"Replate 1A." That was a favorite dry reaction at my old newspaper whenever someone announced something obvious, as if were front-page news.
That's what I said when the Hollywood Reporter labeled T.D. Jakes as "a man of God who admits he has wrestled with doubt." Clearly, the reporter hasn't read Pope Francis or the Dalai Lama, let alone St. Paul or the prophet Elijah.
It's one "revelation" of the Reporter's lengthy profile on the Dallas-based author, pastor and filmmaker. The 2,200+ word story reads like a rambling patchwork of bio, indepth, newsfeature and inside baseball.
In the process, it veers among trade savvy, admiration and more interest in Jakes' business side than his spiritual side. But at least it seems to get the facts right. Mostly.
It trips up, predictably, on the matter of homosexuality. And it seems to want to make Jakes sound more like a diplomat than a minister.
The Reporter's reporter extravagantly calls him a "towering figure in the evangelical world" -- indeed, a "6-foot-3, 250-pound giant whose low, rumbling voice only adds to his gravitas." But he softens that with a closer look:
In person, as I discover when we sit in Jakes' windowless office suite the day after the ceremony, he is a gentle man whose style is more considerate than commanding. He has the faintest hint of a lisp, which softens his powerful appearance.
The article reports extensively on Jakes' multi-sided ministry, starting with an enthusiastic look at his Potter's House megachurch. There's a wrenching but happy-ending anecdote as a former inmate tells congregants how her life turned around. Perhaps a bit too enthusiastic, with phrases like "Waves of emotion course through them."
We trot through Jakes' books and TV appearances, but this being the Hollywood Reporter, we're quickly directed to his four films and his upcoming movie Heaven Is for Real. The story also mentions his friendships with "an armada of celebrities, from Tyler Perry to Oprah Winfrey."
There's a brief bobble as the story says The Passion of the Christ "resurrected the religious movie." That ignores earlier releases like 1998's Prince of Egypt and 2003's The Gospel of John. It also doesn't account for the lack of subsequent films in the supposed revival.
The Reporter then delivers a heavy six paragraphs of biographical material, going back to his janitor father dying when Jakes was 16. We follow his success as a pastor in Charleston, W.Va., then his fateful decision to move to Dallas with its big-city problems.
Here, the story seems to blame that move for exposing his children to urban vices: first his daughter's unwed pregnancy, then his son's alleged experimentation with homosexuality. And here is where the narrative begins to wobble:
In 2009, he discovered his son Jermaine had been arrested for allegedly exposing himself to an undercover male officer. Back then, Jakes was circumspect in his comments about his son's possible homosexuality; today he is bolder. "In a world where we all have to live together, I think everybody has a right to pursue their own life and their own beliefs and their own passions," he says, "and that's what makes this country great."
Um, howso? Up to now, the article has said nothing on Jakes' beliefs about homosexuality. And if the direct quote shows his boldness, how did his circumspectness sound?
Yet the article goes on to say that Jakes has critics "slinging arrows from the left and the right" on a wide swath of topics -- including being accused of "hostility to homosexuals."
Jakes did, in fact, speak frankly on the topic in a 2012 interview on Oprah's Next Chapter:
"I think that sex between two people of the same sex is condemned in the Scriptures, and as long as it is condemned in the Scriptures, I don't get to say what I think. I get to say what the Bible says," Jakes said.
He also denied that his stance amounted to hate or homophobia:
"I'm not called to give my opinion. I'm called as a pastor to give the scriptural position on it. Doesn't mean that I have to agree with you to love you. I don't dislike anybody. I love everybody."
Has Jakes shifted on homosexuality since then, as the Reporter hints? The sitdown interview would have been a good time to ask. But no, the story simply lets him say that "Age makes you change your worldview" on a range of topics including marriage. "And not only is the country evolving, I'm evolving in my thinking and process."
By now it sounds like the Reporter preferred to keep it vague for the sake of the theme, of a rare man of God who can live with paradox:
His ability to combine the secular and the religious is just one aspect of his complexity; he is a man of God who admits he has wrestled with doubt, a thinker who exists in action, a bear of a man whose most salient characteristic is his sensitivity. Unlike so many of his peers, he admits he's in flux.
Sure he is. We all are, whether we know it or not. But Jakes teaches something about homosexuality right now. What is it?
Secular reporters can be forgiven for stepping gingerly in moral and spiritual territories. But once they raise a question, they should press for an answer. Not assume the obvious.