Before his interview on HuffPost Live with Marc Lamont Hill, the longest time I can recall listening to T.D. Jakes speak was during a recent episode of Braxton Family Values. And yet I found myself somewhat impressed by how he toed the line with respect to reconciling his place as a member of the clergy with the Supreme Court’s decision that made marriage equality a reality nationwide. As previously reported, the conversation started when Hill fed the Potter’s House pastor a viewer question: “Do you think the black community and the LGBT community can coexist?”
Jakes’ answer was thoughtful and nuanced and reflected one key truth I wish more Americans—Christian and otherwise—were more aware of: The United States is not a Christian nation.
So in response to that inquiring mind wondering how WWJD and LGBT mesh together, Jakes noted that “public policy does not reflect biblical ethics.” It's a point Jakes first shared in a sermon in June following the Supreme Court’s announcement. Yes, one might imagine that the comment “the world being the world and the church being the church” may have been eye-roll-inducing, but what followed was what mattered most.
“The Supreme Court is there to make a decision on constitutional rights and legalities that fit all Americans; they are not debating Scripture,” Jakes told his congregation and, once again, HuffPost Live viewers. It’s a lesson a bakery owner just learned after the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that his family bakery cannot refuse to make cakes for same-sex couples. There are your beliefs and there is the law of the republic in which you live.
For some reason—be it earwax buildup, lack of ability to properly comprehend words being said or some combination of the two—many misconstrued Jakes’ remarks. Some took Jakes’ words as an endorsement of marriage equality. In response, Jakes released a statement, both on Facebook and to the site that initially played the role of spin doctor.
On Facebook, Jakes said, “I have come to respect that I can’t force my beliefs on others by controlling public policy for taxpayers and other U.S. citizens.” Moreover, he added, “Jesus never sought to change the world through public policy but rather through personal transformation.”
Even in the interview, regarding whether Christians collectively will come to let go of stigmas attached to same-sex relationships, just as they evolved on slavery (justified throughout the Bible), Jakes said perhaps, but “the argument has to be theological, not sociological.” There are plenty of Christians already having this argument. The same can be said of Islam, most notably in a New York Times op-ed titled, “What Does Islam Say About Being Gay?”
It is an argument worth having. In the meantime, though, whatever you believe as far as same-sex marriage goes, in this country it is determined by interpretation of the Constitution, not the Old or New Testament. That is what Jakes was stressing, and it’s an important sentiment to stress. Jakes even went one step further, making clear not to paint all gays or all Christians under one broad stroke, advising LGBT members of faith to seek a church that would be more accommodating to them. As in, while Jakes has “evolved” and professes to be still “evolving,” one can go find Christian fellowship in a place that’s already there.
Even with clarification, some still do not see this as enough. That reminds me of another point Jakes made: When someone does not agree with our stance on a social issue, “we have a derogatory name to call you” and that “oversimplifies the complexity” of a very complex issue. I do not believe Jakes deserves a medal for common decency and basic understanding of how government actually works, but I do find the notion that he is “homophobic” and “bigoted” for this interview to be hyperbolic and unfair.
Many like to pile on “the black church” as a hot bed of homophobia (FYI: a farcical notion), but Jakes echoes the words of that really nice man who smiles a lot, Joel Osteen, and, if anything, goes one step further. In fact, far further than any pastor of a white mega-church. Jakes certainly isn’t shifting anti-gay rhetoric into countries like Uganda to deadly effect the way white pastors like Rick “All Lives Matter to God” Warren has been known to do. Jakes is making more effort than many of his contemporaries with comparable platforms.
It is my belief that the number of biblical literalists of convenience who cite Scripture to justify their anti-LGBT outlook will dramatically decrease with time. Until that happens, there needs to be respect for all people and the law. That’s what Jakes pushed for, and while it’s not the finish line many want, it’s progress all the same.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.