Bishop T. D. Jakes is the preacher who speaks to women.
Jakes, who was featured this weekend at the National Women's Conference at the Baltimore Convention Center sponsored by the Prince George's County-based Evangel Church, is riding a wave of popularity that started with a Sunday school lesson entitled, "Woman, Thou Art Loosed!"
That humble beginning has taken him in five years from a Charleston, W.Va. church to a ministry based at a 10,000-member congregation in Dallas that includes speaking engagements in arenas throughout the country and millions of dollars in book, video and cassette tape royalties.
"He is the man God has raised up in this hour to heal the hurts caused by men," said Sylvia McMorris of Mitchellville, who cried for hours after she first heard Jakes speak several years ago. "I needed to hear a male voice acknowledge the pain that I've suffered. It was like an answer to my prayers."
Jakes, a 40-year-old father of five children, describes the thrust of his ministry as healing hurting people. "I think I'm especially called to minister to pain," he said.
It was that message that brought women to their feet Friday night and yesterday morning, shouting "Amen," clapping their hands or waving outstretched arms, some jumping up and down as Jakes' cadence rose and fell. Helping women identify the pain in their lives enables them to let it go, he said.
"If I catch you at a certain cycle of your life and speak something into your life, it can wound you because you are more open and you are more vulnerable and you are more susceptible," he said at yesterday's prayer breakfast, pacing the convention center stage with a cordless microphone.
"So if I walk up to you and tell you that you are ugly and you are stupid and you'll never be anything, at one moment it wouldn't affect you because you are closed and you are prepared and you say I'm not thinking about you.
"But if I inject that seed in you at the right time, it will wound you and cripple you and low self-esteem will begin to be carried secretly in the womb of your spirit. You have to understand that when it comes to negative thoughts that are planted in the womb of your spirit, you have to go through a cleansing, you have to go through an aborting process, you have to eject those things that have attached themselves to the womb of your heart and command the devil in the name of Jesus that you refuse to give life to something that's killing you!"
That message echoes the one in "Woman, Thou Art Loosed!" which contends that women carry the scars of emotional wounds of sexual, physical or psychological abuse at the hands of the men in their lives.
Jakes, who was born in West Charleston, W.Va., began preaching at age 23 at a 10-member storefront church in nearby Montgomery. He recalled in an interview that his father, who owned a janitorial business, was often sick with kidney disease as Jakes grew up, which he believes sensitized him to people in pain.
"I grew up around my father's illness," he said. "I grew up climbing into bed shaving him and geting down on the floor helping my mom run his kidney machine and mopping up blood at 2 in the morning when something would back up in the machine."
By 1992, Jakes had moved his Greater Emanuel Temple of Faith church to Charleston, and membership had increased to more than 300 members. About this time, he hit on the idea of the "Woman, Thou Art Loosed!" Sunday school sermon during a discussion with his wife, Serita.
"I noticed so many of the women I was counseling had similar problems," he said. "And I thought, rather than to meet with them one at a time, maybe I could bring them all together and just share my heart with them and do what I now call mass counseling."
He said that instead of focusing on the good feeling some churches emphasized, he simply allowed women, and later men who were curious about his message, to acknowledge pain in their lives.
"When I gave them the permission to discover what drove them to church, they flooded me," he said. "I didn't say anything to them that a good father wouldn't say to his daughters."
That sermon turned into a book of the same title, with rose-scented pages, which has sold 200,000 copies and was the third best-selling Christian book last year, according to the Christian Bookstore Association. There have also been video and cassette spinoffs and other books.
Jakes, a Pentecostal minister, who is a bishop in the Ohio-based Higher Ground Always Abounding Assemblies, is featured on the television show "Get Ready with T. D. Jakes" that airs on Black Entertainment Television and the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Jakes' success brought him wealth that raised eyebrows in Charleston and in Dallas, where he moved last year and established the Potter's House in a $3.2 million church facility.
No vow of poverty
Jakes bristles at the notion that a minister can't be affluent.