Just after John Oliver’s pointed take on “prosperity” televangelists, Bishop T.D. Jakes, a Dallas-based megachurch pastor, best-selling author and media personality once described by TIME magazine as possibly “the next Billy Graham,” launches a four-week test run of a new daily talk show today. But Jakes has spent much of the last two weeks responding to a backlash from conservative evangelical Christians over comments he made about gay rights and church-state separation.
During an August 3 Huffington Post Live interview with journalist and scholar Marc Lamont Hill, Jakes said his thinking on homosexuality is “evolved and evolving” and that it is “absolutely” possible for the gay community and the black church to coexist. "I think that it's going to be diverse from church to church. Every church has a different opinion on the issue and every gay person is different."
LGBTs of different types and sorts have to find a place of worship that reflects what your views are and what you believe like anyone else. And the church should have the right to have its own convictions and values. If you don’t like those convictions and values, you totally disagree with it, don’t try to change my house, move into your own. And establish that sort of thing, and find somebody who gets what you get about faith, and, trust me, I’ve talked to enough LGBT and they’re not all the same.
Jakes said that members of the LGBT community, like all American citizens, deserve equal protection under the law.
We bought, the church bought into the myth that this was a Christian nation. And once you get past that, which a lot of people are going to criticize me because they’re still gonna think it’s a Christian nation, which is a whole different show, but once you begin to understand that democracy, that a republic actually, is designed to be an overarching system to protect our unique nuances then we no longer look for public policy to reflect biblical ethics…
If we can divide, or what you would call separation of church and state, then we can dwell together more effectively. Because atheists, agnostics, Jews, all types of people, Muslims, pay into the government, the government then cannot reflect one particular view over another, just because we are the dominant group of religious people in the country, because those numbers are changing every day. We need a neutralized government that protects our right to disagree with one another and agree with one another.
Jakes suggested a posture of spiritual humility: “Once you understand that you’re not God, you leave yourself an out clause to grow.”
How did the Religious Right hate this interview? Let us count the ways: Jakes spoke of his thinking on homosexuality “evolving,” a term used by President Obama to describe his move toward support for marriage equality; he encouraged LGBT people to find affirming churches; he spoke positively about church-state separation and described the idea that America is a Christian nation as “a myth.”
The Huffington Post interview was not the first time Jakes has said such things. On the Sunday after the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling, Jakes told his congregation, “I’m not really as concerned about this as a lot of people are. I’m really not as concerned about it. I think that we should not lose our mind about the world being the world and the Church being the Church. This is not a news flash.” He also said, “The Supreme Court is there to make a decision based on constitutional rights and legalities that fit all Americans. They are not debating Scripture," which led to applause from the congregation.
There doesn’t seem to have been a huge reaction to those initial comments on the Court ruling. But after the Huffingon Post interview, Heather Clark at Christian News published an August 7 story – tagged “Apostasy” – with a headline blaring that Jakes had come out for gay marriage and LGBT churches and was evolving on homosexuality. The article fumed, “Megachurch leader and author T.D. Jakes says that homosexuals should attend congregations that affirm their lifestyle and that politics do not need to reflect biblical ethics, adding that his position on homosexuality is both “evolved and evolving.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must legalize same-sex “marriage,” igniting a battle between the Church and State over the issue. In his comments on Monday, Jakes advocated for the separation of Church and State, which would allow for “all types of people” to have whatever rights they desire despite biblical prohibitions. He said that politics don’t need to be based on Christianity.
That seems to have set off enough outrage that Jakes posted a statement to his Facebook page on August 9 responding to the criticism. Without naming Clark or Christian News by name, Jakes slammed his critics:
Just because a so-called Christian publication chooses to misconstrue my words using lazy journalistic tactics to further their own agenda and draw attention to their site does not make their statements an accurate depiction of what I said or meant.
In that August 9 statement, Jakes affirmed his religious opposition to same-sex marriage while also reiterating his stance separating his religious beliefs from public policy positions, saying, “For the record, I do not endorse same sex marriage but I respect the rights that this country affords those that disagree with me.” His statement, which attracted hundreds of comments, also said, “I have come to respect that I can't force my beliefs on others by controlling public policy for tax payers and other U.S. citizens. Jesus never sought to change the world through public policy but rather through personal transformation.”
For the Religious Right, them’s fightin’ words. On August 10, Jennifer LeClaire at Charisma wrote, “Leaders from across the body of Christ were contacting me all weekend” about Jakes’ interview. The Washington Times also reported on the controversy. LeClaire took note of Jakes’ clarification on Facebook, but seemed unsure whether it was enough, noting that anti-gay activist Michael Brown was asking for more.
Brown’s column, which circulated on right-wing media, said Jakes’ HuffPo comments “appeared to be intentionally ambiguous.”
At best, your comments left your hearers in the dark; at worst, they gave the impression that you now support same-sex “marriage.”
Surely this is not a minor issue, and surely a shepherd has a responsibility to the sheep. What, dear sir, do you believe?
Brown seemed particularly offended that Jakes had encouraged LGBT Christians to find a church that they were comfortable with.
I thought the church was called to bring people to Jesus, to stand for righteousness, to care for the needy, to shine like light in the darkness, to declare God’s will and to live it out. And don’t you have a responsibility as a leader to warn people about deception?
He also took umbrage with the idea that the U.S. as Christian nation is a myth, and the suggestion that Christians shouldn't expect public policy to reflect biblical ethics, asking whether Jakes would have said the same about slavery or rape.
But is it a myth that America was founded on Christian principles and that our founders presupposed that Christian religion would be the foundation of democracy and morality? Is it a myth that, throughout our history, we have overwhelmingly professed to be Christian in large majority?
On August 11, Jakes posted another, somewhat exasperated comment to Facebook, noting that his answer to Marc Lamont Hill had spurred “a virulent diatribe in cyber-Christian land.” He said “the vast majority of people” seemed to understand his first clarification, but that for those who didn’t, he would try again, “rather than play ‘whack-a-mole’ with the online Christian media.” And, he predicted, “there are those that will never be satisfied.” From his second clarification:
I firmly believe that marriage is ordained by God as a union between a man and a woman… My stance on the topic has never wavered. It is fixed, steadfast and well documented...I believe that all sex outside of that sacred union is sin and that would include but is not limited to, homosexuality…
I also believe in balancing that truth with grace, so that the word becomes the personification of Jesus Christ, his love, mercy and compassion…Because truth absent of grace fails to exemplify my heart or the heart of the Father, I draw the line at the extra-biblical exercise of calling people names, ostracizing or humiliating them because our beliefs fall on opposite sides of the spiritual chasm.
That attitude hasn’t shifted the tide in the battle for men’s souls in the last 30 years…
My hope is that the church will always be “evolving” in how we address and minister to the LGBT community in ways that are in line with our biblically-based beliefs without losing sight of Christ like compassion.
On Wednesday, Jennifer LeClaire at Charisma said that the second “crystal clear” statement from Jakes “should put an end to the questioning.” But as Jakes had predicted, some people are still not satisfied.
Back at Christian News, far-right activist Jesse Lee Peterson slammed Jakes for trying to “ride two horses at the same time” in an attempt to “appease” both the “homosexual” and Christian community.
“He’s trying to back pedal by lying about what he said and what his intent was behind what he said,” Peterson told Christian News Network. “For this man to speak out of both sides of his mouth indicates that he is a hypocrite.”
He said that he doesn’t believe Jakes’ comments to the Huffington Post were misconstrued, but rather that Jakes’ was telling the outlet—as reported—that while he has personal beliefs about homosexuality, he simultaneously believes that homosexuals should have their “rights” as the nation operates outside of biblical values—and in that sense, Jakes does support same-sex “marriage.”
…Peterson also expressed concern about Jakes’ remarks asserting that homosexuals should attend churches that affirm their beliefs instead of seeking to change Bible-based churches… “A real man of God would not suggest that a homosexual go to a church that agrees with their lifestyle,” Peterson added. “He would suggest that they repent and turn to God.”
On Thursday, Joseph Mattera, who heads the U.S. Coalition of Apostolic Elders, weighed in via Charisma specifically to challenge Jakes’ comments “related to biblical ethics and society.”
The fact is, the USA is no longer a Christian nation. But that is different from saying it should not be a Christianized nation and/or that it was never originally founded upon Christian principles.
The writings demonstrating America's Christian history are so numerous I will not attempt to debate that in this article. Suffice it to say that the wording of the Declaration of Independence showed a Christian worldview, the U.S. Constitution was replete with principles from Scripture, and all the original state constitutions based their civic laws as well as their public school education on the teaching of Scripture.
Furthermore there was at least one Supreme Court justice who declared that America is a Christian nation.
…Jakes believes it is possible to have "neutrality" in regards to the ethos of a nation and its government. However, neutrality is impossible because every human government is based on some religious, ideological and philosophical foundation. Either it is man centered or God centered.
…Throughout human and biblical history, God's kingdom has been set against the kingdom and pride of men… God's Word never separates faith from policy and politics. There is no neutrality!
Political leaders who do not represent God's law/Word are illegitimate in the eyes of God and will ultimately be judged for their rebellious autonomy.
And on Friday, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer entered the fray. Fischer said Jakes’ comments were “enormously troublesome” and complained that he “couldn’t make sense” of Jakes’ clarification. Fischer was offended by Jakes’ “enormously problematic” description of the “myth” of the U.S. as a Christian Nation. He said he didn’t even know where to begin to describe how troubling it is that Jakes said policy shouldn’t be counted on to reflect biblical views. And he denounced Jakes’ description of homosexuality as a complicated issue.
“No it’s not, T.D. Jakes. Homosexuality is not a complex issue. It is an abomination. I mean, how simple and unambiguous is that? There’s nothing complex about that. It is contrary to the will of God. It is sexual perversity. What’s complicated about that?”
This isn’t the first time Jakes has found himself targeted by fellow Christians. He has previously faced criticism for preaching a prosperity gospel and teaching a Oneness Pentecostal theology that differs from traditional Christian understanding of the Trinity. Jakes publicly committed himself to a more orthodox understanding of the Trinity in 2012 under questioning from Mark Driscoll, then-head of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church – though it did not satisfy all his critics.