The Lowdown on Black Ministers Living on the Down Low: Son’s Arrest Raises Questions about Bishop T.D. Jakes’s Sexuality

When preachers pontificate about the sins of homosexual sex, they need to be careful of what they say; their words invariably will be back to bite them, as we have seen with fallen evangelical star Pastor Ted Haggard.

For Bishop T.D. Jakes, the internationally known African American evangelical star dubbed as the black Billy Graham, his rantings against homosexuality have come back to bite him via his eldest son who was recently arrested in a sex sting.

On January 3, Jermaine Jakes was arrested in a sex sting for openly soliciting gay sex from an undercover vice detective in a public park just a few blocks from his father’s church, The Potter’s House, a 30,000-member megachurch in Dallas.

The arrest warrant affidavit filed by Dallas Police detectives on Jermaine Jakes stated:

Suspect Jakes walked directly over to where Detective X was, and stood next to Detective X with his penis exposed through his unzipped pants…Suspect Jakes committed the offense of indecent exposure by exposing his erect penis in a public place with his intent to gratify or arouse the sexual desire of himself. Suspect Jakes was reckless about whether another was present who would be offended or alarmed by his actions.

While Bishop Jakes is tight-lipped on the topic of his son’s homosexuality, the African American LGBTQ community is not. As a matter of fact, the son’s arrest has that community abuzz with rumors resurfacing about Bishop Jake’s sexuality.

In September 2005, activists Keith Boykin and Jasmyne Cannick kicked off a five-part series, “Outing Black Pastors,” on their respective websites by querying publicly whether prominent pastors in the black community — like Bishops T.D. Jakes and Eddie Long — who constantly rail against LGBTQ people, were actually struggling with their own sexual orientation.

But black ministers living on the “downlow” (DL) is not a new phenomenon in the African American community, naming it publicly, however, is (Note: on the downlow or on the DL is a label used for men who are in heterosexual relationships but secretly have homosexual relations)

J.L. King, who became the country’s poster boy by exposing this behavior in his best-seller, On The Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of “Straight” Black Men Who Sleep with Men, stated, not surprisingly, that many of his partners were churchmen:

There are gospel conventions throughout the nation for churches. There is one for ushers, Sunday school departments, music departments, and ministers . . . These events allow men to meet men and to have sex while away from their hometowns. Many midnight concerts turn into affairs where brothers are cruising each other. I’ve been there, seen it and done it.”

Many African American men, loving on the down low, say there are two salient features that contribute to this subculture — white gay culture and the Black Church. DL men deliberately segregate themselves from both black and white gay cultures and adopt an alternative black masculinity that only wants to have sex and socialize with other black men. But class is a factor here, too. While many gay African American men have the economic mobility to reside outside of the black community and are likely to intermingle with the dominant gay culture, most DL men don’t.

“They’ve created a community of their own, a cultural party where whites aren’t invited. Labeling yourself as DL is a way to disassociate from everything white and upper class. . . And that is a way for DL men to assert some power,” George Ayala, director of education for AIDS Project Los Angeles, told the LA Times in a 2003 article.

But the Black Church’s conservative gender roles and anti-gay theology also contribute to this subculture. Bishop Jakes defines homosexuality in men as a spiritual “brokenness, due to long-term imprisonment, absentee fathers, having been sexually abused, or not knowing how to have healthy social relationships with men.”

The poster boy for African American ex-gay ministers, gospel mega-star Pastor Donnie McClurkin, feels similarly to Jakes, stating he was once sexually abused by an uncle, which brought about his proclivity to same-sex attraction:

There’s a group that says, ‘God made us this way,’ but then there’s another group that knows God didn’t make them that way. Love is pulling you one way and lust is pulling you another, and your relationship with Jesus is tearing you.

Bishop Jakes told the Dallas Voice he would never hire a sexually active gay person to his ministry, but that’s hard to believe. Why? Because there are two types of gay masculinities in the Black church. One expresses itself fairly openly in the choir with the choirmaster who may well be gay. Not surprisingly, Bishop Jakes is a former choirmaster.

The other conceals itself within a homosocial community of DL male clerics who find camaraderie at black pastors’ conferences or at all-male conferences like T.D. Jakes’s “Manifest” conference.  These clerics exploit their ecclesiastical authority by using anti-gay rhetoric and the Bible as their cover-up.

“To date, I have not seen scriptural authority that allows me to stand on behalf of God and say I now pronounce you husband and husband, and wife and wife. This is an issue the government is undecided about.The Bible is not”, Bishop Jakes told USA Today.

irene-headshot.jpgMany African American brothers have said that T.D. Jakes is too “swishy and sweet” to not question his sexuality. But Jermaine Jakes is unapologetically and unabashedly gay.

Some in the African American community say the younger Jakes behaves flamboyant intentionally and acts sexually reckless to publicly deride and embarrass his homophobic dad. But there are others in the community who say Jermaine is just like his dad, but he is not hiding in a stained-glass closet.

Rev. Irene Monroe

Published by the LA Progressive on February 25, 2009
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About Rev. Irene Monroe

Rev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes - “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.

Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As an religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”