A famous minister once opined that the best thing that can be done to help poor folks is to avoid becoming one of them.
But even in his death, the outrageously materialistic yet uplifting life and message of Frederick Eikerenkoetter are subject to debate. Better known as “Rev. Ike,” the one-of-a-kind New York pastor died recently of complications from a stroke suffered two years ago. The one thing that few Black church historians and observers of contemporary religion would dispute is that Eikerenkoetter forecast the doctrine of preaching prosperity.
“The intent of my teachings is to deal head-on with people’s problems, fears, superstitions and negative thinking and to help them become aware that the ‘God in you’ is greater and gives the power to overcome,” Rev. Ike once said.
But, wearing more diamonds and bling than many of today’s rappers, Rev. Ike suggested to some that wealth trumps spirituality. His six homes and 16 church-owned Rolls Royces – “My garage runneth over,” he once said – made him a target of other Christians who called him a hustler.
“Unlike the current pimps, he didn’t tell people he had an anointed ministry,” writes Melvin Jones, creator of the pulpit-pimps.org Web site. “He didn’t pretend to be doing great things in the name of God… He rarely mentioned Jesus, never talked about repenting and never, ever spoke of sin, unless it was the sin of not believing God would bring riches into your life if you followed the laws of prosperity – as he explained them.”
Labeling Rev. Ike the “Alpha Pimp,” Jones blames the South Carolina native for negatively influencing a wave of TV ministries that emerged years after Ike’s reign. A reported 1,770 stations broadcast the pastor’s radio and TV sermons at the height of his popularity decades ago. Rev. Ike even inspired a guest character called “Smilin’ Sam, The Happiness Man” on the 1970s sitcom “Good Times.” The United Church, which Eikerenkoetter founded, still holds services on Broadway and 175th Street near Harlem, where The Palace Cathedral occupies a full block.
Born into poverty in 1935, Rev. Ike was the son of an Indonesian minister and a Black school teacher. He first preached in his early teens, later drawing interest – and donations – from a largely Black audience that heard him declare its right to a better quality of life.
Boasts the pastor’s Web site: “Rev. Ike has been one of the most misunderstood geniuses of the 20th century. In the past, his message was often misrepresented by the media, who sometimes ridiculed his flamboyant style and daring, unconventional teachings.”
Yet, just as during his 40-year ministry, some in “the media” dismiss Ike in death. One Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist’s recent headline snarled, “The wretched, venal life of Rev. Ike.” In stark contrast, many who were moved by the man have filled message boards with notes of love and appreciation.
God,” wrote one visitor to a virtual guestbook, “has just taken another angel that He needed to do his work.”