Reverend Ike TV-advertisement from TV Party!
Before there was The Secret, before Kenneth Copeland and Joyce Meyer, before Joel Osteen and Rod Parsley.... there was (native South Carolinian) Reverend Ike, born Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II.
There was no word for it in the 70s, so no one referred to Reverend Ike's unique approach as Prosperity Theology. But what has become fairly common among a certain school of televangelists today, was basically stolen from Reverend Ike, and later morphed into this modern media phenomenon.
Yes, I said stolen.
I've written about appropriation before in the area of music, which is what I am familiar with. But as my regular readers know, I also follow religion and spirituality. And I have always been struck by how Joel Osteen sounds like a suburban, squeaky-clean, white man's version of Reverend Ike. Nobody credits Reverend Ike, and in fact, as you see from the above-linked Wikipedia entry, he doesn't even get mentioned in the line-up with the other Prosperity Gospel preachers. Why not? T.D. Jakes and Benny Hinn are duly listed, and I might take issue with their places on the list. But Reverend Ike? He was first.
More cultural theft from African-Americans. So far, none of the formal obituaries I have read, have stated this outright, so I will.
From the Associated Press:
Reverend Ike preached the power of what he called “positive self-image psychology” to his 5,000 parishioners at the United Church Science of Living Institute. The church was housed in a former movie theater in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood.Whether the good Reverend was right or wrong in his approach, he was the first to popularize this message and take it nationwide. In the 70s, he was famous enough that Richard Pryor played a character based on him (named "Daddy Rich") in the movie Car Wash (1976). Everyone knew who the character was supposed to be.
In the 1970s, Reverend Ike was one of the first evangelists to reach an audience of millions through television.
“This is the do-it-yourself church,” he proclaimed. “The only savior in this philosophy is God in you.”
Reverend Ike stretched Christian tenets, relocating the idea of God to the interior of the self, with the power to bring the believer anything he or she desired in the way of health, wealth and peace of mind.
The philosophy did not sit well with traditional Christian ministers and civil rights leaders who felt black churches should focus on social reform rather than self-fulfillment.
His critics said he preyed on the poor and conned the faithful into giving him donations that he spent on cars, clothes and homes for himself. The IRS and the Postal Service investigated his businesses.
Others defended his philosophy of mind over matter, which appealed to middle-class believers who felt their hard work should be rewarded in this life.
“If it's that difficult for a rich man to get into heaven,” he said, riffing on the famous verse from the book of Matthew, “think how terrible it must be for a poor man to get in. He doesn't even have a bribe for the gatekeeper.”
It's interesting that the official obits now focus on his money and possessions... do you think they will focus on Osteen's or Parsley's, when they finally depart this earth? Well, maybe.
But I can't help but notice that his "visualization" ideas, now transformed into suburban self-help literature, are reduced to lowly money-grubbing in a way that the Osteens (recently respectably profiled on "60 Minutes") and The Secret are not.
The New York Daily News, for instance:
Rev. Ike's ministry reached its peak in the mid-1970s, when his sermons were carried on 1,770 radio stations to an audience estimated at 2.5 million.I don't think Joel Osteen's obit will call him a con-man, although I would imagine he is LOTS richer than Reverend Ike, who certainly never had "60 Minutes" come calling.
He also preached his philosophy of self-empowerment on television and the Internet, in books and magazines, and on audiotapes and videotapes.
From the stage of the former Loews movie theater on 175th St. in Washington Heights, which he restored and transformed into his United Church Science of Living Institute, Rev. Ike would tell thousands of parishioners "this is the do-it-yourself church. The only savior in this philosophy is God in you."
He then would exhort the believers to "close your eyes and see green ... money up to your armpits, a roomful of money, and there you are, just tossing around in it like a swimming pool."
As payback for spiritual inspiration, Rev. Ike asked for cash donations from the faithful - preferably in bills not coins. "Change makes your minister nervous in the service," he would say.
Critics called Rev. Ike a con man, saying the only point of his ministry was getting rich from the donations.
They noted that he made a show of sumptuous clothes, jewelry, posh residences and exotic cars. "My garages runneth over," he would boast.
But his supporters said Rev. Ike's love of luxury had roots both in the traditions of African-American evangelism and the philosophies of mind over matter.
Rev. Ike was born in Ridgeland, S.C., to a father who was a Baptist minister and a mother who taught elementary school. They divorced when he was 5.
At 14, he became an assistant pastor for his father's congregation. He briefly preached in Boston before coming to New York.
He leaves his wife, Eula, and son, Xavier Frederick.
The juxtaposition is interesting. Why is no one making the comparison?
In Harold Bloom's book The American Religion, there is a chapter about how American Christianity borrowed (appropriated?) certain Gnostic elements of African theology. I'd say the example of Reverend Ike gives us that lesson, right up close and personal.
RIP, Reverend Ike.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Reverend Ike TV-advertisement from TV Party!