We know her as the wife of Bishop T.D. Jakes, the gifted pastor, orator, best-selling author, successful movie producer, and the founder and spiritual leader of the Potter’s House ministries in Dallas, Texas. Yet, to simply identify first lady Serita Jakes as “the wife of” someone famous would be a big mistake.
She is so much more.
She describes herself as “witty, funny, real, caring, and giving” and she says she is “an introverted person who has been placed in an extroverted world!” And she is ready to take her place in that world in a new way that will allow her to be both creative and transparent at once.
Make no mistake, she is indeed a proud wife and life partner to Bishop Jakes, and a proud mother of five adult children. She is an oasis of comfort and support to the tens of thousands of parishioner’s at Potter House. And she has inspired millions of women around the globe through her healing ministry.
Yet, there is another side to this woman of God. She has nurtured her family, helped her husband build his ministry, served her fellow man, and now she is redefining herself; she is shifting her attention to all of those things she has wanted to pursue since she was a child: Writing compelling fiction (her first two books were non-fiction), teaching women how to be transparent so that they can achieve their true life destinies, acting in movies as well as on stage, and lastly she is a woman with a deep well of wisdom who is showing others that at whatever stage in life they may find themselves it is never too late to have a life and never too late to change one.
theGrio had a wide-ranging interview with Mrs. Jakes earlier this week and we covered many topics from her new fiction book, The Crossing to whether or not the black church is in crisis, the Penn State sex abuse scandal and how we can better protect our children in this fast paced culture of stressed out, busy adults.
theGrio: Tell us about Serita Jakes, who is she, how has she evolved and redefined her life?
Lady Jakes: Most people know that I started from very meager beginnings in West Virginia as a coal miner’s daughter. I was raised by my aunt and uncle, because my parents were too poor to afford to raise us. I saw them mostly on weekends. my aunt and uncle had a tumultuous, abusive relationship with one another. So I learned to tune out and delve into my creative side. I took an interest in drama — not in being a drama Queen (laughs), but I have a flare for the dramatic.
Thirty years later, [My husband and I] have built an incredible ministry, my children are all grown and I am ready to bring that creative side of me to life in new and meaningful ways. I have evolved from a very maternal figure in our church to the rebranding and redefinition of Serita Jakes — taking on a new role that is very unique to me, I have my own wings now and I plan to soar.
That is why my first fiction book, The Crossing is so special to me. I am a risk-taker. I am transparent. These two virtues on display in my life, I hope will help other women to reach their full potential and achieve their dreams. We all have our closets, our skeletons, we all have things in our past that scare us, we all have things that make us think that our dreams won’t be realized and so with that, I’ve learned to embrace my own scars and share them as needed, particularly with the younger generation so they can understand I did not get to this place without trail, tribulation, scars and struggles to overcome.
We need young women to embrace their whole lives, not just the good parts. Through our scars and our stars, we need to become living letters that men can read every day.
Tell us about your new book, The Crossing. Why this book, why fiction, why now? What are you hoping to share with us, make us think about?
You know, my new book is really sequential from my first book, The Princess Within, which talked about my growing up, my marriage, my coming of age; it was a diary of who I was. My second book, Beside Every Good Man: Loving Myself While Standing By Him talks about my relationship with the men in my life, including my husband, that book also reinforced who I am as a woman.
The Crossing, although fictional, is a compilation of experiences that allowed me to create these characters — it gave me a vehicle that allowed me to explore domestic violence, or [other] things that have happened in Biblical counseling sessions, people having marital issues, addiction issues, it was just an opportunity to open up even more what I think about things and the reality of what happens even in Christendom.
We like to think that once we have embraced our religious upbringing fully, that everything falls in place and that is simply not true. Everybody does not have a happy ending in life, even those in Christ. But we can always have hope, have faith, and share our story. We have developed this “pie in the sky” attitude that once we are “saved” all will go smoothly. That is not reality.
The Crossing is metaphorical in that it is a “crossroads” moment in what begins with young people that have a traumatic event happen to them as seniors in high school that stays with them, and comes up again in their adulthood. The point of the book is to encourage us to be transparent with our true selves. It deals with issues of pride, how we hide our frailties because we want others to see us as perfect. I wrote it because I am a pastor’s wife and because I have babies of my own, and because I interact daily with families, parents, teens and hurt people.
The takeaway that I hope people get is that it is a mistake for people to think that just because we have been divinely called that we should be called divine. Those who are called have to become more humble, more transparent instead of covering and hiding. I want people to overcome fear. The fear of rejection, the fear of acceptance, and embrace the fact that the only being that knows all about us and loves us still is the Lord. So what begins at the crossroads of life ultimately ends at the cross.
What is it like being Mrs. T.D. Jakes? You have been married for 30 years? Give our young sisters some wisdom and guidance on marriage — how to make it work in such a different time. Does marriage still matter? And do you think president and Mrs. Obama set a good example of marriage in our modern time?
My husband and I are friends. We started that way. We take our vows seriously — we have seen our vows tested, in sickness, loss, poverty, you name it. You have to learn to read it each other, update each other in the seasons of your relationship. I like my husband as a person — I love him, but I like him. I married the man, who occupationally happens to be a bishop. I am delighted to be married to the man, and pleased to serve the Bishop. The most stressful times for us were when we were financially challenged, for sure. But we were never emotionally separated. We have held on to one another. We’ve come through having no water, no lights, no food…. He is my man, and my Pastor.
To your second question, of course marriage still matters if you want to commit to one person for a lifetime. Marriage may not be for everyone — everyone’s marriage is uniquely different, just as fingerprints are different. As for president and Mrs. Obama, their impact on our young people is incredible – irreplaceable — nothing has encouraged our young adults more than the presidency and marriage of president and Mrs. Obama.
Has the black church lost credibility with younger people, and is that reflected in the numbers of young people in the pews? Do the various scandals like the Eddie Long scandal in Atlanta impact the black church’s ability to reach out to young people and gain their parents’ trust?
The relevancy of the church has dwindled because our focus has often been on the wrong things; things like leadership and the size of our churches versus keeping our focus on Jesus.
The church must get back to looking to God/Jesus as our model, versus men. Church is about unconditional love as God loves us. The Bible tells us that we need to train our young people up in the way they should go. It saddens me to know we have taken our eyes off of our great Leader Christ, and turned that over to flawed humans.
These leaders are being called divine when they are human. Disappointment is sure to follow and all we can do is apologize, and try to do better. But most importantly if we are to rebuild interest and trust in the church, it needs to offer a place of sanctuary and healing to its leaders when they fail. Yes, we need to hold them accountable when they fail. But we don’t allow them to be transparent. We have set our preachers up as Gods and they are not. They are human. We have to let our shepherds bleed, [but] when they go to find sheep and bramble, they get thorns.
It is lonely being a pastor or a pastor’s wife. You are supposed to be the opiate of Christendom, be the example. Leaders have to show people their wounds. Even Jesus had to show his wounds in his hands before the disciples believed it was him. The way to restore trust is for us to renew our focus on God and not men.
Should the church stay out of politics? Does getting politically involved pollute the message?
My short answer is that we at Potter’s House don’t preach politics from the pulpit. Political statements from the pulpit can jeopardize 501c3 [tax] status and more importantly credibility, with your flock. People come to church to be guided spiritually, not politically. We certainly need to tell our people to vote, to support candidates that they choose, and to exercise their rights. But people come to hear the gospel. They want help. They need ministry. Potter’s House is a stew that feeds people. That is the message we want to keep pure above all else.
Finally, Mrs. Jakes what are your thoughts on Penn State, and the Coach Sandusky scandal? How can we better protect our children if we can’t trust them with the coaches, teachers, or in some cases, the pastor or priests?
I think we have to look at the culture. Parentally, we have to be better guardians; we have to be intellectually curious when our kids throw up warning signs about adults with whom we have entrusted their care. This is a tough economy, on families and single moms who are increasingly turning kids over to coaches and youth organizations, to keep them off the streets. Unfortunately these people — many of them — are wounded physicians themselves.
We have to watch for signs of kids acting out, grades drop[ping], behavioral changes… Read the cues. Listen to our kids. Be more discerning. Parental responsibility is what we need to cover our kids better and protect them. We have to be better guardians, [and] stop being so busy. We have to get back to raising our kids. Children are a gift and they should be treated as such.