T.D. Jakes Seeks Leadership, Not Faith, in President The black vote is key in presidential elections, and candidates turn to black ministers for support. But one of the most powerful black preachers in the country says that, for him, the pulpit is not the place for endorsements. Bishop T.D. Jakes talks to Michele Norris about religion and politics.
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T.D. Jakes Seeks Leadership, Not Faith, in President

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T.D. Jakes Seeks Leadership, Not Faith, in President

T.D. Jakes Seeks Leadership, Not Faith, in President

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Bishop T.D. Jakes has taken a small, nondenominational Dallas church and built it into a massive ministry with a brand of entrepreneurial evangelism that reaches followers through movies, music and mega-fests.

A typical Jakes rally fills an arena with more than 100,000 followers.

Bishop T.D. JAKES (The Potter's House, Dallas, Texas; Author): God said before he lets us all under, he create a healing for the disease in your body. I wish you knew how much power God has for you. Somebody just take a moment and thank him for power.

NORRIS: Bishop Jakes has also written 30 best-selling books. His latest is called "Reposition Yourself: Living Life Without Limits."

And while on tour on that book, Bishop Jakes stopped by our studio. As one of the most influential black leaders today, Reverent Jakes has the ear of President Bush and former President Clinton. He says, black clergy face a big challenge as the 2008 presidential election draws near.

Bishop JAKES: I think that we have two different kinds of thought. One of them is patterned more after the '60s and calling the system to fossil justice. And the other one is more contemporary and it deals more directly with personal responsibility.

I think the clergy faith, first of all, that very challenge of which model they're going to implement and then how to work effectively across the lines for the betterment of our community. I think, though, the real challenge is we're certainly fighting a challenge to represent our community more frequently. Should we march? Should we pick it? Should we write Congress? How do we work effectively with the Congressional black (Unintelligible) than another's?

But you know, I think really religion in general is struggling with politics, not just African Americans. Many, many times we've allowed ourselves to be taken up under the control of this party or that party, and I think that's dangerous when you do that because don't think that God should be assigned to a party. When the party goes bad, then the clergy are embarrassed. And I think that faith should transcend politics.

NORRIS: Now, a lot of people look for you for advise. They read your books, they go to your website, they come by the thousands to see you speak and you dispense all kinds of advice and guidance. You provide religious guidance. You provide marital guidance. You provide, increasingly, financial guidance. What kind of political guidance do you provide?

Bishop JAKES: I think we have some serious issues to confront politically - the morality and immorality of war. I'm concerned about education. I'm concerned about health care for the elderly and for average American people. I'm concerned about the poor. I'm concerned about a lot of political issues. And I realize that no individual is going to totally up grab to every issue that's on my heart. But what I do encourage our parishioners is to do is two things -one, to vote and secondly, to be aware of the issues. I have 30,000 members and they all - for the most part - read. So, to assume that African Americas are ignorant and need a pastor to tell them how to vote is an insult to our intelligence. That day is gone.

NORRIS: I'd like to turn that around now and ask you what you're looking for. What do you look for when it comes to faith in candidate, particularly in a presidential candidate?

Bishop JAKES: I think it's important that a presidential candidate have some consciousness of faith and spirituality and morality. But I am not myopic to the extent that I think that that should make the diffuser as to who we vote for. Because I think, if you're going to be an effective leader - whether you're a Christian or a Mormon or what have you - you can't just be the president of the Christians. You have to be the president of the United States, which incorporates atheists, agnostics and all brands of faith. And many, many Christians don't understand that. They see this as a Christian nation. But I don't see this as a theocracy. I see it as a democracy.

NORRIS: Are there certain things that you want to hear in the expression of faith? Someone who can raddle off scripture? Someone who can speak comfortably about their faith? Are there specific things that you're looking for that you want to hear?

Bishop JAKES: I think somewhere down on the list I may come to that. Initially, I don't think I'm any different from any other American. I want to hear about the issues. I don't want the camouflage of faith to muddy up the waters as to whether you are a leader.

I'll think of the example to our congregation when they go in to have surgery, they'll come back and tell me, my doctor is a Christian. I say that's great but can he operate? Okay. I'm very practical, pragmatic person. And when it comes to leadership, I think the primary issue that Christians are concern about should be many of the same issues that all Americans are concern about. And then, if you share a faith with me, that's wonderful. If you share a culture with me, that's wonderful. If you share other things - a gender with me, that's wonderful. But those aught not to be the major things that we focus on in choosing good leaders because I know many people who really love the Lord but they might not be a great president.

Whoever move into the White House now is going to have to be wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove, effective in building relationships internationally. They're going to have to have the agility of thought and the dexterity of mind to be able to bring the nation together. I'm looking for somebody who brings people together rather than plays on our worst fears. I think that religious people, minorities and many others have been played on, that people say things to incite us to riot, to get us to vote and then don't fulfill promises. I'm tired of being a pawn. I want us to be united again.

NORRIS: That's quite a skill set that you're looking for. Among the tack of current candidates, do you see someone who has these attributes?

Bishop JAKES: I'm looking. I haven't had a close enough look yet. I am paying attention. I'm reading articles. I'm listening at to what they say and one of the things that to me muddies the water a bit is that running for presidency and most political offices has become more of a sexy business. It's more about charisma and stage presence and television and articulation. And while that might get you elected, that doesn't always mean that you're effective of the job. So, I'm trying to appeal off the venire of financing and the camouflage of charisma to see the wisdom and the intellectual ability, the intelligence and the over-all rhythm of the person and how they think. Because I really do think that we've been as divided as we dare be. There's too much hostility in this country right now.

NORRIS: Are you affiliated with one particular political party?

Bishop JAKES: Yes.

NORRIS: And that party would be?

Bishop JAKES: I keep that to myself.

NORRIS: Oh, you do. Okay. I'm not going to pry that out of you today.

Bishop JAKES: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Bishop JAKES: Thank you. You're merciful.

NORRIS: Bishop Jakes, thank you very much for stopping in and to talk to us.

Bishop JAKES: It's been a real pleasure.

NORRIS: Bishop T.D. Jakes, preacher, author, entrepreneur. His ministry is the Potter's House in Dallas, Texas. And his new book is "Reposition Yourself: Living Life Without Limits." You can read an excerpt at our Web site, npr.org.

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