My estimation of Bishop T.D. Jakes has risen just a little.
Jakes, long-time pastor of Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, was caught on a CBN News tape challenging the idea that churches should be in charge of feeding the hungry but also some other diaconal issues in the community rather than government welfare programs that many conservatives despise. He said that he “pulled out my calculator,” the math didn’t add up and the church would go bankrupt in trying to feed the hungry in its zip code alone — not to mention helping to pay for prescriptions for the elderly woman who may have “five things wrong with her.”
Two things we can take from Jakes’ diatribe:
1) The church of Jesus Christ is not primarily a social-service agency; its primary function is to bear witness to an unseen world and live by Kingdom values and, in the process, draw people to Him. Well, didn’t the early church meet physical needs? Yes, but for one specific reason: Its members had personal experience with destitution, as it originally was an underground, often friendless institution that obliged them to lean on each other.
That’s a far cry from today, especially in America where attending a church is a sign of respectability and discipleship is little more than a private affair having no bearing on what people do with their money and possessions. In many cases churches, particularly larger ones, aren’t even located in poorer areas and are often out of touch with those who are suffering.
2) In referring to the woman who may need medicine, which can be expensive in its own right, Jakes also critiqued the occasional — and, some would say, systematic — rapaciousness of capitalism, which wouldn’t go over well with some others trying to defend that system against “socialism.” It’s not even about the money, however; it’s about access, which people who worship (and I use that word deliberately) at its shrine never address, insisting that living properly and maintaining Christian “morals” is the key to prosperity. Never mind that Jesus rejected that bad theology, which is why the Pharisees, who “loved money,” couldn’t stand Him.
During President George W. Bush’s first term the idea of “compassionate conservatism” was thrown around, with churches invited to apply for government aid to maintain their programs. But only to churches, not mosques or secular agencies, I suspect because they were supposed to “convert” people and thus stay out of trouble. Thing is, however, that the forces that keep the poor in their state are often systemic — something not to be addressed because the power of the “rich” might be threatened.
Which is the point of the Magnificat, what Mary recited when she learned she was pregnant with Jesus — and also possibly the point of the Gospel.
Jakes said something that a lot of people don’t want to hear: Following Jesus costs something. And it may cost more than some may want to pay — not just money, either.