Bishops and Pawns
In the group photo publicizing "Justice Sunday II," one man stands out among the group of Christian right luminaries. It is not because he is the only guy not wearing a dark suit or because he is one of the biggest folks in the room. Bishop Harry Jackson stands out because he is the only African American in the picture. Over the past year, Jackson, who was the featured African American speaker at the "Justice Sunday II" rally, has become one of the religious right's go-to-guys.
One month before last year's presidential election Bishop Jackson envisioned a second term for President George W. Bush. In a commentary posted on The Elijah List -- "Discover what God's Prophets and Prophetic People are Saying Daily" -- Jackson wrote that he "support[ed] George Bush" and he believed "that the Black vote will push him over the top."
Bishop Jackson said a "'stealth vote' of Blacks will turn things around for the President."
"In my view, God has been preparing the heart of President Bush to take a radical stand for social justice in his next term. This could be the beginning of the development of a 'kingdom agenda' instead of a limited 'conservative' versus 'liberal' approach to the woes of our society. The current political labels have led to bitter divisions that do not serve the nation's best interests."
Bishop Jackson traced his support for Bush to a January 2004 meeting with members of the Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders (ACPE). According to Jackson, ACPE, led by C. Peter Wagner, includes Lou Engle, Joseph Garlington, James Goll, Bill Hamon, Cindy Jacobs, Chuck Pierce, John and Paula Sanford, Dutch Sheets, Tommy Tenney, Barbara Yoder, and several others.
"We all felt that the election would be close and very bitter," Jackson wrote. "As a group, we stated that the major issue of this election would be justice. We, corporately, prophetically declared that if President Bush chose justice, he would be re-elected."
Jackson also pointed out the role that High Impact African American Churches were playing in the political process: "High impact African-American churches are creating high impact leaders who are developing high impact congregations that are changing their communities. These high impact Black Christians are more likely to read their Bibles and practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, or worship than their White, Hispanic, or other ethnic counterparts."
In November 2004, Jackson's prognostication proved reasonably accurate. While President Bush received only slightly more African American votes than he did in 2000 (up from 9% to 11%), he did much better among Blacks in Florida, where support among African Americans rose 6 percentage points to 13 percent, and in Ohio, where the president may have garnered as much as 16 percent of the black vote.
High Impact Leadership Coalition
In High Impact African American Churches, Jackson, and co-author, statistical expert George Barna, spell out "the differences that set apart high-impact African-American churches from other churches."
According to the book's promotional materials at SonicLeader.com, "The book observes the manner in which African-Americans approach their faith; how black pastors often serve as the most important leader in many African-American's lives; the unique and powerful ways in which African- Americans follow Christ through discipleship, worship, evangelism, stewardship and serving the community; and how African-Americans build lasting and vital relationships, both with family and in the church."
SonicLeader.com aims "To help today's Christian Leaders grow in their understanding of ministry leadership through concentrated knowledge of the latest, best, most important books; and to create an easy access point into the leadership conversation for tomorrow's Christian leaders." Being a Christian leader means "to learn... about what it means to lead a movement, build teams, develop and communicate vision, organize their ministry, communicate cross-culturally, recognize and adjust to social trends, and study the lives of great leaders. In short, they need to learn how to leverage their gifts for maximum kingdom impact."
In January, Jackson launched the High-Impact Leadership Coalition, described in a press release as a "grassroots nonprofit organization" whose "mission is to help educate and empower church, community and political leaders in urban communities across America regarding moral value issues important to us all, especially among African Americans."
At its initial press conference and summit in Los Angeles, in February, the Coalition unveiled its "Black Contract with America on Moral Values." The Black Contract -- a throwback to Newt Gingrich's mid-nineties Contract with America -- focuses on: marriage, with a special emphasis on prohibiting same-sex marriage; supports privatizing social security and encourages homeownership; supports school vouchers, charter schools and boosting black enrollment in higher education; advocates prison reform, including a laws restoring the rights of felons; mentions intervention in Sudan and penalties against corporations that explore for oil in the region; and calls for overhauling America's healthcare system, with special emphasis on programs to cover the poor.
At Jackson's side was the Rev. Lou Sheldon, the founder of the virulently anti-gay Traditional Values Coalition. Jasmyne Cannick, of The Black Commentator, pointed out "the press conference and summit gave new meaning to the phrase 'sleeping with the enemy.'"
After an April meeting of conservative Christian leaders in New York City, Jackson pointed out that "We came together... to send a strong message to elected officials and candidates for public office in New York and across America: vote against gay marriage, abortion and for other moral value issues or evangelical Christians throughout the U.S. will continue to vote you out of office."
Teaming Up with the Christian Right for “Justice Sunday II”
Bishop Harry Jackson is just the kind of African American conservative the Republican Party is looking for these days. He is a registered Democrat who has broken ranks with the Party; he is far to the right on social issues such as abortion and gay rights; he believes in the president's faith-based initiative; and, as senior pastor of the 2,000-member Hope Christian Church in College Park, Maryland, he has a ready-made constituency.
It has been less than a year since he endorsed the president, and Jackson has met with Bush; sat down with Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman; and was the only African American speaker at "Justice Sunday II," on Sunday, August 14, at the Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee.
On "Justice Sunday II -- God Save the United States and This Honorable Court!" -- a live nationwide television simulcast produced by Family Research Council and Focus on the Family Action -- Jackson joined such Christian right luminaries as Tony Perkins, president of the Washington, DC-based Family Research Council, Dr. James Dobson, the founder of the Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Focus on the Family, rejected Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), former senator Zell Miller (D-Ga.), Prison Fellowship Ministries founder Chuck Colson, and Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly.
While the telecast may not have actually "made its way into 79 million households in 50 states" as the website of the Family Research Council claimed, there were a goodly number of people tuned in. As the Washington Post reported, viewers from coast to coast heard Jackson tell the 2,200 (mostly white people) in attendance that the "Christian community is experiencing a new unity around the moral values that we share because of common faith." Jackson also pointed out that appointing judges who will strictly interpret the Constitution is advantageous to blacks: "If justice matters to anybody in America, it matters to minorities and to people who have historically been at the bottom of the barrel" who will not have "to deal with a maverick judge changing the law at the last minute."
In an oratorical flourish that charmed the crowd, Jackson bellowed: "I believe that what God is doing today is calling the black church to team with the white evangelical church and the Catholic Church and people of moral conscience, and in this season we need to begin to tell both [political] parties, 'Listen, it's our way or the highway.'
"You and I can bring the rule and reign of the cross to America, and we can change America on our watch together," he roared. "Do you believe it?"
Meeting with the President and Endorsing His Agenda
On Monday July 25, Jackson was one of more than 20 black religious leaders "who met with Bush at the White House," the Washington Post reported on August 7. After the meeting, Jackson maintained that he was impressed with the president's efforts to "increase black homeownership, to extend more funding to faith-based social service agencies and to increase funding to slow the spread of AIDS in Africa."
"People who are skeptical about the Republicans don't realize the sincerity of their outreach effort," Jackson said.
According to the Washington Post, since January, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman has met with and addressed 17 black groups, including the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (while Bush was addressing a more conservative black audience in Indiana); black church leaders; and the National Association of Black Journalists.
"Almost always, his message is the same," the newspaper reported: Mehlman generally talks about the Republican Party's historic connection to African Americans; offers up an apology for the Nixon-era, and onward, GOP "Southern Strategy" which basically disregarded black voters while using racist tactics to solicit the white vote; and then proclaims that GOP leaders are working aggressively to bring blacks into the Party.
In an August 19, op-ed published by the Rev. Son Myung Moon-owned Washington Times, Bishop Jackson wrote that a "New Black Church" is "emerging in America." He commented on the need for "social justice" and maintained that the president's "brilliant phrase 'compassionate conservatism'... resonates in the hearts and minds of black leaders."
Then Jackson praised the Bush Agenda and its effect on African Americans. Jackson approved of the president's Medicare drug benefit, but said nothing else about health care for the poor. He supported an upcoming faith-based summit in March 2006 that will "discuss removing barriers which prevent faith-based organizations from receiving corporate and foundations funds," but said nothing about mechanisms to hold faith-based organizations accountable for the government funds it receives. In addition, he praised the president's "compassionate work in Africa," without questioning when the aid promised by the Bush Administration would be delivered.
It is no wonder that one of the biggest guys in the room has become a valuable go-to-guy for the Bush Administration.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
Other Recent Articles by Bill Berkowitz
Other Recent Articles by Bill Berkowitz