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T.D. Jakes Seeks Leadership, Not Faith, in President

Bishop T.D. Jakes has taken a small, nondenominational church in Dallas and built it into a massive ministry with a brand of entrepreneurial evangelism that reaches followers through movies, music and mega-fests.

A typical Jakes rally will fill an arena with more than 100,000 followers.

Jakes has written 30 best-selling books, the latest of which is called Reposition Yourself: Living Life Without Limits.

One of the most influential black leaders today, Jakes has the ear of President George W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton. He says the black clergy faces big challenges as the 2008 presidential election draws near, as they weigh competing strategies on how to work effectively for the betterment of their community.

But the challenges extend beyond the black community, Jakes says.

"I think really religion in general is struggling with politics, not just African Americans. Many, many times we've allowed ourselves to be taken up under the control of this party or that party, and I think that's dangerous when you do that," he tells Michele Norris.

"I don't think that God should be assigned to a party. When the party goes bad, then the clergy are embarrassed, and I think that faith should transcend politics," he says.

Jakes says he encourages his parishioners to vote and to be aware of the issues. But to assume that African Americans are "ignorant and need the pastor to tell them how to vote is an insult to our intelligence," Jakes says. "That day is gone."

Although it is important to Jakes that a presidential candidate has some consciousness of faith, spirituality and morality, he says he is not "myopic."

"I know many people who really love the Lord, but they might not be a good president," Jakes says.

He says that to be an effective leader, "you can't just be the president of the Christians."

"You have to be the president of the United States, which incorporates atheists, agnostics and all brands of faith," Jakes says. "And many, many Christians don't understand that. They see this as a Christian nation. But I don't see this as a theocracy. I see it as a democracy."

Describing himself as a practical and pragmatic person, Jakes says the primary issues of concern to Christians are many of the same issues that are of concern to all Americans: the morality or immorality of war, education, health care, poverty.

"Whoever moves into the White House now is going to have to be wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove, effective in building relationships internationally," Jakes says. "They're going to have to have the agility of thought, the dexterity of mind to be able to bring the nation together."

Although he says he has not had a "close enough look yet" at the current field of presidential candidates, Jakes stresses that he is looking for a person who "brings people together, rather than plays on our worst fears."

"I think that religious people, minorities and many others have been played on, that people say things to incite us to riot, to get us to vote and then don't fulfill promises," Jakes says. "I'm tired of being a pawn. I want us to be united again."

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