As posted on Gospelcity.com
Interview by Diana Bridgett, Managing Editor of Hope Today Magazine
The speculation surrounding the black church and the function of its pastors has flooded the chat rooms, articles, news reports, and daily conversations in social society. We wonder if the words that are spoken during Sunday morning service are also lived by the delivering vessel in their own lives. We have opinions concerning if the offering and benevolence funds are used for that purpose alone or if we are funding the lifestyle of our local celebrity, the pastor. Even bigger than that, we question if the marriage between the pastor and the beloved first lady is really as solid as it appears to be. There are so many questions, yet limited answers.
Dr. Jamal Bryant, founder of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, Maryland understands first hand what it is to have his life become center stage to the public attack on the fall of not only a pastor, but a man and a family. For the past two and half years, Pastor Bryant has dealt with the personal crisis of infidelity, divorce, humiliation, and loss of his family and church membership. Due to his personal indiscretions, he has had to repent, rethink, rebuild, and be restored as a man, a father, and a pastor.
As I began to prepare for my interview with Pastor Bryant, I was bombarded with numerous opinions regarding his affair, his flamboyant lifestyle, and his arrogance as a young pastor. As I did my research, I saw that although his elementary school was in the top ten in the city of Baltimore, it was overshadowed by the question of how many women he actually had an affair with. I read that he had done an overwhelming campaign for Haiti during the earthquake, but that too was overshadowed by the question of what color suit he wore on Sunday morning and if his church paid for his wardrobe. No one speaks of how he makes sure that every member who needs a ride home from service has one. My thoughts were distorted from the many concerns, yet I came to Baltimore with an open mind and spirit.
I arrived on a day in which Empowerment Temple and Pastor Bryant were celebrating their ten year anniversary. I still had no idea what to expect from this man who had had been labeled getting too much too soon. As I came down the street, I saw masses of people parking their cars, or walking to get to the celebration at hand. Young people. Urban people. There were ex gang members with tattoos on their wrist. People who clearly yearned to be empowered to move forward in their lives. The moment I stepped in the doors of Empowerment Temple, I felt a sense of loss yet love. The staff operates with efficiency, effectiveness, and professionalism sprinkled with warmth. How could a man so disliked have people who acted in love?
To my amazement, Pastor Bryant met me with warmth, candor, transparency, and honesty. He spoke with sincerity and genuine remorse what had occurred to not just him, but his church family. Yes, he committed adultery. Yes, he lost some members. Yes, he lived a life of a superstar and not a pastor. Yes, he did it. However, what sat across from me was a man, not a pastor, but a man who spoke of his self inflicted hell, his loss, his passion to empower, and his life. What I saw was a man. A man who has the courage to say, yes I did it, but I am going to make myself an example to others to not abort purpose because of mistakes. He welcomes you to his life: World War Me.
Diana Bridgett: As you celebrate your ten years in the ministry, what moments have been the most profound concerning your church, your growth as a pastor, and your growth personally?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: The most profound moment for me as a Pastor was when I walked into Empowerment Temple for our first Sunday. Prior to moving the church to this location, I conducted church services in my living room as well as clubs. Our first service in our church building is what made it all real to me. My profound moment as it relates to church growth is when the church grew in numbers when I began preaching my “Foreplay” series on sexual healing. My personal crisis is the moment in which I grew personally in my life.
Diana Bridgett: As you celebrate ten years, as a young pastor, what emotions have you experienced thus far?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: I am happy with the progress that we have made, however there is still much work that has to be done.
Diana Bridgett: You often have sermons that relate to current event topics, songs, and movies such as “The Book of Eli,” “The Audacity of Hope,” “Act Like a Lady, Think like a Christian Man,” “Empire State of Mind,” “Leave Elin Alone,” and many others. How do you use the relevance of these topics or events to biblically instruct your congregation?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: I have a different relationship with God. I can see a commercial and He will give me a message. I will take notes on my IPhone while watching a movie. I can receive a Word from the Lord at anytime to deliver to His people.
Diana Bridgett: I recently viewed your sermon entitled, “Window Seat,” in which you also removed items of clothing to reveal a “Hi Hater, Bye Hater” black t-shirt. There are many individuals who did not understand the concept of the sermon. Would you care to elaborate?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: The fact that people did not understand confirmed her point. Whenever you do something that is out of the box that people do not understand, it is criticized. Her point was well proven.
Diana Bridgett: I understand that Empowerment Temple paid the $500.00 fine for Erykah Badu. Why do you feel that was the responsibility of the church?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: Jamal Bryant paid the fine, not Empowerment Temple.
Diana Bridgett: Why do you feel that was your responsibility?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: When will world ever see a move of compassion from the church? Do I think that she was wrong for stripping naked in front of children? Yes. I do believe that she should have been given a citation. However, when will the church get to the place where we stand with people? I have stood with members of my congregation in court. They may have been wrong; however, there was support behind them. I believe that the church has to begin to show compassion. We don’t support what is wrong, but we should show a support of compassion.
Diana Bridgett: Speaking of the role of the church, I understand that you are in the process of filming a documentary,” The Relevance of the Black Church. “Can you provide information on your role in this documentary?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: Actually the documentary has already been filmed. I was interviewed concerning my thoughts on the topic. I believe that the black church is relevant, not potent.
Diana Bridgett: You have been asked to be the spiritual advisor on “The Merger.” What will your role consists of on the show and how do you plan to approach this role as a Pastor?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: The show has already been taped and is scheduled to debut in May or June. Omorosa has accepted her call into the ministry and decided that she wanted to serve under me. When the show was presented, she asked me to come on board to be spiritual overseer. It has been quite a journey.
Diana Bridgett: What was your inspiration for writing World War Me?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: When I was dealing with my crisis, it was a very difficult period of time for me. It was such a great public attack. There were many other ministers that also divorced from their spouses, yet I was singled out. People spent energy constructing websites about me that did not even attend my church. They spoke about my wife as though they were her sister. No one ever interviewed me. My ex-wife has never given a public statement. The woman in question has not spoken. No one really knew what had occurred. What I did was immoral not illegal.
I did not go in with the idea of writing a book. My mother suggested that I start to journal. It was more therapeutic for me. From my journaling came a book. My story can help someone.
Diana Bridgett: In the book, you speak of transgressions within your past marriage. You stated that women were your vice and that marriage was your first attempt at being in a monogamous relationship. Now that you are single, how do you handle your singleness?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: I am still in the healing process. I am very cautious as to who I allow to get close to me. It will be a long time before I trust another person to be in my personal space.
Diana Bridgett: In your BET special, Naked and RAW, you stated that you lived your life as a celebrity with no limitations. The individuals that you were around had no choice with regard to their personal integrity. How have you changed your lifestyle?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: Completely. I am more humble. Before I would run off of the energy of people. I don’t do that anymore. One day people love you, the next day they don’t. Now my life is surrounded around my girls and making sure that they are straight and my ministry.
Diana Bridgett: You speak of causalities that happen in personal wars. How have you rebuilt your church after public assault on not just your character but Empowerment Temple?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: I am still rebuilding. I am not a fool to not know that my church is still healing. I have lost many members. My church is not the same as it was prior to what has happened. We are still healing. I am still re-establishing my influence in the community.
Diana Bridgett: In your book, you state that “sometimes people will think you are what you are not, and it is that assumption that will get you out in the end.” With all of the blogs that have been written and all of the opinions of other people, what is it that has bothered you the most about the perception of how others may have viewed you?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: That I didn’t care. I did care. Also, the blogs that attacked my ex-wife. It should not matter to other people where she goes or what she does within her life.
Diana Bridgett: Anytime God strips an individual of things in a person’s life, you face dark periods where depression creeps in, you feel far from Gods, yet your true self is revealed. In your process, what is the greatest thing that you have learned about yourself, God, and your relationship with God?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: I learned that I was mortal. I am human.
Diana Bridgett: What is different about Pastor Bryant from two years prior? What is different about Jamal Bryant from two years prior?
Pastor Jamal Bryant: Before ministry was my first priority. My ambition was what was driving me. Now my family is my first priority. I am in the process of evolving into personhood and not my profession.
Dr. Jamal Bryant: Before ministry was my first priority. My ambition was what was driving me. Now my family is my first priority. I am in the process of evolving into personhood and not my profession.
Diana Bridgett: If you could offer any advice to a pastor, specifically a young pastor, what would that advice be and why?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: Don’t marry your first lady, marry your friend.
Diana Bridgett: Meaning?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: Many times a pastor will marry a woman because they believe that she will make a good first lady. Marry a woman who can be your friend after church is over.
Diana Bridgett: What do you envision for the life of Empowerment Temple in the next five years?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: I would like to see Empowerment Temple become a beacon of light for what the post-modern church should look like. I want Empowerment Temple to be top the church what Apple is to technology.
Diana Bridgett: What do you envision for the life of Jamal Bryant within the next five years?
Dr. Jamal Bryant: To be a better Father, Pastor, and Christian.