Few religious men split opinion down the middle in the black community like Fredrick J. Eikerenkotter, better known as Reverend Ike. The American minister and evangelist’s detractors called him a con artist and a fraud while others hailed him as one of the earliest prosperity preachers who spoke positivity in their lives as a true man of God.
On a Facebook platform where his name popped up, the commentary was mixed coming from folks who recall the impact he had on their grandma, aunt, mom or such relative.
Based in New York, Reverend Ike was known for his popular quotes including “you can’t lose with the stuff I use.”
JudiLynn India commented: “Mom knew he was a con artist. My grandmother listened to him every week. He finally came to our city and Mom took Nanny to the convention. They sent trashcans up the aisles for collection one was for $50 – $100 bills. Another for $20s. Then he said if you got less than $20, keep it in your pocket. That was the last time Nanny listened to him.”
Another favorite quote of his was “the best way to help the poor is to not be one of them,” prompting church members and listeners to send money for the prayer clothes he sold.
Many reckon he started off in the spirit but the lust of the flesh and pride of life consumed him becoming materialistic.
Another commentator recalled: “I remember his radio broadcast in Birmingham Alabama. This was the first time I heard “prosperity gospel”.”
Those who deride him say he was enriched mightily at the expense of the faithful. Others like Myra Bynum however maintain he was a sincere and true man of God adding “His prayer cloth worked for me, thank you Jesus.”
Another slogan of his was “If you want your pie in the sky, bye and bye, when you die, then Rev. Ike is not your man, but if you want your pie now, with a little ice cream on top! Then Rev. Ike is the man for you.”
Another sticking point was his announcement in church that “he didn’t want any change in the collection plate, it makes too much noise,” as recalled by Pamela Taylor.
Another of his wise sayings was “It’s better to have money and not need it than to need money and not have it,” recalled Anne Branch with Charles LeRome Davis calling him the original prosperity pimp who used to sell prayer cloths—pieces of cut material about the size of a quarter that he supposedly had prayed over to bring blessings.
Reverend Ike lived the part, wearing expensive suits, shoes and jewelry with his hair processed, driving a Rolls Royce financed by vulnerable members, according to Ceola Page who noted “My mom actually sent him money on a monthly basis. He would send her a white handkerchief in exchange for money. Straight con artist!”
For over 40 years, Reverend Ike, the success and prosperity preacher under his United Church Science of Living Ministry, made a name as one of the earliest evangelists, on TV, radio and at mass meetings.
The flamboyant minister’s ministry reached its peak in the mid-1970s, “when his weekly radio sermons were carried by hundreds of stations across the United States. He was famous for his “Blessing Plan” – radio listeners sent him money and in return he blessed them.”
Born on June 1, 1935, in Ridgeland, South Carolina, Reverend Ike’s father was a Baptist minister of Dutch-Indonesian extraction and his mother was an elementary school teacher. His parents divorced when he was five.
He combined positive thinking and prosperity theology to form what he coined “Science of Living” leading his 5,000 parishioners.
Reverend Ike purchased Loew’s 175th Street Theatre in 1969 for half a million dollars renaming it the United Palace Cathedral which became the symbolic center of his religious network, United Christian Evangelistic Association. “Primarily supported by donations from Black parishioners, Rev. Ike’s United Evangelistic Christian Association was very glamorous and delivered extravagance to American households via weekly television broadcasts,” according to an account.
Although United Palace Cathedral could sit 5,000 members, Rev. Ike’s following is estimated to have reached 2.5 million remote listeners and viewers at the height of his popularity.
United Church broadcasted Rev. Ike’s program “The Joy of Living” to around 1,770 radio stations across the nation and ten major television markets. As Jonathan Walton notes, “Rev. Ike was one of the first African Americans to use an amphitheater as a place of worship, build an in-house video production center, and package and distribute his teachings to a national audience via television and radio.”
Reverend Ike died in Los Angeles aged 74 on July 28, 2009, from complications of a stroke he had in 2007.