Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., Trump evangelical adviser, has died

Jackson was a prominent Black conservative pastor, with close ties to many religious right leaders.

Bishop Harry Jackson of Maryland speaks at the unveiling of the “Justice Declaration,” a statement by Christian leaders on criminal justice, in Washington, D.C., on June 20, 2017. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

(RNS) — Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., a prominent conservative pastor and evangelical adviser to President Donald Trump, has died, according to his church. 

Jackson, 66, died Monday (Nov. 9), according to a statement posted on the website of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland, where he was senior pastor. 

“It is with a heavy heart that we notify you that our beloved Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr. has transitioned to be with the Lord on November 9, 2020,” the statement read. “Please pray for the Jackson family’s comfort and respect their right to privacy at this time.”

Associate Pastor Rickardo Bodden, chief of staff of Hope Christian Church, told Religion News Service he did not know the cause of Jackson’s death.

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“In our divided society, only the church can model unity,” Jackson told RNS around the time of a race and reconciliation gathering he spearheaded in Dallas in 2015, on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

“We must lead the way in erasing the disparities in U.S. education, our criminal justice system, and in urban economic development.”

As one of Trump’s unofficial evangelical advisers, Jackson visited the White House on numerous occasions and attended Trump’s closing speech at this year’s Republican National Convention.

Vice President Mike Pence expressed his condolences Tuesday on social media. On Nov. 1, Jackson had hosted a town hall with the vice president at Hope Christian.

“Karen and I were saddened to learn of the passing of our dear friend, Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. We are praying God’s comfort for the Jackson Family, the Hope Christian Church Congregation, and all who admired this Good and Great Man,” Pence tweeted.

“Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr’s legacy of Faith and Love for America will continue to inspire generations. We ‘mourn with those who mourn’ but we know in our hearts, that he heard our Savior say ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ God Bless Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr.”

In late September, Jackson and a number of other faith leaders attended a White House ceremony where Amy Coney Barrett was announced as Trump’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Two faith leaders were among several people who attended that event and later tested positive for the novel coronavirus, including Trump and first lady Melania Trump. Jackson was also tested after the event but his results were negative, the church told RNS in an early October voicemail.

The same day as the Rose Garden ceremony, Jackson participated in evangelist Franklin Graham’s prayer march in Washington, D.C.

Jackson last spoke at Hope Christian Nov. 3, at the church’s midweek service.

In a video posted to his Twitter feed on Monday, he gave a brief devotional, based on Psalm 100, about the power of thankfulness.

“The idea is that there is progression,” he said in the video. “It’s like turning off the street into a gate of a property. And then I praise God — it is talking about what God has done, how he has been faithful in the past, that often catapults me further into the manifold presence of God.”

Bodden said the church has continued to have virtual services during the coronavirus pandemic but also had “limited in-person services on some Sundays,” from Oct. 11 through Nov. 1, in accordance with guidance from its county and the state of Maryland. 

In 2005, Jackson was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and during his treatment had a stroke. He told “The 700 Club” in 2015 that at one point, he was “24 hours away from dying.” During that interview, he said he believed God still had work for him to do at the time. 

“If my assignment is not over here on Earth, I am immortal until I’ve finished that assignment,” he said.

Jackson is the author of a number of books, including 2013’s “You Were Born for More: Six Steps to Breaking Through to Your Destiny” and 2004’s “The Warrior’s Heart: Rules of Engagement for the Spiritual War Zone.”  He also co-wrote books with pollster George Barna and with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. 

According to his church’s biography, Jackson graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts and later earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business school before becoming a pastor.

Evangelical author and speaker Stephen Mansfield said Jackson was a gifted and humble leader and one of his heroes in the faith. Mansfield said Jackson, who was a friend, was respected by a wide range of political leaders.

“The thing I most admire about him is the way he seemed to walk the line between the left and the right politically,” he said. 

A conservative Black pastor in the charismatic tradition, Jackson was outspoken in his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. But his 2005 “Black Contract With America” also advocated prison reform and economic development.

“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,”  Jackson told RNS in 2005. 

Jackson was one of dozens of evangelical Christian leaders who encouraged the Trump administration to advocate for criminal justice reform that was an alternative to its “tough on crime” language by signing a “Justice Declaration” in 2017.

“My experience is I’ve had more access with these guys than I did under Bush and other GOP leadership,” Jackson said, referring to President George W. Bush’s administration.

Jackson was called on by Trump at an April 10 Oval Office gathering on Good Friday to declare a blessing as the clergy joined in an event two days before Easter.

“Once again, give this great man, our president, and give the vice president wisdom beyond their natural limitations,” Jackson prayed after first asking for divine healing of racial, class and gender divides. “Give them insights so they can cover us, lead us and bless us.”

Trump introduced Jackson as “a highly respected gentleman who is a member of our faith and a person that we have tremendous respect for.”

Jackson had recently remarried after his wife, Vivian M. Jackson, died in 2018. He dedicated Hope Christian’s Sunday service on Oct. 4 to his new wife, Rosalind Lott, noting they had been married for one month that weekend.

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