Many Kenyans were irked after American Bishop T.D Jakes use the N-word in a sermon in Dallas, USA. The clip that went viral was drawn from a section of a sermon where Jakes criticizes the materialistic lifestyle of the pastors in a new reality hit series ‘The Preachers of L. A” which he dismissed as junk TV. To distance himself from the hyped cast of prosperity pastors, Bishop T.D Jakes emphasized that “The natives all over Kenya drink water because of this ministry. And the hospital in Nairobi survives because of this ministry”. That statement rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Who are you calling native? That word conjures some of the most demeaning colonial era stereotypes that successive generations of Kenyans have had to bear.
As expected, #KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) reaction was quick and furious. T.D Jakes retraced and apologized probably baffled by the ‘natives’ enlightened presence online. The statement had all the highlights of the 1st World superiority complex. Africans continue to be identified by their most negative national characteristics and the sweeping statement was not going to be taken lying down.
Often for many African American celebrity figures, going back to Africa has become a euphemism for disease, ignorance, poverty and corruption. For a generation of Kenyans who have lived to witness an American of Kenyan descent rise to become the president of the US, it becomes personal.
The internet has flattened the world and Kenyans are challenging perceived stereotypes. Many have gained a voice and a platform to tell their own version of reality. Kenyans who have traveled abroad to Western Europe and America have tales to share of the daily encounters with the ignorant westerner, the racial profiling and their ridiculously daft questions.
The irony is that for many Kenyans, T.D Jakes was considered one of the pioneers of the prosperity gospel that he vehemently criticizes. His sermons are a spectacle to witness with the stirring of the huge congregation of ten of thousands into frenzy. He was about the most influential American preacher to hit the mainstream gospel channels and I believe he still a widely known and popular figure in Kenya. Bishop Jakes glammed up the gospel and introduced the breed of celebrity pastors.
Today, Kenya is littered T. D Jakes wannabes. The anointed preacher in a designer suit energetically pacing up and down a stage, using a white handkerchief to mop a glistering brow is a regular sight. We have seen the humble male preacher transform into a personality cult figure where members of new age evangelical churches are drawn to a pastor’s charisma. It is a radical shift from the past where the clergy man wore a simple collar and churches were not run like a business that is focused on turning a profit.
The contemporary TV preacher (also known as Mpesa preachers) has become a showman. It comes down to the basic tenets of the business of media production. Without a show, you draw no ratings and lack of ratings is bad for business.
The church was a relatively credible institution until the new generation of T. D Jakes inspired pastors started to appear on the scene. Nowadays, the pulpits are crowded out by business people masquerading as holy men, flaunting their wealth and rubbing their generosity in the face of the less privileged. The soul searching masses are the fodder this ego-centered version of spirituality and charity is a central part of their bragging rights.
Here is thing…Charity isn’t charity if you have brag about it. I hope the good Bishop has picked up a lesson in humility.