NEWS PROFILE: Another Jackson Becomes a Voice for Black Churches

c. 2005 Religion News Service BELTSVILLE, Md. _ Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. has found himself in a wide range of settings across church and state since he unveiled his “Black Contract With America on Moral Values.” One day, the conservative minister is on stage with some of the nation’s top African-American thought leaders at […]

c. 2005 Religion News Service

BELTSVILLE, Md. _ Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. has found himself in a wide range of settings across church and state since he unveiled his “Black Contract With America on Moral Values.”

One day, the conservative minister is on stage with some of the nation’s top African-American thought leaders at an Atlanta church. Less than two weeks later, he’s at a U.S. Senate office building in Washington addressing a room filled predominantly with white evangelical leaders.

Despite criticism from some African-American ministers that he’s the black equivalent of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Jackson says he is comfortable in both places. As he shares the stage with religious leaders from both the left and right _ and just happens to share the last name of a far more liberal black political leader _ Jackson demonstrates that the African-American religious community is not as monolithic as some may think.

“What I believe is that the whole left and right paradigm that politics has chosen to create for itself is fundamentally incorrect because the Bible has both what we call left and right issues,” said the 52-year-old pastor in an interview at the office of his Hope Christian Church in Prince George’s County, Md.

“So who told us you got to vote left or right? I really hope that both parties do soul-searching and come more back toward the middle.”

The man who leads a multicultural charismatic megachurch in a Washington suburb and preaches on Christian radio is now focused on using his bridge-building skills to address the American political scene.

Since February, the founder of the new High Impact Leadership Coalition has spurred on black Christians and others who agree with the moral contract he’s drafted to address issues ranging from opposing abortion and same-sex marriage to reforming education and health care.

A registered Democrat, Jackson voted for President Bush last fall. He says he hopes others will consider reaching out to a different party and to other racial and ethnic groups.

“There has to be a reconstruction of the black family and there has to be a coming together with the broader evangelical community in order for us to make a change,” said Jackson at black commentator Tavis Smiley’s “State of the Black Union” summit in late February in Atlanta, an event broadcast live on C-SPAN.

At the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, Jackson told the mostly white evangelical crowd, “You’re hearing from the same God I’m hearing from.”

But Jackson’s attempt to combine issues white evangelicals have long been known for _ protesting abortion and homosexuality _ and more liberal African-Americans often care about _ economic development and prison reform _ seems almost combustible in some circles.

After the unveiling of his contract in Los Angeles in February, African-American ministers responded in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece by relating it to a previous contract of a similar name that Republicans promoted in 1994: “Newt Gingrich is back and he’s black!”

“It’s unfortunate that he’s letting himself be led rather than joining with the traditional (black) church leadership to work out an agenda for the black church for the future,” said the Rev. Madison Shockley, co-author of the piece and a United Church of Christ minister in Carlsbad, Calif., in an interview. “If you look at the top two items, they are directly from the right-wing agenda.”

Shockley’s church is “open and affirming of persons of all sexual orientations” while Jackson has called the gay agenda “clearly satanic” in his bimonthly column in Charisma magazine, a prominent publication among Pentecostals and charismatic Christians.

The Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, president of the Washington-based Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said more liberal African-American leaders like himself are not buying into Jackson’s contract.

“More progressive leaders understand that, of course, no one wants an abortion, but we know there are circumstances when abortion … can be a very necessary thing,” he said.

Unswayed by his critics, Jackson said he welcomes the debate.

“I think that they are helping me advertise what we are doing and I welcome their criticism,” he said.

He cites polling that shows blacks oppose same-sex marriage more than whites do.

“My critics want to make it sound like I’ve sold out,” he said. “The truth is they are misrepresenting the values of our people.”

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Other religious leaders _ white and black _ are embracing Jackson, sometimes literally.

National Association of Evangelicals President Ted Haggard greeted Jackson with a bear hug after his remarks at the Hart building.

“He’s building a bridge between white evangelicalism and African-American evangelicalism that we haven’t had in 20 years,” Haggard said. “What he’s doing is going to help everybody.”

The Rev. James R. Love, pastor of Faith Tabernacle United Holy Church in Washington, said at a recent National Press Club gathering on evangelicals that Jackson is hardly on his own but rather part of “a ground swell of conservative black preachers.”

“There are some of us that are part of the new guard and we’re thinking independently,” Love explained. “We’re not necessarily Democratic nor necessarily Republican. We’re independent. Show me what you got and I’ll make up my mind.”

Jackson said he’s still trying to get the ear of key Democrats but Republicans are already listening.

In an interview, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., raved about Jackson.

“I think he’s given us a road map as to how to appeal to the African-American community,” the senator said. “I think his ideas, they ring true to me.”

Charisma Publisher Stephen Strang said Jackson’s stand on moral issues clearly differentiates him from “the Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons” of America.

“I think he is an indication of … a seismic shift that’s happening in the African-American community, particularly among clergy,” said Strang. “There are a lot of African-American pastors that feel even more strongly about some of these things than even your white conservatives.”

Jackson plans to plug his contract at half a dozen conferences in cities from Dallas to Chicago to Washington, with hopes of gaining 1 million signatures by Feb. 1, 2006. He intends to draw Christians _ mostly black, but others, too _ from several streams of that faithful fold. His targets include Baptist, Pentecostal and Word of Faith leaders such as the Rev. Frederick K.C. Price, whose Los Angeles megachurch was the site of the unveiling of the contract and the High Impact Leadership Coalition.

Jackson, a former college football player, now talks about running a marathon. As Jackson tries to stay physically fit, he expects others to join him in his race toward what he views as the political middle.

“My whole premise is I’m going to have to wade through controversy in order for people to remember that the majority of blacks think like I think,” he said. “It’s not the other way around. We just don’t get the microphone.”

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