When Bishop Harry Jackson, chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C., first called up Bishop T.D. Jakes, one of America's favorite and most influential preachers and asked him to be a part of a summit to heal America's racial divide, one of the first emotions Jakes felt was fear.
The senior pastor of The Potter's House megachurch in Dallas, Texas, and New York Times best-selling author says he was afraid because his faith in people at that particular moment on matters of race had grown fragile. America was tense. Protests over controversial police actions in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, were sweeping the country. Jakes just didn't know. What if everything just went wrong?
"My faith in people was so fragile that when Bishop Jackson called me I said, 'Man, I'm scared. If this doesn't go right, I just don't know,'" he confessed during an evening service at his church hours after a diverse coalition of influential pastors and Christian faith leaders had met for the summit called "Healing the Racial Divide" on Thursday night — the birthday of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"I stood on the edge of struggling with losing my faith. Not my faith in God, but my faith in people," Jakes confessed. "I wondered to myself, how long will we cry out and be told we're whining? How long will we offer simple Christian clichés to complicated, complex sociological situations? How long will we major on the minor and be pitted against each other to the demise of a society that desperately needs somebody to speak for them?"
All that wondering stopped for Jakes on Thursday.
"My faith in God never shook but I'm so happy tonight," said Jakes after a powerful and poignant meeting that many who attended saw as progress among faith leaders.
R.A. Vernon, founder and senior pastor of The Word Church in Cleveland, declared: "I almost teared up as I thought to myself, Bishop Jakes mentioned the fact that he had no idea, neither did Harry Jackson that they were planning this on Dr. King's birthday. But might I suggest Bishop Jakes, that was not happenstance or chance, God maneuvered this moment because what other birthday present to give Dr. King than to bring truth to his vision."
"It was Dr. King who said that 'the most segregated hour of the week is the 11 o'clock hour on Sunday morning, and today I sat there and saw not only Bishop Jakes, but Bishop Paul Morton, pastor Tony Evans, John Hagee … and one of our Hispanic homiletic heroes, pastor (Samuel) Rodriguez. I said to myself, this is what heaven is going to look like — all these pastors, beautiful white, black and Hispanic brothers," he added.
An earlier release from the event's organizers had anticipated a crowd of about 75 leaders but Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, who also participated in the meeting, said it was at least twice that figure.
"About 150 to 200 (people)," he estimated. "It was a large crowd."
In that crowd were people like Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Bernice King, CEO of The King Center in Atlanta and daughter of Martin Luther King Jr.; Alveda King, minister, civil rights activist and niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Andrew Young, former congressman and U.N. ambassador.
For Perkins, racial reconciliation had long been a major concern. In 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American President of the United States, Perkins co-authored a book with Bishop Jackson called Personal Faith, Public Policy.
"And one of the issues we talked about was racial reconciliation and how the church has to be at the center of that. Nothing else is going to unify our country and culture," said Perkins.
Racial reconciliation, however, was not a priority for faith leaders at the time, he said. But from what he saw at the gathering on Thursday, faith leaders appear to be thinking about it now.
"Back then there was no sense of urgency. But after Ferguson and after New York, there's a sense of urgency that our nation is coming apart racially and ethnically. And so, that was the genesis behind this gathering and, quite frankly, it was encouraging to see the diversity and the breadth of leaders that came together to discuss this issue, which tells me it is very much at the forefront of concern across racial, denominational and ethnic lines," said Perkins.
The meeting focused on seven "Bridges to Peace" community initiatives namely: reconciliation and prayer forums; education policy reform; community engagement forums; community service and compassion outreaches; personal, marriage and family development; engagement with the criminal justice system; and economic development strategies.
"Underserved communities and minorities needed to see that when our blood runs down the street that the church, not the Latino church, not the black church, I hate those terms anyway, but the blood-washed church … gathering strength together and come and sit down and hear and listen and talk," said Jakes.
"The media for too long has pitted us against each other, divided us for the ratings it could create by the conflict. Appealing to our deepest fears and our greatest woes, and I hated that people I knew casually would learn about my people through the news rather than to walk across the street and have a sandwich," said Jakes.
"But I serve notice on all the forces of hell. Today we walked across the street and we sat down together and we had a conversation that I have never heard before. And every blood-washed born-again spirit-filled child of the King ought to be happy in Jesus tonight. They ought to be shouting for victory tonight," said Jakes.
"You see, I believe that the church could not answer the call to reconcile the world until the church reconciled itself but there is hope in the city tonight, there is joy in the city tonight, there is peace in the city tonight. I want the church to at least be as good as the paramedics are. When the paramedics come, they come without regard to color or culture or language or ethnicity," he said.
Jim Garlow, of Skyline Church in San Diego, California, testified that when he got the invitation to attend the summit the Lord told him to be "silent."
"You don't have any knowledge about what you're about to hear," he said God told him. "Don't you talk, you listen. All of us had microphones in front of us. In the meeting all day today, I never touched it because the Holy Spirit said: 'You be silent. You've come to learn. You don't know about what you're hearing, you listen and you learn from them. That's why I came, I didn't know I was going to be on a microphone tonight at that point. I had no idea, especially standing in front of Bishop T.D. Jakes, the fourth member of the Trinity," he quipped as the audience erupted with laughter.
But it was what he said and did shortly after making that statement that became somewhat of a highlight of the night.
"Bishop Jakes made a statement today. When he said it, I can't describe how it shook me. He said all these years, I've gone, every time pastors call — he was referring to white pastors, when they call I go, when they say come let's gather, I go. I always go. We go, we go, we go. But he said, not 'til this day.' He said, 'I'm 57 years of age,' and he said, 'not 'til this day, have I seen a gathering of white pastors coming to us on this day,'" Garlow recalled.
"And I want to say … Bishop, I want to say to you, we repent of that. I was shocked by that. That's a scandal that should not be permitted to go on, and I want to publicly ask your forgiveness on behalf of people like me — that we did not come to you, you had to wait until this day, this is too long to wait, but we are here, thank you sir," he ended. He then went over to Bishop Jakes and both men embraced in forgiveness.