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Commentary: Church walks the walk of King's message

  • Story Highlights
  • Minister: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s message foundation for church programs
  • Bishop T.D. Jakes responds to article on black church's role in U.S. today
  • Jakes cites his church's work in education, HIV/AIDS, Hurricane Katrina relief efforts
  • Ministry has responsibility to empower people economically, pastor says
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By Bishop T.D. Jakes
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Editor's note: Bishop T.D. Jakes is founder and senior pastor of The Potter's House of Dallas, Texas, a multiracial, nondenominational church with more than 50 outreach ministries. CNN invited him to respond to a recent piece that appeared on CNN.com.

Bishop T.D. Jakes

Bishop T.D. Jakes says his ministry promotes the dream of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s message.

(CNN) -- "Bishop Jakes has always been a strong supporter of my father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the King family. Bishop Jakes, along with many other ministries of his ilk, all continue to convey the dream and the message of my father in the services they provide to oppressed people around the world. Some may say that the ministers of today have different techniques, but the core of the message and the goal remain the same." -- Martin Luther King III

I was stunned and very disappointed to see an article on CNN.com with the blaring headline, "Modern black church shuns King's message."

Even more disturbing to me than the headline was the article's depiction and generalization that I, through my church The Potter's House of Dallas, had shunned the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s message.

The article's author asserts that "I declined to talk to him" about the subject, which is only partially true. I am sorry if my unavailability has caused him angst. I declined to speak with him because I already had conducted a very lengthy interview with CNN's Soledad O'Brien on the very same topic for a piece that will air on CNN later this year.

Oddly, my picture was used to drive the article in spite of the fact that I was not interviewed for the story. I feel that this style of journalism is far beneath the standards that I have always known and respected from CNN, and while I traditionally do not respond or reply to such statements as were written, this time was different. Read the piece Jakes is criticizing

While I view this type of article as divisive in nature and tone, it does have one redeeming quality; it opens up a dialogue and allows for a spirited discussion on a very sensitive topic and issue. I applaud CNN on that front and thank the news organization for the opportunity to share my concerns and viewpoint.

There are very few people whom I admire more than King, and I have the utmost respect for his life, his work and his message. I have a longstanding relationship with the King family, as the above quote by Martin Luther King III states. My relationship with the King family extends back at least two generations.

Additionally, not only have I long been inspired by King's teachings, I remain inspired by his messages, and have used them as a foundation for so many of the programs our church has instituted, including but not limited to: our prison outreach program, our Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative as well as our continued and highly noted work with HIV/AIDS.

Our commitment to education, with the opening of a $14 million college prep school, Clay Academy, has prompted praise.

"Bishop T.D. Jakes is changing children and families by helping young people of all backgrounds and cultures achieve their purpose and potential. Clay Academy is an exceptional institution. The school helps students develop their faith, focus, and a foundation for the future. Emphasis is placed not only on encouraging students to strive for academic excellence, but also on providing opportunities for them to learn about love, life, and leadership," said Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Michigan, who also is chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Kilpatrick, who toured the school during a recent visit, was impressed with the facility and went on to say: "Clay Academy is an extension of Bishop Jakes' central message of hope and healing. He and the staff are developing generations of leaders who will understand that when we embrace our common humanity and work together, we can change the world."

Other examples of our work include economic development programs as well as our tireless efforts for victims of Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in placing more than 2,000 survivors in homes.

Internationally, not only does our church build water wells in Africa, but it also has provided computer technology in Kenya and has partnered with Church World Service, Habitat for Humanity, World Vision and the Red Cross.

Additionally, I have a team of our staff researching a pending project in Haiti to address the tragic lack of food that has resulted in some pregnant mothers eating mud pies.

Most recently, I was in New York where I was honored to receive the Essence President's Award, which recognizes the writer whose work most reflects the vision of Essence magazine. While there, I also received the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award from the Congress of Racial Equality for our work in promoting the dream of King's message.

Many people can talk the talk of King and his messages, but there are many who choose to focus on walking the walk. We walk the walk.

After 32 years of faithful service as a minister, we are most noted for the "Woman Thou Art Loosed" series, which focuses on empowerment to abused women -- not only preaching a message similar to that of the "Rev. Ike," as noted in the CNN.com article.

However, I do believe we have a responsibility to empower people economically, and at The Potter's House, we train our members on the basics of economic balance, such as reducing debts, achieving and maintaining good credit, and watching out for predatory lenders and other financial pitfalls. There is a great deal of difference between helping and teaching people to do well and exploiting the poor.

It has always been my goal and purpose to be a bridge builder and to not build walls. It is in that spirit that I would plead with the church to seek common ground rather than to focus on irrelevant and often erroneous information that seeks to divide.

I believe that King would want us to work toward helping our children who are not graduating from high school, much less college, in rampant numbers. We should use our diverse strengths and approach to ministry to combat HIV/AIDS, which is destroying many precious lives, and our own black women are disproportionately dying.

Roughly 50 percent of African-Americans do not even own their homes, and I think we have so much we could do together rather than keep score on who is winning a battle that shouldn't even exist between us.

In light of Alan Greenspan confirming what many of us have already suspected -- that we are in the midst of a recession, I would ask all churches as well as the media to help guide and encourage us through the storm of fuel bills, lost homes, lost jobs and the untold effects of this recession.

I see this article as providing a battle cry to churches of all ethnicities and denominations to not allow the perceptions of the few to distract us and prejudice us from the needs of the many.

On behalf of the 30,000 members of our church and the 4,000 volunteers who work in our various programs, not to mention the staff and our countless supporters around the world who love our church and its work, please do not malign our identity or castigate our mission.

In the final analysis of why people attend church or why they select this church over another one, or follow this minister over that minister, the answer is simple; people go to a church where they feel comfortable, where they feel their needs are being met and where they feel that they are getting assistance with the many issues that confront them in these troubled times. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Martin Luther King Jr.HIV and AIDSU.S. Congressional Black Caucus

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