09.01.13

The Bishop and the Filmmaker: What T.D. Jakes and Tyler Perry Teach Us about the Black Church, Black Elites, and Authentic Spirituality

Recently an internet brouhaha erupted when film maker Tyler Perry, attending Bishop T.D. Jakes’ MegaFest Convention in Dallas, Texas, made a $1 million contribution to a proposed youth center. During the unplanned presentation, Tyler claimed God spoke to him to prompt the gift, spoke in “tongues” himself, and eventually spoke a blessing over Bishop Jakes while laying hands on Jakes.

As might be imagined, opinions came fast and furious, some supportive and others critical. I missed all the initial responses due to travel. That’s just as well because now that the dust has settled a little bit better reflection has a chance to emerge. And that’s precisely what I think we find in this engaging discussion between Marc Lamont Hill (host); Princeton professor of religion and African-American studies, Dr. Eddie S. Glaude; Jakes biographer and associate professor of sociology at the University of Houston, Dr. Shayne Lee; and Washington Post columnist, Rahiel Tesfamariam.

What I enjoyed about their discussion was their ability to critically evaluate and disagree while being civil, clear and incisive. In its loving but critical engagement, this interview represents a rare engagement with the Black Church without resulting to romanticism or caricature. The interview is a valuable examination of some quarters of the Black Church and of the intermingling of religion, commerce, entertainment, and politics. It’s also a window into a long-running dispute about elitism and populism in determining the course of Black culture and life.

Take a look and join us on the front porch with your thoughts and questions.

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

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  • Dwight McKissic

    Pastor T.

    I would love to hear more of your perspective on the Bishop Jakes/Tyler Perry video. Is it something that you affirm, disagree with, or what? Do you see it as positive and biblical, or problematic and in any way in violation of Scripture? Would you please share with us more of where you stand personally on this matter? Do you agree with Shane’s comments that the masses generally have a better and more accurate pulse-beat on what best for the Black community rather than the elite? Thanks in advance for your response.

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Hey Doc,
      Thanks for coming up on the porch. Good questions. I can’t answer them all because all I’ve seen of the event were the clips in this video (I was literally on the other side of the world when this broke). I can say a couple things, though my main interest was the civil and intelligent public discussion here.

      1. I can’t see anything wrong with Perry giving over a million dollars to a youth project. Praise The Lord. I wish more people gave lavishly to good causes.
      2. While I think God can and does guide us with subjective impressions, such impressions should never be assigned a “God told me” status. I think that reveals an unhealthy view of guidance.
      3. The entertainment and theatrical aspects are problematic. I understand that it is “MegaFest,” so there is an entertainment dynamic planned and intended. But in an age of “celebrity pastors,” this display is at least unwise.
      4. I don’t think either the tongues or laying on of hands was biblical.
      5. I think Perry’s Madea franchise creates a climate that makes his acts suspect for a lot of people. He makes hypocrisy entertainment and simultaneously makes himself liable to hypocrisy.

      Again, I have not seen the entire episode/event. My main interest was the rare and engaging public discussion. The discussion models what we need in the church: discernment. There’s a lot of chaff in this video and not much wheat.

      T-

      • Dwight McKissic

        T-

        1.Let me apologize in advance that my reply will be longer than your response to my initial question. I love “The Front Porch” concept, and I appreciate you and your co-laborers for launching this. The conversations here will be substantive, engaging, and challenging…and for that I am grateful. The Front Porch will provide a loving and informed critique of the Black Church that’s too often missing, but so desperately needed…and for that, I am also grateful.

        Thanks for the Huffington Post video commentary link featuring Professor Lamont Hill, and the three distinguished panelist, discussing the Jakes/Perry episode during a Sunday worship at Jakes church the weekend of MegaFest. I was unaware of this panel discussion. I found it-much like you did- a great and insightful discussion.

        2. I appreciate your straightforward, brief, and clear five-point response to my question. I realized that pointing out the value of the panel discussion was your main interest in penning/typing this post. But like me, you are a highly opinionated person…and what I missed most as I read your post was your personal perspectives and opinions regarding the Jakes/Perry episode. Thanks for going beyond your original intent and sharing your personal views.

        3. I found your brief critique and analysis helpful. For various reasons, I am having to evaluate and make decisions regarding this matter. I knew that your opinion would be more objective, constructively critical, and not jaded by being “starstruck” as some other opinions that I have sought.

        4. Not that you asked for my response to your critique, but I am going to give it to you simply because I want to. I will respond point-by-point to your five points.

        (1) I agree with your #1 wholeheartedly.
        (2) I somewhat agree with your # 2. I have no problem with someone saying “God told me” if this is what they really believe, and if what they say God told them does not contradict or violate Scripture. I am not under any obligation to be obedient to what God told them. I must “test the spirit”. I must use discernment as it relates to how I respond to what they say God told them. But I believe it is very helpful for someone to reach a point of conviction where they can say, “God told me”. Without the assurance of “God told me,” I shudder to think about how I would have had the faith to make it through certain situations and life experiences. At times, that’s all I had to hold on to and keep my hands to the throttle.

        I have no problem saying that “God told me” nor do I see it as “an unhealthy view of guidance”. God told me to marry my wife, plant the church that I currently pastor. God told me to give a relatively new $30,000 vehicle a few years ago to a family in my congregation that really needed it. The twelve months following that gift were twelve of the best months of my life-in every area. Again, I have no problem saying that “God told me”. As a matter of fact, before you give a million plus dollars–or just a few extra dollars for that matter–you need to have what my pastor use to call–“a green light from God”. You need to believe that God has lead you to make the gift or sacrifice that you are making. I celebrate Perry hearing the voice of God and obeying His voice in this instance. I also appreciate his willingness to testify regarding what “God told him” at the request of Bishop Jakes.

        (3) I must admit that I am challenged by the entertainment and theatrical aspects. On one hand it was advertised as a family event, that would provide clean and fun entertainment for the entire family. It appears that MegaFest is designed to evangelize and disciple persons in the entertainment industry as well as “whosoever will”. My challenge is mixing sacred and secular artists in the same venue. That is something that I am not accustomed to, neither is it my cup of tea. However, I don’t know if that practice violates Scripture–assuming the secular artists selections are innocuous. I am still wrestling with this one.

        (4) I have no problem with tongues in public worship if accompanied by interpretation. The Bible is clear that the one who speaks can also interpret. What followed Perry’s speaking in tongues could have been interpretation. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. Having sat through Spirit-less worship services where everything was managed by the clock, and there was no room for spontaneity, or even the intervention of the Holy Spirit–I personally can accept the tongue speaking that I saw on the video, better than I can worship experience where the absence of the Holy Spirit is so thick that you can cut it with a knife.

        (5) Having listened to Perry’s comments at Whitney Houston”s funeral, and having read about his relationship with Jesus; it appears to me that he has experienced an encounter with the living God, through His Son, and by His Spirit. He seems to have a basic, fundamental understanding of the gospel, and has accepted Christ as Savior and Lord. Therefore, I am willing to give Perry the benefit of the doubt here. I find the laying on of hands episode on the video absolutely biblical and refreshing to see.

        5. My wife and I attended select portions of the MegaFest event. At Manpower, Pastor E. Dewey Smith of Atlanta preached a great expository message. He challenged the men in the areas of servant-hood, stewardship, and sanctification. Pastor Buster Soaries of the First Baptist Church, Lincoln Gardens, New Jersey,–who frequently preaches for Tony Evans–also shared a vital biblical and financial stewardship challenge at one of the sessions. My wife was equally blessed by the Women speakers at the Women’s Rally. Neither one of us heard or experienced a message or act that we found problematic or unbiblical. However, we were very selective as to what we attended. Therefore, I can’t speak for all aspects of MegaFest. But overall, I believe that it was/is beneficial and a bleswsing to the church. I deeply appreciate the helpful critique and cautions that you have raised in your response. Again, I deeply appreciate “The Front Porch” and your calling attention to and highlighting the beautiful conversation by these scholarly, and critical thinking men and a woman. They handled the subject with class, cultural awareness and sensitivity, civility, and from somewhat different angles. They also handled the subject contextually. This is not always the case when dealing with Black issues–particularly Black Church issues–are matters discussed by persons who have an understanding of and appreciation for the context. However, I wanted from you a Scriptural critique or response–which is something that they did not give. Although I agree with some of what you said, and disagree with some of what you said; I knew for sure that your response would be from a biblical base and reasoning. You did not disappoint in this regard. Thanks again.

        Dwight

        • Thabiti Anyabwile

          Hi Dwight,

          Thanks for the thoughtful engagement. I want to stress again that I can’t render any lengthy thoughts about the Perry/Jakes episode since I haven’t seen it. Even so, it does seem that we’re about 60% agreed on things. The rest I take in the spirit of iron sharpening iron.

          In that spirit, let me say two brief things in reply to your comments.

          First, regarding guidance (which could be a series of posts or an entire book!). Let me try to illustrate with a couple of questions why I think “God told me to” is a bad way of speaking about subjective guidance (having already admitted that I believe God can and does prompt us in various subjective ways). You mentioned that “God told you to marry your wife.” Let me ask: If you had not married your wife, would that be sin? If she had refused, would she have been in sin? Since you had that sense from God, does that also mean God had only one correct wife for you?

          Do you see the problems these questions point to? Many Christians get paralyzed–especially in matters of Christian freedom–because they’re waiting for God to “tell them.” But, in the case of marriage, for example, God has spoken. In he says we’re free to marry or not marry. We don’t sin if we marry; nor do we sin if we do. To say “God told me to” in a way that feels like “Thus saith the Lord” is to adopt a view of guidance that inevitably brings us into tension and sometimes contradiction with what God says in His word. I know you would never advise using “God told me” as an excuse for contradicting the word. But you can probably also admit/experienced that there are tons of people who do exactly that. That’s why I think that’s a problematic way of speaking about God’s will.

          Second, it seems to me you’re speculating about what happened with Perry and tongues. We’re forced to suggest that what Perry said afterwards ‘could have been interpretation,’ for example. You’re assuming that ecstatic speech is, in fact, the NT gifts of speaking in tongues. That’s an open debate. The disorder that seemed to ensue seems contradictory to . Moreover, the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet. It’s a mistake, in my opinion, to equate a move of the Spirit with spontaneity in a public gathering. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a place in scripture where the Spirit’s presence is associated with spontaneity or disorder or being “slain in the Spirit.” Most often the Spirit’s presence is associated with bold preaching (as in Acts) or with conviction, conversion and love. The emphasis of is on order, not spontaneity. That order is essential to being intelligible, which is essential to the edification that’s stressed throughout the chapter. I think the brief displays I saw in the video (if I had to judge from that alone) at least flirted with disorder and fails to meet the guidelines of .

          Finally, this instance of laying on of hands bears little resemblance to anything I recognize from the Bible. There are instances where a healing is accompanied by a touch/laying on of hands. And there is the laying on of hands in association with ordination or being set apart to the ministry. But I can’t think of a biblical basis for what happens with Perry and Jakes, where the laying on of hands is connected with some emotional/physical loss of control.

          I know godly people have differing views of these things. I don’t intend to disparage anyone who differs or to call into question their faith and faithfulness to the Lord. But you asked for my biblical critique, and, without writing a book on the subject, that’s how I evaluate the episode.

          Thanks for all your encouragement re: The Front Porch! We’re excited to finally launch and we’re excited to have you on the porch with us! Perhaps one day we can find a way to get on an actual porch together and chop these things up!

          All Christ’s love and blessing,
          T-

          • Larry Miles

            Thabiti,

            I came across this forum looking at blogs @ the Gospel Coalition. Very refreshing. I follow your preaching and have found the book on “The Faithful Preacher” invaluable as I continue to piece together “our” involvement in what is referred to as “Re-formed doctrine.” A major difference in an environment that encourages critical analysis is, rather than push issues and occurrences “under the rug,” quickly reverting to “just pray,” or “keep your mouth off of God’s man,” or the famous, “touch not mine anointed,” thoughtful, Biblical,intelligent and logical discourse can be engaged in. Thanks.

          • Thabiti Anyabwile

            Bro Larry,

            Thanks for joining us on the porch. It’s encouraging to know the Lord blessed “The Faithful Preacher” to you. Praise God! And you’re absolutely correct: there’s a lot in the culture of churches that keep good word-driven reform from happening. We hope to engage those issues, hoping the Lord encourages and helps His church to grow! The Lord bless and keep you!
            T-

        • Larry

          Traditionally, matters of ministry/doctrine etc, have been tossed back and forth between the “pulpit.” Arguably the “pew” is like a child that is seen and not heard. The issue of “God told me” is problematic. It presents a non-negotiable engagement, that benefits the one uttering such. It may also give a false ideal that one has this ethereal communion with Christ that the other does not. (spiritual classism?) What is problematic in the pulpit is, scripture in many cases says what is worlds apart from the pulpit. Scripture says “He that findeth a wife findeth a good thing.” Biblical wisdom from within ones-self and the counsel of the “Godly” around you will help one choose a virtuous, prudent help-mate. As to giving away a possession, the Bible says it is, “better to give than receive,” or “Give and it shall be given thee.” The book of Acts displays sharing and “one-anothering” to meet needs, etc. We have multiple parables of how persons of “The Way,” ought to seek to meet needs by being good to all men and especially those in the household of faith. With these things in mind one does not have to live “listening” for a mystical voice from within or without. I believe the pulpit needs to stand firm on the five Sola’s and let that be the “guiding light” for the “pew.” On the tongues issue, scripture, history and experience should guide us. As “churchy” African-Americans when we are “hit” with inspiration/excitement we “quicken.” Normatively, what follows is ecstatic speech. Not Biblical “tongues” (language). No foreign language person responded to what Tyler Perry said, nor was there any interpretation given. It was a moment of ecstasy.

  • Warner Aldridge

    After watching the first couple of min of this video I wanted to take time out to comment a bit on the video in regards to what it has taught about the black church, elites and spirituality.

    Although many would consider it an honorable task in many individuals eyes that Tyler Perry would give a million dollars to help the causes and efforts that T.D. Jakes is making we must draw our attention primarily to what the Scripture says on the matter. By opening up to , Jesus clearly points out that our giving shouldn’t be done in a way to be seen by others. In other words, it doesn’t need to be announced or trumpets blasting or anything of the sort, but give in secret. We must be careful not think more highly of ourselves than we ought.

    From that point on from the point of Tyler Perry “speaking in tongues,” I truly think that we need to examine the Scriptures. Many would say that “oh Tyler experienced therefore what he did was true.”

    After I viewed this a number of thoughts crossed my mind.

    1. We need to truly pray for each other more and admonish each other.

    2. Let us return back to the Scriptures. Back to Sola Scriptura. Our experiences (which is so prevalent in churches today) should not shape scripture. But Scripture should shape our experiences.

    3. Test the spirits . People were cheering and excited that Tyler Perry was speaking in some type of gibberish that no interpretation was done, which is why I am thankful for the upcoming Strange Fire Conference by Grace Community Church is really important for today.

    4. It reminds me of God’s grace. That at one time I was subjected to this “entertainment” type atmosphere where the lights, cameras, smoke are blasting. This is not what God has called us to.

    I would write more however very open to reading and dialoguing more. Let us examine the treasures found in the Scriptures and base our experiences from interpreting the Scriptures.

    ~ Warner

  • Rick_M

    Pastor T,

    I have to say, I found this discussion fascinating and impressive. These folks had a lot to say about stuff I never would have even thought to ask – and they said it well. It gave me insight both into the concerns of the African-American socio-religious context, and also into my own way of evaluating the kind of scenarios depicted in the video.

    Disclaimer: I’m a white guy. As such, the nuances and layers of concern from the viewpoint of the Black community are not the most prominent in my thinking. But as a white guy, I have to say that a rich guy pledging huge sums of money to a mega-church pastor’s ministry project – be they white or black – doesn’t prompt that kind of thinking in me in any case. Neither does viewing the religious experience/expression exhibited move me to the type of sociological evaluation these panelists treated us to. This gives me pause to think about how quickly I can move past many things.With that I have to say that I’ve never really understood celebrity culture, and perhaps as that is mixed with the church, producing religious showmanship, I feel prompted to move on shaking my head, “nothin’ to see here.”

    I do understand the implications can be significant in the case at hand, in particular to the Black community. But as I’ve heard of people of means giving generously to worthy projects in the past, I suppose I haven’t thought much beyond a general sense of appreciation, and the hope for positive results from the effort (perhaps mixed with a dose of skepticism or cynicism depending on the cause – to my shame). And as I’ve viewed other videos similarly depicting what are common religious beliefs and practices in many churches – Black, White, Hispanic, mixed, whatever – I don’t know that I’ve ever evaluated them beyond purely theological and biblical considerations – though not without a measure of concern for those involved, again, depending on the nature and extent of departure from scriptural practice.

    I suppose on that level, with no sense of surprise at all, I view what took place with Jakes and Perry as another example of an ecclesiastical, theological system insufficiently moored to Scripture – to put it mildly. I agree with Rahiel that better examples (she said options) are needed – not only for the Black church, but for all of Christ’s church. In fact, from all of the insightful comments made, that, to me, stands out as the most clear, most hopeful, most promising, and most practical. What is needed is more examples of godly men faithfully fulfilling their calling as men of God, proclaiming Christ’s Gospel, expositing God’s Word, constrained by the Christ’s love, laying down their lives in service to God’s people, training them to live lives of love, to fulfill their callings in whatever field they are gifted and in whatever their hand finds to do, to glorify God in all things, in sacrificing for others and in seeking his kingdom in and above all things. I thank God, that even while other examples persist and often get the public notice, men of the type I describe are being raised up, and trained well to conduct the hard and joyful Gospel ministry the church and the world need.

    From my perspective, the sociological, cultural, political, economic considerations are important, are valuable, and are helpful. But health and wholeness come, to the individual, and to the community, only by dealing with the source of disease and division. The remedy ultimately is spiritual and theological. Too simplistic?

    I agree with you that the discussion exemplified the type of respectful engagement that is needed for mutual sharpening. I found it informative, enjoyable, and encouraging.

    Anyway, I was just passing by, and I appreciate you letting me join you on the porch for a minute. Gotta go for now. Look forward to listening in down the road – so to speak.

    Rick

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Hey Rick,

      Thanks for joining us on the front porch. We love having folks stop by and chat a while! 🙂

      I completely agree with your statement. The great need of the hour is faithful men passing along the truth to other faithful men who would be able to teach others also (). We desperately need the faithful lifted higher–not for the praise of men–but that we might be able to say more frequently, “Follow these men as they follow Christ.” May the Lord grant us more and more such laborers.

      Join us on the porch anytime, brother. Grace and peace,
      T-

  • Mike Kelsey

    There were so many good points in this video about why the Perry-Jakes interaction was at least MAINLY problematic.

    1. Wealth, popularity, and spiritual “power” (as synonymous with the ability to get people hype) as the measuring rod for God’s blessing and favor: So many Black people, particularly in poor communities understand Christian progress and pastoral pedigree almost exclusively in those categories. I did too for a long time. I think this is dangerous (in preaching and music) not because those things are always bad in themselves, but for several reasons: (a) they can and often do make Christianity a vehicle for our our idols of self-actualization; (b) faithfulness and integrity get lost in the sauce of all of the APPARENT signs of blessing, so ppl are put and kept on a pedestal as long as they’re productive and successful even if they’re shady; (c) produces a rabid appetite for soothing, inspirational, candy-coated interpretations of Scripture taken out of context (for example, Perry using to argue that you can’t be blessed unless you have haters #cmonson); (d) produces an ill-informed theology of suffering and therefore a skewed understanding of the character/ways of God as well as of sanctification and great commission ministry

    that first point actually took way longer than i thought it would so i’ll stop there. i’m careful not to judge perry and jakes’ intentions, partly because only God knows their hearts and partly because i’m sympathetic to the movement I grew up in and the genuinely faithful believers within it. but i see so many problems in this whole situation that for me represent many of the problems that plague American Christianity in general and “Black Church Christianity” in particular

    • Thabiti Anyabwile

      Bro Mike,

      Thanks for the well-stated and balanced contribution. Good word, bro. Come join us on the porch any time.

      T-

  • Saiko Woods

    Thanks Pastor T for what you and the other brothers who co-labor with you are doing on the Front Porch. We need men like you who are shining the objective light of truth to situations like this. I pray that the church (black church in particular) will allow the Scriptures to be the final authority in ALL THINGS of faith and practice. God bless you guys!

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  • jeyjey34

    I like the point the interviewer made about how it can come off as if Tyler Perry is only able to lay hands on Bishop TD Jakes because he donated a big dollar amount and that some regular churchgoer at the church would never be able to go up and lay hands on him like that.

  • jeyjey34

    And I like the point the Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr. made about how situations like these with celebrity pastors can seem to be more about entertainment and that it can have people ending up being more like “fans” taking in the experience as opposed to taking in the Gospel which should be preached.

  • Larry Miles

    At times I wonder If black pastors who are faithful Biblical preachers, expositional, not given to “lights,” etc, would in some way ban together and warn the “pew” about carnal preachers and even wage Biblical assaults on the practices of particular preachers in our midsts, would that help? I believe many people in the church want God and Christ, but are prevented from “learning of Him” because of the “pulpit.” On the other hand there are many that love to “heap on themselves” what they consider a “mand of gawd” that is swaggerific, sexy, polished, well kept and rock star-ish. The latter is sickening, yet we are warned of them in . What is problematic is these “angels of light” are actually promoting themselves and justifying their participation in a carnal, flesh driven, demonic even, representation of their “calling,” usurping and perverting the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Noel Jones is cited as saying, “I love being successful and driving fast cars.” Clarence McClendon is cited as saying, “The gospels are/were essentially a reality show and we are doing what Jesus did.” ARE YOU SERIOUS? There are those who profess Christ, that will endorse and celebrate such nabalian, convoluted mockery. If anything is to be promoted and/or boasted in it is the glory of Christ, the exalted Christ, a Christ who has conquered death, hell and the grave. Unfortunately, He must compete with Ferrari’s, mansions and “bling.”

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  • Nick Moore

    Do not let your left hand know what your right hand has given. Jesus said THAT.

  • Ritetheology

    Sorry for being soo late to the porch, I just witnessed this spectacle. WoW!!! So much to say. But let me simply state that what is “strange fire” in white Evangelicalism is an inferno in Black America. I don’t have a problem one bit with Tyler giving the money. But I have a HUGE problem with the theological error that was witnessed by millions. Tongues and extra biblical revelation make for a recipe of disaster. Let’s not forget that Bishop Jakes does not affirm the Triune Godhead. This was not a “mega-fest” this was a “mega-mess” and the victims were the thousands attending and watching by T.V. or internet.

  • AddisonDewitt

    Why wasn’t Perry’s gift given in private……he wanted the glory and up front on stage applause. ..and after all its a tax deduction

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