The Taser's Edge

Dear T.D. Jakes

For this week, I had to read and review The Lady, Her Lover, and Her Lord by T.D. Jakes.  As you’ll see, Dr. Acolatse said that she intended to send some of our papers to him.  So I wrote the review in the form of a letter to him.  I really hope she doesn’t actually send it.  I would have written it more positively, if I really thought there were any chance he would ever see it.

Bishop Jakes,

My name is Taser, and I am in my final semester at Duke Divinity School earning my M.Div. degree.  For my class, Christian Marriage and Family Across Cultures, our professor, Dr. Esther Acolatse, has had us read a wide array of texts-Karl Barth, statements from the US Council of Catholic Bishops, contemporary pastoral care texts, a secular self-help book, and The Lady, Her Lover, and Her Lord.  This is a book review of your book.  Dr. Acolatse mentioned in class that she intended to send some of our reviews on to you on the assumption that practicing and writing pastors want to hear what fledgling pastors think of their work.  And because one principle of reading authors charitably is to write as if the author were overhearing your conversation or reading your review, I wrote this review in the form of a letter to you.  I hope you have time to read it (and perhaps even respond!).  And please forgive me if I write more critically or less humbly than I ought.

I want to note from the outset that I realize that I am not your intended audience.  As I read your book, it seemed to me that that intended audience was women, particularly black women in the black church and wider African-American community.  Even more specifically than that, it seems that throughout the book you are concerned with women who are hurting-victims of child abuse, domestic abuse, church abuse.  But I think that you also want to offer something to any open-minded person-woman or man; black, white, brown, or purple; Christian or non-Christian-who picks up your book.  I personally am a white male who has never watched or heard one of your sermons in its entirety.  Yet as I read your words, it seemed that they were best read aurally, so that is how I tried to hear them.

In terms of offering organization for this letter/review, I have a few main topics to consider: (1) Biblical and societal gender roles, (2) theological definitions of and construction of marriage, (3) the book’s use of psychology, and (4) how I see your book affecting my future ministry.

When you speak of gender and gender roles, I certainly see your sensitivity to historical trends toward the subjection of women to men.  You write that society “tends to usher women into roles of subservient behavior” (13) and that you recognize “male dominance and the historical oppression of women” (53).  Later in the book, you write that telling a woman that “her place [is] in the home” cannot be founded on a Biblical basis.  At the same time, it seems that you undercut those empowering statements.  For instance, you write in the middle of the book, “We live in a matriarchal society” (125).  When I first read this, I wondered if you were specifically talking about the church community, for many of the churches that I grew up in (with my father as my pastor) were certainly held together by women stepping up in faithfulness more often than men.  But the context does not permit me to read you as talking about the church.  The context points me to society as a whole, and it simply is not true that the United States is a matriarchal society, and neither is any other developed country in the world.  Certainly, you are right to say that women exercise power in various ways, but power-whether in the church or in secular politics-is still very strongly held by men.

Another section in which social stereotypes are reinforced comes in your discussion of male unfaithfulness in chapter eight.  On page 142, you describe a scenario in which a man refuses to confess his affair until he is caught in the act, and even then he lies about it.  As the scenario unfolds, the woman is angry but also feels humiliated out of the sense that she should have been able to ‘be enough’ for him, and the man tries to placate her by telling her that the sex meant nothing and that he truly loves only her.  Making use of stereotypical responses in a hypothetical scenario could be useful for discussing general trends and truths, but in this case, the interaction seems to be reinforced by television and movie scenes in which the woman always feels and acts a certain way, and the man always reacts in a certain way.  Rather than providing illumination by outlining a general trend, this scene reinforces unfortunate stereotypes and, in some cases, will surely leave spouses hanging onto their partners long after they need to be freed (sometimes by their pastors) to let go of a relationship with their spouse has already left behind.  If it is the case that men are any more able than women to separate sex from love (and I think any gendered split along this line is rapidly becoming less gendered, at least in my generation), then it is not a trait of masculinity but of human sinfulness.  I leave open the option that you may be claiming that human sinfulness manifests itself in this particular way among men more often than among women.

It is also the case that in more subtle ways, throughout the book, it seems that there are underlying assumptions about gender roles which are always near the surface, and those assumptions seem to be conservative social constructions rather than particularly Christian conceptions.  For instance, the entire chapter, “Satin Sheets Slide,” is based on certain assumptions of proper masculinity and proper femininity which are unfortunately stereotypical.  In the sentences, “Satin is fine for the woman if she likes the feeling of a silky material on her spine…But if the man is going to stay afloat, he would do better to have some plain cotton or flannel sheets,” there is a picture of male-on-top (man in a dominant position over woman) sex as normative (111).  This is a very strong message proceeding from a strong assumption, even if prescribing particular ways of having sex is not the topic at hand.

I have perhaps already written too much without referencing the Bible.  In this class, we have often focused on Genesis 2 as a starting point for male and female relations (since it is the starting point of male and female), and you seem to do the same when you cite Gen. 2:18 in chapter 4-“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him” (64).  My problems begin with the first sentence after the quotation: “Adam was in authority when she saw him” (64).  It seems that in this reading, there is a gendered hierarchy even in the Garden.  That is, from the time the woman is created, she is under Adam’s authority.  This is not in keeping with Gen. 2:24, in which it is the man who “leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife,” which can easily be seen as a type of submission in love to his wife, in that the husband exits his old life and has to make a change in order to enter into hers, with no similar requirements made upon her.  (I am not claiming that Gen. 2 calls for man to submit to wife alone, but that it points toward the New Testament embrace of mutual submission in love.)  The idea of gendered hierarchy from Eve’s creation is also at odds with Genesis 3, which does not declare the rule of husband over wife until after the two are caught in their sin.  The impact of the Fall is the warping and breaking of all human relationships, and perhaps the most broken of these human relationships (certainly the longest-lasting and the least culture-bound) is the relation of male to female.

Earlier in the same chapter, the story of the creation of the first woman from the man in Gen. 2:21-23 is quoted (56).  Here too, the exegesis points to a lack of wholeness before the Fall.  In the interpretation you provide, Adam is whole, and then apparently his wholeness is lost by an act of God-“She was the softer side of him.  She was his tenderness, and those emotions he couldn’t share.  She was the tears that would not fall, the passion he didn’t allow himself to feel” (56).  I find it a very difficult claim to believe that God’s plan for human wholeness was that man would have strength, and woman would have the emotions.  I’m not arguing that man and woman were the same, but the stereotype of a man being unable to feel is not part of God’s design; it again is due to human brokenness.  The whole human being does not quash his or her passions.

This discussion also brings me into psychological terrain.  I’ll be the first to admit that I have very little psychological training, although I’m not lacking in interest.  I’ve had a couple courses, and I’ve read a couple of books beyond the classes.  Still, the most significant psychological thread through the book is the recurring image of the inner child, which seemed to be a theme which reappeared at intervals.  The chapter title, “Bent Babies Make Broken Ladies,” referred to this theme, and you seemed to take care to be aware of how childhood trauma, particularly sexual abuse, is sometimes in need of healing that God alone can provide, albeit sometimes through the work of our loving relationships.  At other points you wrote of the little boy who wants to be discovered inside every man, and the little girl who needs to be known in order for a woman to be known.  Certainly, I’ve experienced that in my own marriage.  Dr. Acolatse has put it well in this class, saying that if you can’t play, then you have no business getting married.

The image of the inner child is powerful because it is such a personal image, clearly coming out of your own experience of life and of counseling others.  And the idea of marriage as the process of creating a space in which you can play with your spouse without fear is a powerful one, which I will certainly try to apply to my own life, in addition to offering it to any couples I counsel in the future (although I think it may be wise to refer premarital counseling for a few years as I’ve been married fewer than four years myself).  As my interest in the personal nature of the image of the child suggests, your book was most powerful to me in your most vulnerable moments of writing.  As you wrote of your mother-in-law’s death and your wife’s mourning in chapter 15, it was clear that you were baring a vulnerable part of yourself and your life and your marriage.  To me, that vulnerability, which is so powerful, was certainly consonant with your discussion of being merciful in the way that we have been shown mercy, our transformation through our own suffering so that we can become “vessels of mercy” to others in similar pain or struggles (36).  At the same time, it seems that this vulnerability which you offer so well shows an emotional wholeness and sensitivity that often seems to be given wholly to the female sex in other parts of the book, including some which I have quoted, such as your exegesis of Eve’s creation.

My sense is that such emotional vulnerability is a sign of wholeness which comes through the work of the Spirit of Christ (and this work often through my wife, I have found) in us, a divine work which does not leave us (I’ll admit it, often especially men) unable to express our passion.  That is, while many of the stereotypes of men are based on strong anecdotal evidence, they are also often based on stereotypes of fallen men.  Part of my redemption is that Christ liberates my hindered ability to be passionate.  This is part of the freedom found in Christ, and I think that perhaps much of my problem with the assumed gender hierarchy which I found throughout your book is that while I see that we live in a world of patriarchy, in which men are often the abusers, my Christian hope is that there is redemption for that as well.  My fear is that when we write and preach those relationships, it is very difficult to not reinforce abuses of power, and I am not convinced that this book is careful enough.

As you can see, I had a somewhat conflicted relationship with your book while reading it.  On almost every page, I found something to think about or some insight to take up and use for my own life or to remember for my future ministry.  And on almost every page there was something-sometimes a minor phrase (an critical eye is one bad thing that my seminary education has given me, as you can see in this letter) and sometimes one of the more major problems that I have tried to name in this letter-with which I had to take issue.  Because of this, I am fairly sure that I wouldn’t recommend it to a congregant.  There are, however, some ideas in your work which I will almost certainly steal from you (while working to give credit where it’s due), and I am now definitely interested in seeking out your sermons on the web.  I would love to hear back from you if you have any response to this letter at all.  Many thanks.

Grace and Peace,

The Tase

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Awesome stuff!

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Please leave a comment on our blog if you’re interested.


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