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Rev. Ike Positively Glitters on Crusade

May 12, 1985|SCOTT HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

There's a shiny black Rolls-Royce in the parking lot, and a blue and gold one searching for a space on the street. This has got to be the place.

So you enter the glass-skinned office building and ride the elevator to the headquarters of KSDO radio. It's just past 9 a.m., time for the "Dave Dawson Show," and there's Dawson in the studio, talking with the man you have come to see. The first look at the Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II--known to millions as "Rev. Ike"--does not disappoint.

The black evangelist is wearing a snappy white jacket trimmed in green, emblazoned on the back with the words "Rev. Ike's 1985 $ummer Tour." His complexion is smooth, the color of caramel, and a thin mustache lines his upper lip. His hair is coiffed back, tiny curls glistening with oil. He is adorned with a gold watch, a silver-and-diamond tie pin, a silver bracelet, and a large gold ring studded with maybe 15 diamonds. At least, you assume it's all gold and silver and diamonds--those Rolls-Royces are real.

"Remember that Jesus rode on the Rolls-Royce of his day, which was a borrowed ass," Rev. Ike is telling Dawson and the radio listeners. "And I'm sure if Rolls-Royces were available then, Jesus would have used them."

A commercial break, time for introductions. Rev. Ike is smiling and genial, his voice a soft Southern lilt. "All publicity is good publicity," he says. "Just as long as they spell the name right!"

His laugh is a fast "ha ha ha ha ha."

Rev. Ike--the 49-year-old founder of the United Church, Science of Living Institute Inc., one of the premier "televangelists" of all time, a man often criticized as a charlatan who is ha ha ha-ing all the way to the bank--is making a comeback.

It's not that he ever stopped spreading his particular brand of think-positive, prosperity-is-your-divine-right theology; indeed, his current stay in San Diego is his third such visit here in three years.

But the peak of Rev. Ike's fame, as he acknowledges, occurred in the mid- to-late 1970s. According to a 1975 New York Times article, 1,770 radio stations across the nation broadcast Rev. Ike's daily messages, and his videotaped sermons appeared in 10 major television markets. He toured the nation like a soul-music star, attracting thousands to his sermons.

While his enemies say Rev. Ike is a greedy sham, there is no doubting that many people found hope in his messages. His "congregation" in the mid-1970s was estimated as 2.5 million--mostly black, but with a wide ethnic representation. Contributions to his church, according to his accountant, totaled millions of dollars, supporting Rev. Ike's opulent life style, including a bi-coastal collection of Rolls-Royces.

The cash flow has never slowed down, he asserts. But for a while, Rev. Ike did. Maintaining his ministry through the mail and over the radio, Rev. Ike says he voluntarily withdrew from TV and touring to devote most of the past five years to teaching in the school at his home-base church in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, where some 5,000 people regularly attend Sunday services. "It's just something I wanted to do," he says.

Meanwhile, the mushrooming cable TV industry helped other evangelists rise in prominence, including Revs. Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggert and Pat Robertson--and San Diego's Rev. Terry Cole-Whittaker, the recently retired preacher whose vocal celebration of material wealth is a virtual echo of Rev. Ike's own.

But now, Rev. Ike is on the road again. He is test-marketing a new TV show called "The Joy of Living" co-hosted by his Ivy League-student son, Xavier, 20, also known as Rev. Ike II.

Joint appearances with Cole-Whittaker--or Rev. Terry, as she was known to followers--is what had brought Rev. Ike to San Diego in recent years. Now that Rev. Terry has retired, Rev. Ike has returned to offer a deliverance of sorts to her congregation, and provide a home for their orphaned donations.

Indeed, the people coordinating and publicizing his stay in San Diego are former devotees of the Rev. Terry who came to know Rev. Ike during the evangelists' joint appearances. Today, Rev. Ike will deliver a sermon titled "Money! Sex! and Religion! The Three Hang-ups of Mankind!" at 11 a.m. at Golden Hall in downtown San Diego. Admission is free.

"You don't have to pay to get in Sunday morning," Rev. Ike says. "You only pay to get out! . . . Ha ha ha ha ha!" Rev. Ike will be sure to ask for contributions--and those who will proudly hand over $100 or more might be asked to step forward for recognition.

A seminar titled "Remove Your Roadblocks to Money, Prosperity and Happiness!" will be held Monday night at Golden Hall. For that, you pay $15 to get in.

Saturday is a day off. An aide said that Rev. Ike would be looking at real estate. He is thinking of setting up a residence in San Diego, the aide explained, another of many around the country.

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