular group of people. All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God. But the question was about Hell, and when it comes down to hell, that's an issue that I believe in the way of salvation. I believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the light, and no many comes onto the Father save we come by Him. But I'm not so dogmatic in my views that I'm willing to condemn anybody and send them to Hell. I'll leave that up to God.

CONAN: Ok, thanks very much for that. Annette, appreciate the call.

Pastor JAKES: Sure.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get one last call in before we have to go. This is Michelle. Michelle in Tucson, Arizona.

MICHELLE (Caller): Hi. I'm not the greatest speaker in the world, so I'm going to try to get this thought out. I used to be a--I'm a single mom and I used to be a substitute for three different districts in this town. And one thing that really bothers me all the time, is that nobody seems to talk about the spirituality of what's going to happen to our children, in politics, or in religion, or anything.

I mean, going to these schools is like a third world country. And going back into the regular world, nobody even talks about it. You don't hear it on the news, you don't hear how these children live. And these people are going to--they're turned out every year into this town, and I see what's happening to this town because we have a D- in education.

I'm just wondering, is that part of what you're going to do in your life--is to have an effect on these children who don't necessarily have a voice.

Pastor JAKES: You know something, you really struck a nerve with me. I'm the father of five children, and at this point in my life as I broach the age of 50, I certainly don't think it's about us anymore. It's about the kids. It's about infusing them with life.

And I think one of the reasons that I wrote Mama Made the Difference, was to say to mothers, you can make a difference. Yes the church has a role to play, the school has a role to play, but often the deck has been set before we ever get the child. It's very, very important that the family be resuscitated and that family values be shared, and that we begin to encourage mothers and fathers to do all that they can to really get these children going again.

One of the reasons that we built Clay Academy is because I'm concerned about children having, not only education, but ethics. I think it is vitally important to our well-being. Incidentally, I for years have done the Woman That Are Loosed, that was referenced earlier to encourage women to have healing who have been through emotional, sexual, physical abuse of any kind, and to move beyond their past and go on with their future.

We did something similar for men called Man Power. And then ultimately I began to feel, as the caller felt, that there's a lot to be done with young people. So now we do MegaFest. We've drawn 8000 children under 12, about 12,000 teenagers come to MegaFest every year because we do want to encourage them to make the appropriate changes at as earlier an age as possible.

CONAN: Michelle, thanks very much for the call. Bishop Jakes thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Pastor JAKES: It's been a pleasure. Thank you sir.

CONAN: T.D. Jakes, Mama Made the Difference is his new book. We'll be talking about immigration after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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