This week’s Washington Watch newsmaker is one of the most prominent clergymen in America. Bishop T.D. Jakes leads a 30,000-member congregation as senior pastor and founder of The Potter’s House in Dallas.
MR. MARTIN: Bishop Jakes, certainly welcome and welcome back to “Washington Watch.”
BISHOP T.D. JAKES: It’s a pleasure.
MR. MARTIN: We are four weeks away from the first primary in Iowa, and we have seen a crazy GOP presidential primary thus far. Herman Cain was leading in the polls. He drops out because of allegations of sexual harassment, of having an alleged affair for 13 years. Newt Gingrich [is] now sitting at the top of the polls. We – he has a troubled past himself, multiple marriages, cheating on his wife as well. Folk – I’ve heard people say that because of the economy being the number one issue, a presidential hopeful’s character does not matter.
What do you say to that?
BISHOP JAKES: Oh, I think it absolutely does matter, but I think we need to look at the character of the candidate; but we also need to look at the leadership, because we cannot confuse great character with great leadership. Ideally, we want to have both, but I think sometimes we have a tendency to sensationalize the office of the Presidency and don’t focus enough on bringing the core values of leadership that will move the country forward. Their personal lives should be considered, but – but even beyond that, I think we need to do more scrutiny with their decision-making process, their leadership ability, their adeptness on international affairs, and their strategies.
I’ve been very disappointed throughout the electoral process that we have not focused more on strategic planning, rather than the tabloid is- — aspects of this process.
MR. MARTIN: One of the things that a- — that we have seen in the various presiden- — presidential debates – and I’ve been highly critical [of] – is that most of the GOP candidates have not even discussed in one debate the issue of the poor.
BISHOP JAKES: Um-hum.
MR. MARTIN: It’s come up probably in a couple debates. Former senator Rick Santorum has brought it up. Barely mentioned from Huntsman or – or Cong. Ron Paul. And so as a pastor, when you hear candidates talk about not having any more tax cuts on the rich, talk about the middle class and never even mention the poor, how’s it make you feel?
BISHOP JAKES: I’m very disturbed by it. It – I was disturbed before the economy took the swing that it has taken now, but I’m even more disturbed by it now, because you must realize that that category, of the poor, is growing every day. So, historically, when we talked about the poor, it was “them,” but now it’s “we.” And in light of those realities, the decisions that they’re making about “the poor” – that catch-all phrase” – has now included and encompassed people who were once homeowners who are now living in shelters, who are expelled from the middle class at such a[n] epidemic proportion that that class is growing. And to not have a strategy for that is reprehensible – or, at least not discuss it and let the American people hear how our leaders think.
MR. MARTIN: Newt Gingrich recently said that young folks in schools – we should fire the janitors and have young folks clean the schools up. He’s al- — he’s also said that folks who live in public housing complexes who are poor, they don’t see folks around them who work hard, who have a work ethic. He’s had a lot of criticism for making those comments. Donald Trump has said, “Well, you know, he” – “he’s spoken the truth,” but [that] he’s actually right, even though it was – it was unfair. Others have said, “Wait a minute. You are demonizing poor folks, who are some of the hardest-working folks out there,” but simply having no jobs available is one of the reasons why you see so many folks not having –
BISHOP JAKES: Well –
MR. MARTIN: — not going to work.
BISHOP JAKES: — one of the reasons we hear these kind[s] of statements made is because we write the books that we read. I doubt that Mr. Gingrich knows anybody that lives in a project –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: All right.
BISHOP JAKES: — so –
[AUDIENCE APPLAUSE, LAUGHTER.]
BISHOP JAKES: — in reality – in – in reality, he’s based all of his decisions on stats and figures and – and notes; but when you really start working in the reality, the – working with people in the inner city, you find that there’re a whole lot more complexities than that. To stereotypically say that they’re monolithic means that you really don’t have your hands on the fact[s]. Let’s look at the school systems. Let’s look at the educational systems that prepares them to go out and find a decent job. No, they don’t want to get up in the morning and just sweep the streets. They – they have goals and dreams just like anybody else’s children, and I think there are a myriad of problems that play into some of the reprehensible communities that we have right now; and how do we solve them is far more complicated than a sound bite.
MR. MARTIN: [The] last time we talked, you were very critical of Rev. Franklin Graham for his assault, if you will, on the Christianity of Pres. Obama.
BISHOP JAKES: Yes.
MR. MARTIN: We see right now still some concerns in southern states with GOP hopeful Mitt Romney because he’s a Mormon. What would you say to folks who question whether he should be president because he’s a Mormon?
BISHOP JAKES: The thing that’s amazing to me about it is that the he- — the people who question whether he is legitimately a Christian because he is a Mormon don’t seem concerned about somebody running who is not a Christian at all.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes.
BISHOP JAKES: So, that’s – [chuckles] –
BISHOP JAKES: — that’s really amazing to me. So, that rationale says, “We are more comfortable with having a sinner in a position of leadership than we are a Mormon,” when the Bible says, “Righteousness exhaults a nation, and sin is a reproach to any people.” So, that – that – that’s really concerning to me. And then I really get frustrated, Roland, because we don’t seem to understand that whether we have a Christian in the White House, or a Mormon, or an African-American, or whatever, you cannot be the president of African-Americans, or the president of Christians. You have to be the President of the United States.
BISHOP JAKES: So, what we need – what we need – regardless to the religious perspectives of our president, we need somebody has a global understanding of the needs of the country, who doesn’t just hone [sic] in specifically on one group of people and focus on leading that group of people at the expense of all people, regardless to their religious beliefs or philosophies.
MR. MARTIN: I have talked to a number of pastors across the country who are very concerned with efforts to suppress the vote. There have been efforts in some 40 states for voter I.D. laws. In some states, they are even – they even outlawed voting on Sundays the week before the election. Many believe this is a targeted effort towards African-Americans, towards the young, towards the elderly – many of those people who supported Pres. Obama in 2008. And a number of pastors have been speaking out.
Is it a proper role for pastors to take a stand on these type[s] of issues and to be speaking on political issues from the pulpit in talking to their members?
BISHOP JAKES: Well, those types of political issues, I think every leader needs to weigh in on, because it doesn’t get down to the specificity of who they endorse. It gets down into our electoral process, in general. I don’t think that we should always tell people who they ought to vote for, but we certainly need to make sure that they have equal opportunities – not just pastors, but every leader. And when people question the right of a pastor to speak on a[n] issue, whether he speaks as a pastor or as an American citizen, it’s very important that you understand that being a pastor does not negate the fact that I’m an American citizen. As such, I have a right to have an opinion – just like anybody else.
MR. MARTIN: Just this week – just this week, Pres. Barack Obama was in Kansas, and he was – he gave a speech dealing with this whole issue of inequality in this country, and it was the same place where Pres. Theodore Roosevelt talked about the – the very issue. Your perspective on the populist voice, if you will, that the President has been voicing, showing a lot more anger, if you will, towards Republicans in Congress who have blocked his jobs plan. They’ve also blocked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from going forward. And so the voice that he has been speaking from – do you believe that that’s where he should be speaking from, showing more – sh- — showing more of that anger, that indignation with what’s going on and raising the issue of inequality, when you see that over the past 20 years or so – how [for] those at the top 1 percent, the income has gone up 275 percent; yet, 99 percent to about 40 percent?
BISHOP JAKES: I think righteous indignation always excites people when it comes to leaders. They like to see that kind of image in a leader that’s strong and decisive and makes strong statements and commitments, but in reality, the – the things that we need to be changed will not be changed through righteous indignation. I have had an opportunity to interact with the last three heads of states [sic] in this country, and I really believe each one of them came into the office with ideals and concepts that would change the nation and ran into a system that is archaic in many cases, needs to be overhauled in other cases. And until we change it where the American people are not being manipulated by emotions and phrases, we’re not –
BISHOP JAKES: — going to get our country back. And that – that really concerns me, because the arrogance of the American people is that we – we could not be challenged or taken down. But with our economy as weak as it is, with the dollar declining like it is, with our military base spread as far as it’s been spread, with us lethargic in terms of leadership, and internal corruption – much like we had in the days of Rome – that assumption that we could not run into an enemy that would threaten the principles that we all enjoy has got to be taken realistically. And if it were, we would make the changes in the whole system that is necessary for the 21st century.
MR. MARTIN: You spoke of American arrogance. You travel all across the world. You interact with folks all across the world. When you hear American leaders say, “We are the greatest nation in the history of the world. God blesses us like no other,” that – they talk about American exceptionalism. Is that a proper attitude we should be having? Because critics say, “Wait a minute. You act like no other country matters.”
BISHOP JAKES: Sure.
MR. MARTIN: “You act like God somehow doesn’t bless any other country or people who live anywhere else.”
BISHOP JAKES: First of all, when I grew up, my mother was the prettiest woman in the world. So, people – [chuckles] –
MR. MARTIN: [Chuckles.]
BISHOP JAKES: — you know. So, people have a tendency and a right to be proud of their country and their nation. We need to understand that other people are equally as proud of their nation and their country. But what I look for out of leadership is not inspiration. I can give that on Sunday morning. What I need out of a leader is a practical, pragmatic plan that understands that we’re living in a global society, more now than ever – in part, because of the Internet; in part, because of the globalization of the econ[om]y – the e- — economic structure of our country. Big business has become global. It’s not just American; it’s all over the world. And we need the kinds of leaders who think globally, who can build bonds between us and other countries, and we can bring that allegiance to f- — to really hammer in on areas of conflict. If we – no nation by itself is going to be able to rule the way we once did years ago. It’s going to be the collaboration of many nations, and the ability of our leader to coalesce those nations is paramount.
MR. MARTIN: Well, we are out of time here, but I would say I would much rather see you moderate a debate than Donald Trump.
BISHOP JAKES: [Laughs.]
[AUDIENCE LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE.]
MR. MARTIN: Bishop Jakes, thanks a lot.
BISHOP JAKES: Thank you. Appreciate it.