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An Open Letter to Pastor Sarah Jakes Roberts

Correction [7:32pm PST]: An early version of this post listed Pastor Sarah as being 14-years-old at the time of her first pregnancy. The correct age was 13-years-old as reflected here.

Dearest Pastor Sarah:

I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones healthy and safe. 

I have been thinking about writing this letter ever since the “wig malfunction” back in June. My intent then was to send you a word of encouragement as you navigate the range of feelings you discussed during a recent IG Live (embarrassment, shame, feeling like you let people down, etc.). Of course I would love to only focus my attention on how liberating yourself from the dominant culture’s standards of beauty is being applauded by some of us. However, doing so would not only be unwise, it would also be inhumane. Pastor Sarah, you are a human being without question and on that day, you likely felt the full range of human emotions. 

As I listened to your reflections and watched your face, I did not only hear your regret about the incident. I saw her. I saw that 13-year-old girl who felt the heavy eyes of judgment focused on her. The young person who did not intend to bring shame to her family by becoming pregnant. She particularly did not want to bring negative attention to her father. The same father that told the story of covering her with his jacket when she told him she was cold. The same father who, in grand fashion, anointed her to carry the torch from the Woman Thou Art Loosed conference into the arena of the Woman Evolve movement. 

The same father who has been called “The World’s Bishop.”

World Changer and Fighter: Pastor Sarah Jakes Roberts
World Changer and Fighter: Pastor Sarah Jakes Roberts

Those of us who listen to, and are inspired by your well-researched sermons can truly understand the weight of the mantle you carry. You are not only a Black woman standing behind the sacred desk doing exactly what those who ascribe to the patriarchal religious dogma believe is against the “rules”—A woman preaching the Word of God—but, you are also walking in the footsteps of Bishop Thomas Dexter Jakes.

Not long ago, you spoke of how you were considering leaving the ministry. Yet, the calling on your life and the souls you have touched and continue to touch have shown you the critical role that only you can play. You in your unique beingness have changed the lives of women all over the world. In addition, you are collaborating with First Lady Serita Jakes to hold meaningful, heartfelt conversations that are helping to bridge generational gaps.

I am sure there are those that have told you that snatching off a wig (that decided it was going to act an entire fool in front of the world) is not nearly at the level of more notable scandals by those who stood in the pulpit. Those well-meaning voices likely don’t know the depths of what you are constantly working to ward off. You have spoken openly about your struggles with Impostor Syndrome, Additionally, you have also been battling what is called “Stereotype Threat.” Researcher and Stanford academician Claude Steele describes stereotype threat as: 

“The experience of being in a situation where you know that you could be judged or treated in terms of a negative stereotype about one or more of your identities. If you care about the situation and that is a critical part of it, that’s what really makes you vulnerable to the threat, is that you care about functioning well in the situation and yet you know you could be negatively stereotyped. It’s frustrating, it’s distracting, it could interfere with your functioning right there, just the tension caused by that.”

— Dr. Claude Steele, Researcher & Academician

Steele offers advice on how to diminish stereotype threat. One suggestion he gives is the use of self-affirmations. I would imagine you have a myriad of affirmations you are using to shore up your confidence right now. As you go about your self-love process, I would like to offer something for you to consider: You did not create the stereotype nor did you create the threat. Stereotype threat is a byproduct of white supremacy and systemic oppression. Said another way: If there was no stereotype there would be no threat to your humanity.

 You are no one’s stereotype, Pastor Sarah.

Thinking of your words of inspiration, I would like to reflect on one of my favorite moments from the 2019 Woman Evolve conference. There was a moment where you encouraged us by saying “ Girl, get up. Girl get up again…I’m begging for you to get up. my daughter needs to see you get up…” I know you remember that moment and I also know that there’s nothing like having your own words thrown back at you as a form of encouragement! Like the gospel song says, “Sometimes you have to encourage yourself.” 

With that said, I pray you continue to encourage yourself past this blip in your ministerial career. Please know that there are women all over the world praying that your strength and sticktoitiveness be renewed. Continue to spread your wings and fly above everything and everyone that may be trying to keep you from soaring. In closing, I leave you with this reminder and nod to one of your father’s books:

 Soar, Sarah! Soar!

 Continued blessings,

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