My remarks in a recent sermon seem to have caused a commotion on social media.
In part, I said, “we are raising up women to be men,” and that this can be difficult — because when women take on additional burdens of pouring so much into others, divine balance is altered; breaking with it many sociological constructs of our culture today.
The remarks, if left on their own without context, are rightfully triggering. But attempting to define 25 years of global advocacy work with a 25-second clip, taken from a Father’s Day message, is equally exasperating. In an age where truth and clarity continue to battle misinformation and the distortion of proper context daily, it’s unfortunate that some have missed this opportunity to slow down and remember that accuracy still matters, even online.
Let me be clear: Having women in powerful leadership roles is not only good but necessary — something I have encouraged, invested in and built global platforms to advocate for during my nearly five decades on the pulpit. And the results continue to prove that when we champion women, we engineer more prosperous ecospheres for everyone. Women can be great nurturers. They have a natural inclination to build and grow things. That is why, for example, you can give a woman a house and she can make it a home. You give a woman an idea and she’ll turn the idea into a Fortune 500 company.
This fight for women is not new. In the early ‘90s, I delivered a message entitled “Woman, Thou Art Loosed!,” championing equality for women. I remember being one of the first Christian men to publicly stand on a national platform and celebrate women for their achievements in what was largely a hostile work environment. The response from women across the nation was so positive that it became a regular conversation series that turned into a global movement with a best-selling book, a hit stage play, a number one chart-topping movie and an annual global conference. But it was clear then, like it’s clear now, that this topic, this movement, matters to women and their families — and it matters to me.
Our work collectively in this movement helped produce the first-elected female head of state in Africa, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Oprah Winfrey hosted her iconic Lifeclass show on the Woman, Thou Art Loosed! stage, which drew participation from nearly 200,000 women. Living and departed ancestors, including Coretta Scott King, Cicely Tyson and Joyce Rodgers, all graced the halls of this movement still in full effect today.
In good economies and bad, our global conference has drawn massive crowds, and the reason is our consistent message: Women can lead and should be freed from all constraints. Since 1996, hundreds of thousands of women have come from all over the world to this global gathering place to find hope in the midst of hopelessness, peace in the midst of turmoil and freedom in the midst of bondage. Even before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, women stood up and fought for more visibility, more equality and more freedom.
There has been progress since the start of that conference, but there’s so much work we still need to do as men and women. For years, women have fought tirelessly for opportunities to be heard, seen and followed. It’s shocking to realize that there wasn’t a female CEO of a Fortune 500 company until 1999. Back then only 0.2% of CEOs were women. More recently, in 2020, that number has grown to 7.4%. We are stronger when women are leading. Just read about Cynt Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, or Janice Bryant Howroyd, CEO of ActOne, to see how impactful and influential female leadership can be.
In a recent poll our organization commissioned to more deeply understand how we can better uplift women, female respondents said they are still held to a higher standard than men. And two out of three women (68%) think they have less economic opportunity than men, while 47% of women believe women are not portrayed fairly and accurately in the news media.
I recognize with great challenges come great opportunities, and the opportunity here is ripe for others, men, particularly, to help be a part of this change. I am hopeful that our Woman, Thou Art Loosed! movement is continuing to create sustainable, long-term change for women. But it’s time for men to champion women and become catalysts for change. It’s time for more men to open their eyes to what God is doing and support the movement.
A movement is an organized action of a group. A way forward. A change. I have watched in reverence as our work ignited such a fire in women around the world. I’m proud, unashamed and grateful to be a part of it, and I look forward to the next generation leading us even further down this path.
My hope is for more men to stand alongside women, not to be in competition with them, but to be in alignment for a healthier future. I’m hopeful we can all learn to value women by championing women. The world looks different than it did in the mid-90s, but I am optimistic and believe that meaningful change is on the horizon, which is good for all women and men.
T.D. Jakes is a globally recognized businessman, faith leader and philanthropist. His ‘Woman, Thou Art Loosed!’ global women’s conference concludes in Atlanta on September 22–24. He often finds himself as a chosen bridge between those who want change and those who can create that change.