The invisible wall separating church and state came crumbling down at an international gathering of pastors and ministry leaders.
It was the underlying theme of a panel discussion on "The Polemics of Politics and the Pulpit" convened by Dallas megachurch pastor Bishop T.D. Jakes.
"We have really become prostitutes to politics," Jakes asserted at the International Pastors and Leadership Conference.
The well-known pastor, author, and talk show host believes faith leaders can help heal the deeply divided nation by working together to cross entrenched political lines.
"The problem that the church finds is that we find ourselves having to hook our wagon to one political side or the other, when the truth of the matter is we don't totally agree with either side about everything," he explained.
"We end up with debris or contamination—when we attach our identity to either [party] and act like this is God's choice for the body of Christ," he said.
The discussion featured other prominent conservative and liberal voices, including:
- Paula White, known as President Donald Trump's personal minister;
- Bishop Harry Jackson, who serves with White on the Trump administration's Evangelical Advisory Board;
- Joshua DeBois, who led the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in the Obama White House;
- Father Michael Pfleger, a social justice activist and senior pastor of Chicago's Faith Community of St. Sabina.
Together, they debated the responsibilities of a presidential advisor and discussed ways to hold politicians accountable to addressing the needs of everyday Americans on issues like poverty and hunger.
"If you take the gross national income of all the churches in America – if we didn't pay the mortgage, if didn't pay the staff, if we didn't pay the light bill and took all of our money and gave it all away to the poor and become homeless to feed them, we still don't have the money," Jakes explained, highlighting the role of the church and the government to care for the needy.
"When we are taking 10 percent of a few people's income and they're taking 35 percent of everybody's income, I'll be daggum if I have to feed everybody by myself," he continued.
"If I fed all the hungry people in my zip code, I would have to not pay my staff and they would be hungry, too," he said. "I think you can't have 40 percent of my check and absolve yourself of the responsibility to help feed my community."
"I think we need rise up and challenge people," Jakes admonished.
About 7,000 people registered for this year's conference, with attendees traveling from countries like Canada, Cameroon, the United Kingdom and Australia to learn about leadership development, technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship.