This week, we saw the election of a new Roman Catholic pope, Francis I. The new pope is 76 years old. He is the former Jorge Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is the first pontiff from Latin America, where today there are over 100 million descendants of African slaves. Africa, itself, is a fast-growing center of Catholicism.
Pope Francis I is known for his appeal to, and concern for, the common man; but by all accounts, his conservative views are very much in line with his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. It remains to be seen what changes he’ll bring to the Catholic Church and how that will affect black Catholics and other Christians here in America and around the world. Bishop T.D. Jakes joined Roland Martin on Washington Watch from Dallas, Texas to discuss this and more.
MR. MARTIN: This week, we saw the election of a new Roman Catholic pope, Francis I. The new pope is 76 years old. He is the former Jorge Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is the first pontiff from Latin America, where today there are over 100 million descendants of African slaves. Africa, itself, is a fast-growing center of Catholicism.
Pope Francis I is known for his appeal to, and concern for, the common man; but by all accounts, his conservative views are very much in line with his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. It remains to be seen what changes he’ll bring to the Catholic Church and how that will affect black Catholics and other Christians here in America and around the world.
Joining us from Dallas, Texas, is one of America’s most prominent religious leaders, Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter’s House, in Dallas.
Bishop, welcome back to “Washington Watch.”
BISHOP T.D. JAKES: Thank you, Roland. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
MR. MARTIN: You know … I want to deal with the Pope first, because it’s very interesting when folks talk about the pageantry surrounding the selection of a pope … following in the footsteps of Peter, if you will. And so what do you believe the relationship … is, or should be, between the Roman Catholic Church and other denominations of the Christian faith? Is there actually commonality there where folks can actually do things together, as opposed to saying, “Well, you’re Catholic. I’m Baptist. You’re Methodist. You’re CME, AME, Church of Christ” – all the different denominations?
BISHOP JAKES: You know, there are many opportunities for ecumenicalism in our society today. There are many outreaches that we have common ground about. I think one of the great mistakes in how we rationalize things in this country currently is that we have a tendency to perpetuate the ideology that we should focus on our differences, rather than to focus on our commonalities. When I think of the Roman Catholic Church and their belief in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, the fact that they serve the poor, the fact that they’re interested in education, there are many things that we can gather around and agree upon. And in the areas that we do have agreement, I think there is great continuity between the Protestants and Catholics as it relates to the betterment of the human species, in general.
MR. MARTIN: I get a kick out of listening to various commentators on other networks talk about, well, the Pope – his views as relates to this social issue and that social issue. I mean it is as if folks have never actually read a bible to understand that religious leaders do take moral stands on issues and are consistent.
And so, as a pastor … you get these questions all the time, as well, whether it’s abortion, homosexuality; whether it’s raising of children; whether it’s contraception. And so how do you, as a pastor – and the Pope has to deal with it as well – get folks to understand that, look, you have a biblical view? And I think I heard you once say, “Where the Bible is silent, so will I [be]. Where the Bible speaks, I follow The Word.”
BISHOP JAKES: Absolutely. I think that our country is very, very wise – the Founding Fathers – when we set up separation between church and state, because the state should be guided by the Constitution. It becomes an overarching umbrella through which all Americans and all people who pay taxes should be represented, and their ideas should be reflected in the process. It is a growing ideology that evolves through the Bill of Rights and other documents whereby we can adjust it to the trends of the times.
But when it comes to the faith movement, our constitution is the Word of God. It is not a growing ideology; it is a very rigid ideology. And so as we follow the Word of God, many, many times it’s going to take us down a different path of the world that we live in; and Jesus said that would be so. But we can have our view without being acrimonious, without being hateful, without being homophobic, without being fearful; and I think that all groups have to examine themselves to see if we really practice what we preach in terms of being tolerant of each other.
MR. MARTIN: You speak of tolerance, and it’s very interesting in this country. We talk about “do the crime, do the time.” Yet, we are not tolerant when it comes to people who have made mistakes, folks who have come out of prison. One of the reasons there’s such a high rate of folks going back is because when they get out of jail, they have few opportunities when it comes to housing, when it comes to jobs, the ability to earn a living. And you and your church have really been involved in trying to say, “Look, you can have a second chance, and we’re going to help you do so.”
How has that gone? What has been the reaction from folks who are in that position, who say, “Look, man, I just need a chance at life”?
BISHOP JAKES: Well, you know, we have a long history, first of all, of working with people who’ve been incarcerated. Many people remember the early years of our woman and our – [unintelligible] – manpower. We put satellite systems into prisons and began to provide spiritual enrichment to the inmates. We also adopt prisons and send in ministers to comfort and develop some support system for people who have [been] incarcerated for years and years and years.
Later, we decided that our best interest and efforts at this point might be placed on those coming out of the penal institutions, particularly in the state of Texas, when we are one of two – California being the other – that has the highest rate of incarceration in the entire United States. When I consider, as an American, that we have more people incarcerated in the U.S. than all the countries around the world combined, somebody needs to go into this harvest field and harvest these people.
Many, many people do not go. There[’re] no offerings to be made. There’s no glory. There’s no glamor. But if you’re looking for great work and people who really need you, this is a harvest field. We developed the Texas Reentry Initiative so that we could help reduce the rate of recidivism and create an atmosphere whereby inmates who come out forlorn; haven’t seen a computer, or a laptop, or an iPad, can acclimate back into society, can find a place that will rent to them.
There’re not many [who] can find somebody who will employ them – and even reintroduce them and reintegrate them back to their own families, because a person who comes out is not always the person who went in. Over 7,000, I think nearly 8,000 people have gone through our program successfully, been trained, been helped and [have] evolved as persons. We do graduation services for them. We celebrate them as they go through the program. The program is rigorous; it takes about a year to complete. It covers everything from how to fill out a resumé to how to get employment to how to get an apartment.
We work with them through the process of re-identifying who you are now in light of what you’ve been through. There’s never been a more effective program. Many state government programs are looking at our program, trying to model it, because we have put so much interest, time and money into developing people who are coming out and lowering the rate of recidivism.
MR. MARTIN: This is a great program. It’s one of the reasons we wanted to feature it. We certainly appreciate it. Thanks a lot.
BISHOP JAKES: Thank you for having me.
MR. MARTIN: Folks, be sure to join us next week, when you’ll meet graduates of this program and hear how they’re successful returning to society.