Reverend Ike dies at 74; minister preached gospel of prosperity
By By Dennis McLellan
Jul 31, 2009 | 12:00 AM
The Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, the flamboyant, lavish-living preacher known as Reverend Ike, whose message of success and prosperity reached millions, has died. He was 74.
Rev. Ike, who had a stroke in 2006, died Tuesday in a hospital in the Los Angeles area, where he had been living for the last few years, said family spokesman Bishop E. Bernard Jordan.
Jordan told The Times on Thursday that Rev. Ike "lifted the consciousness of people globally, and he was such an inspiration as a black man, an African American doing the kinds of things he was doing in his generation."
The message of Rev. Ike, who could pack Madison Square Garden and who tooled around in a Rolls-Royce, Jordan said, was one "of empowerment and hope -- and definitely prosperity."
Rev. Ike first came to fame in the 1970s, preaching what Newsweek magazine once described as "an unabashed love of money and the good life."
The charismatic founder-minister of what is now called Christ Community United Church dispensed his message of how people can have love, health, happiness and prosperity if they believe in the "presence of God in you" from the stage of a former Loew's movie palace at 175th Street and Broadway in Manhattan.
"No one can tell me what I can't have," he preached. "If I believe, all things, every wonderful thing, every beautiful thing, is possible to me.
"If I want to be successful, I must have a successful belief in myself."
Rev. Ike's reach extended far beyond the several thousand followers who packed the seats in his movie-theater-turned-church.
By the mid-1970s, his daily messages were carried on more than 1,700 radio stations across the country, and his videotaped sermons appeared in 10 major TV markets. On tour across the nation, he would draw thousands to his sermons.
Despite criticism from other clergymen over his materialistic message and from others who accused him of being a huckster and a charlatan, Rev. Ike's positive, self-affirming message of hope appealed to an estimated 2.5 million people across the country in the '70s.
"It is not the love of money that is the root of all evil," Rev. Ike liked to tell his followers. "It's the lack of money."
Rev. Ike's opulent lifestyle -- he was given at one point to wearing a gold watch, a silver-and-diamond tie pin, a silver bracelet and a large gold ring studded with more than a dozen diamonds -- was supported by millions of dollars in contributions to his church.
"I am the first black man in America to preach positive self-image psychology to the black masses within a church setting," he told The Times in 1976.
That year, his church owned 16 Rolls-Royces for his use, as well as an undisclosed number of Mercedes-Benzes, Bentleys and other cars. (As he once put it, "My garages runneth over.")
There were six church-owned residences for Rev. Ike, who at the time spent much of the winter in Southern California.
The multimillion-dollar empire that Rev. Ike built reportedly withstood various investigations, including by the IRS and U.S. Postal Service.
"I think the generation prior to Rev. Ike saw pain as causing that generation to preach heaven beyond Earth," the Rev. Cecil L. "Chip" Murray, retired pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles and now an adjunct professor at the Center for Religion at USC, said Thursday. "Rev. Ike's generation, which he helped to transition, preached heaven on Earth: God wants you to be rich, God wants you to have it, name it, claim it.
"My personal thinking is that he was reactive, and our challenge now is to be proactive, to combine personal salvation with social salvation."
Murray added that he was not a follower of Rev. Ike's "philosophy because poor people needed doors opening rather than false dreams opening."
Rev. Ike saw it differently.
"The best thing you can do for the poor," he would say, "is not be one of them."
The son of a Baptist minister, he was born June 1, 1935, in Ridgeland, S.C. His mother was the teacher in the one-room schoolhouse he attended, a four-mile walk each way from their home.
Called to the ministry at 14, he became associate pastor at the local Pentecostal church. He graduated from the American Bible School in Chicago in 1956 and served two years in the Air Force Chaplain Service and formed the United Church of Jesus Christ for All People after returning to Ridgeland. He moved to Boston in 1964 and established the faith-healing Miracle Temple.
In 1966, Eikerenkoetter moved to New York City, where he set himself up in a rundown Harlem movie theater and announced his Sunday sermons on the marquee with a flashier -- and easier to pronounce -- name, Rev. Ike.
In 1969, he moved his ministry to the far more palatial Loew's theater, dubbed the Palace Cathedral and began making a name for himself as the so-called preacher of prosperity.
Rev. Ike told the New York Times in 1972 that he initially believed what he heard about heaven and hell.
But now, he said at the time, "I'm not frustrated by trying to please some tyrannic kind of God in the sky. I'm not deferring anything; I'm enjoying the totality of goodness now."
Although his radio and TV appearances had dimmed by the mid-'90s, New York's Newsday reported in 1995 that the self-described Money Preacher's direct-mail campaigns continued to bring in an estimated $1 million a month.
When a writer for Jet magazine caught up with Rev. Ike in 2007, he was living in an oceanfront estate near Los Angeles.
He said he was officially retired and had not preached in two years. He also said he had had a massive stroke the previous year, and although he was paralyzed on the right side for a period, his speech had not been affected.
The magazine reported that Rev. Ike's son, Xavier Frederick Eikerenkoetter, was in charge of the day-to-day operation of his father's ministry, the United Christian Evangelistic Assn. that includes Christ Community United Church, the direct-mail ministry and a website, www.revike.org.
When asked if he had a message for the magazine's readers, Rev. Ike said: "Tell them God is still good and keep believing."
In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Eula.