Reverend Ike dies at 74; minister preached gospel of prosperity
The Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, founder of what is now called Christ Community United Church, drew some criticism for his materialistic message. But 2.5 million were drawn to it in the 1970s.
The Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II had a fleet of luxury cars and preached in a converted Manhattan movie palace. His sermons were carried on hundreds of radio stations across the country in the 1970s. (Associated Press)
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."