By Bishop T.D. Jakes
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Bishop T.D. Jakes is founder and senior pastor of The Potter's House of Dallas, a multiracial, nondenominational church with more than 50 outreach ministries. A best-selling author, Jakes was named "America's Best Preacher" by Time Magazine.
DALLAS, Texas (CNN) -- Members of the black clergy face a challenge in the upcoming political season to refrain from being used by any political party or ideological agenda to further their aims at the expense of the critical issues facing our communities.
As we approach the midterm congressional elections, poverty -- at home and abroad; economic and educational parity -- or the lack thereof; voting rights and accessibility; reconstruction of the Gulf Coast; and the war in Iraq are all critical issues that African-Americans should consider as we head to the ballot box.
Overcoming many of the existing challenges African-Americans face can be achieved with a plan that encourages a more cohesive community relationship and the spawning of entrepreneurial endeavors and business initiatives, including investments and a thoroughly considered community development initiative.
Many people share these concerns and as a Christian leader committed to the equality of all people and the betterment of people of color, I believe that from the most secluded country church to the largest megachurch, the black church as a corporate body has and will play a vital role in the attainment of these aspirations.
I do not believe that African-American ministers should allow their political views to dictate the subjects and tone of their sermons. Some believe their calling is to consistently petition society to address its role in depriving African-Americans of the full benefits of citizenship. Others believe they are called to inform, encourage, coax and propel people of color to provide for themselves, shape their own reality and build institutions to better their communities.
Though the black community was served well by ministers who doubled as political leaders in an era when the pulpit was often our only podium, today, the African-American community is no longer limited to the pulpit as our primary lecture post. We now have thousands of African-American politicians elected to serve our interests, nonprofit leaders funded to lead our communal efforts and academics educated to research our options, and convey their findings to the world.
Just as the black community is not monolithic in its religious choices, personal opinions, or political affiliations, the black clergy is not limited in its sermonic topics to one perspective. Enforcing unanimity of voices is a dangerous proposition.
Throughout our history, various voices have served our communities well simultaneously. Booker T. Washington shared the public spotlight with W.E.B. DuBois. Ida B. Wells worked against the lynching of black men, while Mary Church Terrell worked on behalf of black women. Martin Luther King Jr.'s voice calling for nonviolent integration echoed alongside that of Malcolm X demanding freedom to do for self by any means necessary. As it is in all American communities, no one person or perspective speaks for all African-Americans.
If we as African-American ministers allow anyone to script our sermons for us, where will it end? I respect each minister's views and recognize his right to tout them, but it is dangerous to try to force all members of any group to align themselves with anyone's viewpoints, including my own. Each of us must answer the call that he or she receives from God, not the direction of any man.
In the final analysis, no singular approach will end America's most pressing problems. Rather, a multiple approach that includes direct assistance, personal empowerment lessons and self-help initiatives as well as speeches, marches and organized resistance, will help to dismantle the political and civic structures working against us. We are better together than we are apart.
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer. This article is part of a series of occasional opinion pieces on CNN.com that offer a broad range of perspectives that express a variety of thoughts and points of view.
CNN.com asked readers for their thoughts on Bishop T.D. Jakes' commentary. We received a lot of excellent responses. Below you will find a small selection of those e-mails, some of which have been edited for length and spelling.
No one party, person or group can speak for the whole African-American race or culture. I equally agree that we no longer need the church pulpit to voice our political interest. We used what means we had for that particular time in our history. That was then and this is now.
While I have great respect Bishop Jakes and the ministries he has founded, I am a little troubled by his repeated references to "the black church." Being from Mississippi, I certainly understand that there are churches where the entire congregation is black, just as there are entirely white congregations. In my opinion, however, this is a status quo relic that serves only to perpetuate the very division that both the "black church" and the "white church" so eagerly preach against.
Bishop Jakes is correct. Politics should not be discussed in the pulpit. The last presidential election was discussed every Sunday at my church. It made me feel uncomfortable. I have the right to vote who I want to.
Ministers, especially those that are African-American, have the responsibility to educate those to whom they preach. Sometimes it is impossible to preach a sermon without using ideas from the political landscape in the United States. Many of the problems the African-American community face involves politics. Thus, I do not understand why there is so much opposition in this area. We must begin to face obstacles head on instead of pacifying our communities with so much rhetoric. If ministers do not accept the challenge, who will?
What a refreshing commentary! I totally agree! No minister in any church should let any political or ideological agenda take their attention away from issues that need to be addressed in their communities. Ministers can more effectively serve their congregations if they keep politics out of it. You don't need political points of view crowding out what the church needs to do.
Bishop T.D. Jakes comments are precisely what the white establishment wants to hear. They want to hear about lack of consensus in the African-American communities. They have fostered it in the past and will do so in the future. Unless African-Americans unite in one voice as they did in the 1960s and 1970s, nothing will be accomplished.
As a white reader of this excellent commentary, I could only wish that it were also aimed at white clergy as well. In fact, it would probably be good if it referred to all clerics of whatever religious persuasion. It would be well for all of us to remember that if anyone on earth has the answers to everything, the odds are six billion-to-one against it being any one person in particular -- myself included.
As an African-American pastor, I think that a part of my duty is to make sure that the membership is duly informed. We must realize that the devil is still subtle and still seeking whom he may devour. We preachers should not just stand by and allow others to speak as if we have no voice. The church should be the change agent for the world.
Thank you Bishop for keeping it real. I am a member of The Potter's House and can say that no one political view is ever forced upon the congregation. Yes, united we stand, but it is always up to the individual to make their own choice.
With all due respesct to the good Bishop, we live in a society where the religious right predominates the political arena. Indeed, their political dominance is such that many question whether this administration has adopted theocracy as its model of government. I do not take up that point, but I mention it because what Bishop Jakes suggests is nothing short of laying down arms while the battle rages around us.
Bishop T.D. Jakes, pictured here in his Potter's House church, would like to see fewer black preachers involved in partisan politics.