Rick Wiles, a notorious Jew-hater and far right crackpot is the minister of a right wing anti-Christ "church" in Vero Beach, Florida. Many in his like-minded crackpot congregation are suffering from a recent outbreak of COVID-19, after Wiles told them that vaccinations are part of a global genocide conspiracy against them. Wiles hasn't died yet, but he's sick with COVID as well, begging for prayers instead of what he usually does, begging for cash. "I am not going to be vaccinated," the lunatic preacher raved. "I'm going to be one of the survivors. I'm going to survive the genocide. You and I are witnessing the first global mass murder and it's being led by Satan's team on the planet. You must survive it. Do not be vaccinated."
Today, The Atlantic's Emma Green wrote about a very different kind of mainstream pastor, Jesus-oriented Bishop T.D. Jakes, whose "multi-thousand-member Dallas megachurch, the Potter’s House, is just one part of his platform; he’s recorded gospel albums, starred in television broadcasts, led several popular conference series, and published numerous books, including his latest, Don’t Drop the Mic. But all of that fame couldn’t prepare Jakes for the past year and a half, when his ministry has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic and racial tensions in the United States. Suddenly, he found himself inundated with calls and texts from desperate, grieving families. Meanwhile, he found himself making calls and sending texts to prominent white pastors all over the country who were stumbling through long-overdue conversations with their churches about race. All of this has made Jakes think through his theology, he told me recently. The message of Christianity doesn’t align with 'the contemporary theology of just blessings and gifts and promises,' he said. 'Suffering is center stage to our faith.' This was a stark assessment coming from Jakes: Fairly or not, the pastor is often associated with a gospel of prosperity, which teaches that the faithful will be blessed by God with health and wealth. Jakes told me he’s spent the pandemic flipping through the Bible and reading about earlier times of disease and dying. This is how this feels, he thought."
Here's a piece of Green's interview with Jakes:
Green: Obviously, the pandemic has disproportionately affected poor people, working-class people, people who have essential jobs who have been going to work consistently. I wonder if seeing that unequal impact of the virus has made you think differently about the policies and politics that led us to have such an unequal country.
Jakes: Can I be honest?
Jakes: That’s only a revelation to people who are far removed from it. [Laughs.]
Because the Church is a galvanizing place of all classes of people, this is something that we’re confronted with every week. It is amazing to me that we can live in the same city and have two completely different experiences. You can kind of be willfully blind to the pain of the people who are in your own city and have ladies’ meetings and come together to solve poverty around the world and not think a thing about poverty right in your own city.
Green: You know, when I hear you say that, I can’t help but hear an implication about the way certain other Christians-- maybe white Christians in particular-- live, with a kind of international orientation toward helping kids in Africa but not caring that much about helping people who are their neighbors in their own city. Am I hearing you right?
Jakes: [Laughs.] I think that’s true in some cases, but I don’t think that they are a monolith. I’ve met pastors who cared, and who have joined hands and tried to help and serve, and who were first responders in times of crisis. But by and large, it makes people uncomfortable to look at complicated problems. And the problems in underserved communities are complicated by poor education, poor access to medical care, crime, and the distance in culture. As a whole, I think white evangelicals lost sight of “What would Jesus do?” because they only define Jesus in very narrow terms.
Green: Well, you’re going to have to say a little bit more about that.
Jakes: [Laughs.] I think that social issues define the spaces where faith and politics and society intertwine-- Roe v. Wade and same-gender-loving people. [White evangelicals] don’t always put the same level of weight on the poor, the disenfranchised, or criminal-justice problems. They don’t see that as important.
Green: Just to be clear, I take it that theologically speaking, you might not disagree with, say, a conservative Southern Baptist pastor on abortion or same-sex marriage. But you’re saying that there’s a difference in emphasis.
Jakes: Yes, there’s a great deal of difference-- you’re exactly right. There’s a great deal of difference in emphasis.
To raise the concern for the unborn above the born-- to fight for the life in the womb and not in the prison or in the school systems-- if life is valuable, then after the mother pushes out the baby, that life should still be that valuable.
Green: At least at the margins, President Trump picked up support in 2020 from Latino communities and Black people, especially among men. I wonder if you saw that in your community.
Jakes: You know, I think it’s an oversimplification to think that color dictates the way we think or vote. Black people as a whole tend to be conservative on certain issues.
Still, I was as surprised as the rest of the nation about the inroads he made among Black males.
Green: One of your mentees, Paula White, was one of President Trump’s most prominent faith advisers and supporters. I wonder what you thought of that.
Jakes: Well, I mean, first of all, I wouldn’t describe her as a mentee. She had had years of ministry experience before she met me. During the period when she was working closely with me, President Trump wasn’t an issue. And by the time she had moved into that area, I don’t think that she really considered herself a mentee of mine. We certainly still have an amiable relationship, but our views on politics are certainly different. And she knows that.
Green: Did you all talk about President Trump?
Jakes: I haven’t talked to her in quite a while. I mean, she got pretty busy. And I was pretty busy.
Let me be clear: She knows that our views about politics are very different. But you know, I don’t think that we should stop talking to people because we disagree. I think that’s the problem in our country right now: We’ve become tribalistic. Everybody who disagrees with anybody is demonized.
The only real hope we have as a people is to talk to people who are different. And I honestly, earnestly believe that we can have civil dialogue without demonizing people for their views and saying “Because you don’t agree with me, you’re evil.”
Green: I wonder if you’ve sensed more of an openness among white pastors-- who, maybe even a few years ago, would have avoided tough conversations on race-- to have those kinds of conversations.
Jakes: Where I’ve tried to focus is on the white pastors who spoke out and tried to say something positive that was misunderstood. And I literally got on the phone with some of them and encouraged them to keep talking. Their immediate reaction was “I got it wrong; I’m not going to broach that subject again. I’m going to stay away from it. I’m just not going to talk about it.” And if we do that, we’ll never get better. We have to keep talking.
Green: Can you tell me who that was, who you called up?
Jakes: I knew you were going to ask me that. I can’t divulge that-- I think that would be unethical. But I can say it was several.
The reason I did it is because they were hurt. They were wounded. They didn’t really mean to enrage people who were already enraged. They were trying to fix it, and they didn’t have the language to communicate across the board. When you come up speaking to a congregation where the amens come free and you start speaking to a global audience, there are people who feel just as strongly in the opposite direction.
Green: I think the question of how people react to certain language really matters. I’ve noticed, in these conversations happening in the past year or so about race and the Church, that some very conservative white Christians are willing to say “I believe Black lives matter” but then explicitly distance themselves from Black Lives Matter, the organization, or any kind of political action. Why do you think there’s so much hedging in conversations about race in the Church?
Jakes: I think the peaceful demonstrations that took place about George Floyd and Black Lives Matter were extremely gratifying because I remember the civil-rights movement. You did not see a lot of white people marching with Black people in the streets. This time, you saw, sometimes, more white people marching than Black people. I think we need to pause and underscore how far we’ve come, that we could see crowds of people who chose not to be blind, who do care, who did march and wrote pieces and did things that were positive. That, to me, is the big story.
Well, positive energy may be the big story for Jakes, but across the country, a satanic and anti-Jesus cult, QAnon, is becoming dominant in white evangelical churches in backward Republican areas. As Mike Allen put it this morning at Axios, "QAnon conspiracy theories have burrowed so deeply into American churches that pastors are expressing alarm-- and a new poll shows the bogus teachings have become as widespread as some denominations. The problem with misinformation and disinformation is that people-- lots of people-- believe it. And they don't believe reality coming from the media and even their ministers. Dr. Russell Moore, one of America's most respected evangelical Christian thinkers, told me he's 'talking literally every day to pastors, of virtually every denomination, who are exhausted by these theories blowing through their churches or communities. Several pastors told me that they once had to talk to parents dismayed about the un-Christian beliefs of their grown children," Moore added. But now, the tables have turned."