Fixing America’s failing families: An interview with T.D. Jakes

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Bishop T.D. Jakes says the American family is failing, and he has plans to fix i

Bishop T.D. Jakes says the American family is failing, and he has plans to fix i

Bishop T.D. Jakes says the American family is failing, and he has plans to fix i

Bishop T.D. Jakes says the American family is failing, and he has plans to fix it.

Bishop T.D. Jakes is one of America’s most prominent religious leaders and pastor of The Potter’s House, a 30,000-member congregation located in Dallas, Texas. But Jakes is far more than a preacher.

“I cannot be pigeon-holed,” he told me in our interview this week.

Since 2008, he’s been working as a producer and writer of feature films through a partnership with Sony Pictures. His movies include the box office hit “Jumping the Broom” and the remake of “Sparkle” starring Jordin Sparks and the late Whitney Houston. He’s the bestselling author of numerous books including, most recently, Let It Go: So You Can Be Forgiven. In October, Jakes’ new talk show, “Mind, Body, and Soul”, debuts on BET.

Though his projects are varied, the theme of family connects many of them. Jakes intends to uplift families with his books and films, and he speaks to family issues through his sermons. In two weeks, more than 40,000 will attend his MegaFest conference in Dallas where he hopes to bring a special word to America’s many flailing families. Here, we talk about what he believes is causing the breakdown of American families and what he plans to do about it.

JM: A lot of Christians talk about how the “breakdown of the American family.” As a pastor, you deal with family problems all the time. Do you think the American family is in serious trouble?

TJ: Absolutely. There’s no question about that, and the stats bear it out. It has hit the minority community hardest and first, but first means it won’t be last. It’s spreading to the general populace as well.

JM: You’ve got your MegaFest conference coming up in Dallas. I know you hope to draw families, not just individual attendees. How do you hope to use your platform through that conference to build up and encourage American families?

TJ: I’m so excited about it. First of all, people of all colors are buying tickets and that puts black families and white families in the room where we can attack the problem together. It is our shared problem. Our problem is your problem, and your problem is our problem. We are on the same boat.

One of the things I hope to do is to point out the fact that fatherhood is seldom modeled to men. And it is hard to be what you cannot see. You and I can walk down to any department store and find a figurine of a mother holding a baby, but we’d have to work hard to find a picture of a man holding one. We’re not modeling fatherhood in art or film or in our own homes.

The fact that we are male enough to produce a child does not make us man enough to raise a child, especially when we are asking men to play a role for which they have no script. My solution is to show men that it is not as much about showing the bad job some have done but lifting up men who do a good job, so we can see what we’re trying to be. Until fatherhood is modeled, our men will continue to shrink away from it and the stats will continue to worsen.

The real power of MegaFest is in the car ride to the event. It’s in the hotel after the event is over. It’s dads taking their kids out to get something to eat and spending quality time without work getting in the way. Because family is in little things. Having raised five children, the things they remember are not the things I paid the most for; they were the little silly things. They were the times I cut up their steak or pancakes in a restaurant. So I’m calling families to a big event so they can have little things together.

JM: You’re going to be talking with Oprah at MegaFest about problems facing African-American families, something that has become a growing debate in the wake of the Zimmerman trial. What are the biggest problems the African-American community is facing, and what is the solution?

Oprah will interview Jakes for her "Life Class" show at MegaFest this year.

Oprah will interview Jakes for her “Life Class” show at MegaFest this year.

TJ: Before I answer that, I’m aghast at the question. Because Trayvon Martin’s family handled themselves incredibly well throughout a horrific experience. I’ve never seen a mother and a father unite around their child like they did. I don’t see the bridge between the Trayvon Martin situation and the crisis in the African-American family. There is certainly a crisis in the African-American family, but Trayvon Martin’s family is not a good depiction of that crisis. I can take you to many places and show you people whose mothers wouldn’t be sober enough to do a press conference and whose fathers can’t be found. When I look for the poster-child for the family crisis in the African-American community, I would never point to Trayvon Martin.

If I could separate one from the other, in response to the problem we’re having in our community, fatherlessness is a major part of that. When single parents raise children alone, especially in lower income families, the children are left at home for long periods of time. If children are left to raise themselves in inner-city areas, then gangs become families and gang leaders become daddies and drug dealers become mommas and the person who could’ve been the second black president of the United States becomes a major drug dealer.

The upside of this is when you see people like President Obama who was a product of a single white mother. This lets us know that the problem is not just segregated to one community and that it is possible for a single mother to successfully raise a child. I think that the color of the president’s skin obscured America from having a conversation about him having a single mother. I don’t think we have many presidents who came from a single parent home.

So while there is disparity on one hand, there is hope on the other.

JM: Speaking of the Martin family, you made headlines recently with a comment you made about the trial in a sermon. In your opinion, was justice upheld in the Trayvon Martin case?

TJ: I think that the problem here is that America must realize that the law can be adhered to and justice still not be accomplished. There is often a gulf between the two. And that is particularly resounding amongst African-Americans where just a few years back, we were being beaten, and it was legal. Where we couldn’t vote, and it was legal. So the real question is whether there is an equality between the law and justice.

This is bigger than black and white. It is a clarion call to dispel the increasing disparity between what is legal and what is just.

JM: You’ve become so active in filmmaking as a tool to lift up families. How do you think the medium of film specifically can strengthen American families?

TJ: I’ve watched people down through history change the world through television. I have watched black comedians walk across stages, crossing cultures and breaking barriers. I have watched American Bandstand introduce talent that America marveled at. And I have concluded that the screen in all of its sizes, shapes, and forms is the greatest platform in the world.

As we are blessed with opportunities to make films, we have a responsibility to project the kind of images that gives America more options. We don’t want to censor or control. We just want to be included on the menu of options of possibilities. And I think that if I can put an image on the screen that makes people laugh or love or think or cry, I’ll have done something.

If audiences can see a marriage that almost fell apart like “Not Easily Broken” and see it be resurrected out of the ashes, maybe they won’t run to divorce court so quickly. If they can see a child who was headed for a gang like in “Black Nativity” and see the process aborted by someone who intervened, then maybe they will stop that little boy on the corner who is about to sell drugs or vandalize an automobile. Maybe they’ll help him realize that he is not a criminal; he’s just an angry child who can’t find his daddy.

That is lofty and probably an unreasonable expectation, but it is from those expectations that champions arise. It is from those types of expectations that you think you could take a rock and kill a giant. Every film is just a rock and the world is giant, but I’m determined to throw it.

  • Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone is the answer to America’s and the world’s problems. When He is lifted up from the pulpits and the Gospel of salvation is truly preached, lives will be changed. Try it sometime in place of your self-help propositions and self-seeking agenda. Thanks TD; but your Mega Fest and other similar man made philosophies are not working. You and your kind may be getting richer; but families and society are falling apart more rapidly. Mega Fest is not the answer, Jesus Christ is. (John 14:6)

  • Tim

    “The fact that we are male enough to produce a child does not make us man enough to raise a child” – that’s a good point. Unfortunately, this whole interview is full of insights into problems in society without Mr. Jakes once mentioning Jesus and the redemption God desires to bring us all.

    Perhaps this is due to Mr. Jakes’s lack of a solid and sound Trinitarian doctrine. But the bottom line is you can fix all the families you like and everyone in those families is forever separated from God without Jesus. Real family healing comes from the One who came to save us. I’d like to see Mr. Jakes talk a lot more in these interviews about Jesus and why he came into the world. But I think that’s unlikely to happen.

  • Tim

    P.S. This post ( includes a discussion of the difference between the results one can expect under a legal system and those that come from a system of justice. Systemic justice has never been achieved that I know of and while we should strive to bring the law in as close compliance with achieving just results as possible, here on earth we will never fix the problems that Mr. Jakes perceives in our legal system.

  • rodney thomas

    I think it is a wonderful thing to bring families together that most of the time do not see each other on a regular basis. If you have ever seen any of the gatherings hosted by Jakes, they are Christ centered. From the worship, to the word. You have to gather together and be in a mind set of expecting something great for your family and yourself. All the other activities are there to bring people to spend time with and see each other in a different kind of light. If the amusement park will help mend a family, then why not. Christ is the center of the gathering. For the women to the men to the kids and youth. The Church consists of all of these groups and these gorups need to have their needs met in a way that will cater to them. realize that all denominations make up the Church, but the foundation of the Church is Christ. Just because Jakes did not mention Jesus in the interview does not mean that Jesus is not in it. Realize that he was stating his opinion, but at the same time does not negate his faith in Jesus.

  • There are no answers apart from Christ.

    While we are to live in the world (but not of the world), and do our best to contribute to everyone’s well being, we should never lose focus on the fact this world is enemy territory and Satan must be defeated for true, long lasting solutions.

  • Jay

    These phonies and their prosperity theology. I read through the FAQs. Most of their events are ticketed and about $50 a pop. NO REFUNDS FOR ANY REASON. How much do these people stand to make with their books and dvds? I can only IMAGINE how much itll cost to have Oprah attend. No thanks phony christians.

  • Fantastic interview J. I love his honesty about the Zimmerman case and his passion to help people by using the big screen. Awesome interview of a good man!

  • I cannot believe the new-age hell-bound hippie, Oprah, is going to be apart of this event. It’s just more proof that TD Jakes doesn’t love Jesus and without repentance of his clear and divisive sin, is going to consciously burn in hell for eternity.

    I can only pray that these wretched-prosperity-gospil-sinners actually get Biblical about the family and parenting…”Happy are those who seize your children and smash them against a rock.” Psalms 137:9

  • Thanks, Phil!

  • Adventruth,
    You are so right! Jesus is the answer. And he doesn’t want us coveting what other have. as long as Pastor Jakes is preaching Jesus and he alone is the one who saves, I have no problem with him. I have never been to a Megafest but I have heard that they are sensational. That the services, workshops, and extra-curriculum activities are outstanding.
    Yes, he makes a lot of money but that is not your business. Is he scamming the people? Is he preaching T.D. Jakes? Then leave the man alone. If he is a phony, he will be found out. Until then, keep praising the Lord with him and stop saying one than and wanting other to do something different.
    Show a little kindness and God will get the glory, no matter what others are saying!

  • Jay,
    What evidence you have that T.D.Jakes is a phoney? Is it because the registration fee is $50. When you go to concerts, movies, plays, etc. do you complain about the price? are you a phony Christian, too?

  • Greg,
    There is an old adage that says: It takes one to know one!
    The way you talk means that your prayers get no further than the ceiling. Stop hating on people and sincerely, with an open heart, pray for them.

  • Jakes’ remarks about the Trayvon Martin case, specifically about how Martin’s parents came together during the trial and how well they handled themselves was kind. That they did so while dealing with the tragic loss of their son while under such intense media scrutiny is to be commended. However, Jakes surely knows that Martin’s parents divorced in 1999.

    Surely he knows that Trayvon was living with his father because his mother kicked him out of the house and told him to go live with his father after he was suspended for being caught with a plastic bag with marijuana residue and a marijuana pipe in his possession. Just four months earlier Trayvon was suspended for defacing school property. (

    Jonathan asked a very good question and received a response from Jakes that implies that the Martin family is something it clearly is not. The Trayvon Martin case has been much debated (even here) and continuing that discussion is not my point. Jakes’ poor response to a good question and his failure to “see the bridge between the Trayvon Martin situation and the crisis in the African-American family” is. Jakes’ expressed views of Trayvon Martin and his family is simply disingenuous and conveniently supports a point of view not supported by known facts.

  • Marcus Johnson

    We can debate the merits of MegaFest all day long (I have some serious reservations as well), but a comeback like “Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone is the answer to America’s and the world’s problems,” while a great cliche for a bumper sticker, is a shallow response to a serious problem. Keep in mind that Jesus Christ has been “lifted up from the pulpits” for a long time, in many different church communities across the world, and we still have a pervasive problem with family erosion. This problem has little to do with what is preached, and a lot to do with changing trends in family dynamics, cultural issues, economic issues, etc. While I love some Andrae Crouch, we need to be a lot more specific about how a Christ-inspired approach can create strong families. Gliding over the problem with cliches and hand-picked Bible verses is a Band-Aid over a bullet hole.