Pastor Jamal Bryant’s fall from grace began with an extramarital affair that tore up his congregation and destroyed his marriage. I went to his mega church, the Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, Maryland, to talk about the affair that ended his marriage, disrupted his congregation, almost destroyed his ministry; but changed him as a man and as a preacher. An interview retrieved from Roland Martin’s Reports revealed the following:
MARTIN: Several years ago, all of a sudden you’re on TBN –
PASTOR BRYANT: Yes.
MARTIN: — and folks are saying, “Oh. He’s the next.” “He’s the next great preacher.”
MARTIN: You’re being called by churches left and right –
MARTIN: — and here you are, a young pastor –
MARTIN: — [of a] thriving, growing church. And all of a sudden, those temptations meet you head on.
BRYANT: Well, I didn’t have a litmus test, you have to understand. I was a national televangelist since I was 29, and the whole world had opened up for me in every stage. I’m preaching in arenas, convention centers, mass – mega churches. I was quickly becoming a household name. So, nothing in my mind ever said, number one, I would ever get caught; number two, that – [chuckles] – my wife would ever leave; number three, that my church would tank out.
MARTIN: Walk us through. What happened?
BRYANT: I stepped, Roland, outside of my marriage and had an extramarital affair that ultimately ended in a divorce to an incredibly wonderful woman – not because anything was flawed in the marriage, or in her; but in my own immaturity for the level that I was getting ready to go into. And when that happened, I think I was one of the first – if not the first – I don’t want to take the honor – the first real black pastor to go through being castigated over the Internet. My oldest daughter is 15, and I had to go to Atlanta, where it is that she lives, because a teacher said something sideways to her, and she was absolutely traumatized.
If nothing else, this has been the most humbling process that you’ve got to keep reliving it and explaining it and dealing with it and defending it. And nobody really understands that when you’re in that public spotlight, you don’t have the opportunity to process in private.
So, when I went through a divorce, Roland, it wasn’t between just me and my ex-wife. It was 12,000 people who were members of my church going through it at the same time, whose heart was broken, whose expectations were absolutely dashed. I had members arguing to protect my name in beauty salons and in supermarkets, and it was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life.
I lost, like, 17 pounds going through the stress of it. Had to go through therapy for a year [and] watch my ministry really disintegrate in front of my hands while I’m still trying to salvage what was left of what I was going to do in ministry. And I’ll never forget a critical conversation I said to my dad. I said, “Dad, you know, this is it. There’s no way I’m going to resuscitate.” My father was in Los Angeles at the time, was bishop over that jurisdiction. “Dad, you[’ve] got to get me a church in California. Get me outta here.”
And my father, Roland, asked me a critical question: “Were you preaching for applause? If you were preaching for applause and for people, it was a performance. But if you were preaching because of your calling, your assignment, the same passion you had when there were thousands is the same kind of intentionality you’ve got to have now that it’s been reduced to hundreds.”
And I went to that pulpit some days broken, battered, depressed, stressed the heck out. I didn’t want to be there, and just kept preaching. And I watched, slowly, but surely, God beginning to rebuild it: new families, new groups, an absolutely different congregation. But God has been faithful even when I was unfaithful.
BRYANT: The last few years have been a ride for me. It’s – hallelujah. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve suffered a lot. I’ve endured a lot. I’ve grown a lot. I’m scared to even tell you what my life looked like three years ago, but I never thought in my wildest dreams that three years later this is where I would be. But God was training me for destiny.
MARTIN: Here, you preach one thing –
MARTIN: — and then you talk about – and I’m sure in your sermons you were –
MARTIN: — integrating your wife and children into those –
BRYANT: Yeah, absolutely.
MARTIN: — and loving and caring. And they’re saying, “Okay, I’m hearing one thing, but you did this.”
MARTIN: “I’m confused.”
BRYANT: Yeah, and I spent a whole lot of time, one, Roland – because I’d never forgiven myself – and so I spent a whole lot of time bleeding in the emergency patient first unit, just trying to really be transparent to say this was not an attack of the enemy. The Devil didn’t make me do it – Flip Wilson – but – chuckles – this is what I did. All right? And because of that, how do we restore that?
And when I began to be transparent, an amazing thing happened. More men started coming to the church, saying, “Rev, I really respect that you didn’t blame it on the Devil, or spiritual warfare; but that you, as a man, made this mistake.”
And people talked about how they saw persistence and determination to stand through it. And to see on several occasions my ex-wife come to church and worship; and to see my children, hearing from me, able to process in grace, even in the face of humiliation, has really had a great group to come back [sic].
MARTIN: Let’s talk about your former wife and your children.
MARTIN: You still speak very highly –
MARTIN: — of your former wife.
MARTIN: How did you have to help her heal, but also help your kids heal?
BRYANT: Yeah. One of the critical things my ex-wife said to me is, “I didn’t divorce you because of the infidelity. I divorced you because I no longer recognized you,” that, “You went into a dark place, was mad with the world, and you were just worried about saving your career – not saving the marriage.”
And so I think I became a better person post the divorce than I was in the marriage. This journey has really been a process. She and I still are great friends and on two, different paths of life and are still able to operate in a meaningful way for the sake of friendship and parenting, but it was a necessary evil for me.
And I say this, what I say to a lot of younger pastors: if I had not gone through the divorce, I’m confident I would’ve [done] it again. And so it was my Damascus road wake-up call that, you know, you are not “Teflon Don”; that humanity can still touch you and can still impact you.
MARTIN: Have you sat many young brothers and sisters down and said, “Look, this is what you’re about to walk into.”
MARTIN: “Let me prepare you for this,” because you wish somebody had sat you down and said, “Jamal, you’re ’bout to blow up, but let’s walk through this”?
BRYANT: Yeah. I think that one of the difficult things is we spend years preparing for ministry, and nobody took the time to take years to prepare for manhood, or in some cases, womanhood. And I say to these young preachers, “It doesn’t matter if you have a thriving ministry if you have a miserable marriage.” You – you’ve got to make sure that that’s solid. And don’t marry for a church picture that you want somebody cute on the front row with a hat on. If they’re not making you happy at home, it doesn’t matter. It’s to make sure that that family life is your first ministry. If you’re not a priest to your home, it doesn’t matter what kind of preacher you are at the church.