This blog explores and examines the intersections of rhetoric, race, and religion.
Thursday, May 8, 2014
The Wal-Martization of African American Religion: T.D. Jakes and Woman Thou Art Loosed
by Paula McGee, Claremont University
This dissertation is an ideological critique of the New Black Church model of ministry, with T.D. Jakes and Woman Thou Art Loosed (WTAL) as a case study. T.D. Jakes is an African American televangelist who pastors The Potter’s House, a supermegachurch in Dallas, Texas. He is the quintessential example of a New Black Church pastor—a religious entrepreneur with several successful faith brands. WTAL is by far his most successful brand. Unashamed of his capitalist success, with an empire estimated to be worth $100 million dollars, Jakes says that it is occupational discrimination for him not to reap the benefits of the American dream. This dissertation identifies what has happened to the brand and Jakes’s ministry as “the Wal-Martization of African American Religion.” As a theoretical concept, Wal-Martization speaks to both the ideology and process that explains the generational differences between the New Black Church and the Black Church. It also is indicative of the branding and storytelling at every level of representation of the New Black Church.
Jakes and New Black Church pastors are successful because they blur the lines between sacred and secular when they combine their vocations of pastor and entrepreneur. In this dissertation, I propose a cultural studies approach and a two-fold theological method for scholars to study these popular preachers. The method combines James McClendon’s Biography as Theology and Paul Tillich’s definitions of theology and theological norm from Systematic Theology. The method is a collaborative effort between the academic theologian and preacher. The scholar uses Biography as Theology to study the preacher (Jakes), and the second part of the method, Brand as Theology and Theological Norm, is where the scholar uses qualitative research methods to study the brand (WTAL).
I define theologies of prosperity as contextual theologies of empire on a continuum that affirm it is God’s will and a believer’s right to obtain health and wealth by using Scripture and rituals like seed-faith giving and positive confession. Because these popular preachers offer adherents existential explanations for suffering (health and wealth), and prescriptions for liberation, I describe theologies of prosperity as theodicy and contemporary liberation theology. However, unlike traditional liberation theologies, these theologies do not have a preferential option for the poor. Instead, Jakes and other New Black Church pastors only offer adherents a pseudo-liberation. In essence, the stories of liberation that Bishop Jakes tells in his brands do not actually empower women, ideologically these stories only encourage women to stay loyal to his brand, become covenant ministry partners, and to buy more products. Jakes and New Black Church pastors are from the Second Gilded Age, they encourage women to pursue individual success within an oppressive system. Similar to Russell Conwell and other celebrity clerics from the First Gilded Age, Jakes and these pastors inadvertently blame the victims for their poverty and for not reaping the benefits of the American Dream, which according to prosperity preachers is available to all.