A week has passed since President Donald Trump’s tasteless stunt of walking to a church near the White House for a Bible-waving photo-op, an action that resulted in protesters in the area being dispersed with an aggressive show of force rarely unleashed on peaceful gatherings.
Since then, the administration has been doing what it does best: lying about what happened. They’ve insisted that the protesters, who were speaking out against the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, weren’t hit with tear gas. (They were.) Attorney General William Barr denies that gave the order for police to assault the protesters. (He did.)
On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence attempted to smooth things over by visiting with some black religious and business leaders in the D.C. area. But Pence’s choice to lead the meeting is telling, and it’s an indication that the administration isn’t taking the issue of racial healing seriously.
Pence turned to Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., who pastors a large church in Prince George’s County, Md., to facilitate the meeting. While Jackson is black, he’s hardly representative of that community or its current concerns. For the past several years, Jackson has been best known as a shill for the right wing. He often appears at Religious Right gatherings, where his presence sends a comforting, although incorrect, message to crowds of older, white, conservative evangelicals that the black community agrees with them. (Jackson is also a member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board.)
The issue Jackson is most closely identified with isn’t racial reconciliation or police violence – it’s gay bashing. During the battle over marriage equality a few years ago, Jackson was all over the media spewing far-right bromides about how two people of the same gender shouldn’t be able to get married because of what he thinks the Bible says.
When Congress debated hate crimes legislation that would impose enhanced criminal penalties on those who physically attacked LGBTQ people, Jackson insisted, incorrectly, that it would penalize speech as well.
“And so what we are dealing with,” he said during a meeting of Christian nationalists, “is an insidious intrusion of the Devil to try to cut off the voice of the church, and I for one am not going to let that happen.”
In 2009, when municipal officials in D.C. passed legislation granting same-sex couples the right to marry, Jackson (whose church is not in that city) attacked the move. The day after the legislation was approved, a bad snowstorm hit the city and paralyzed it for a day. He wrote a column explaining how helpless he felt over the storm and the new law, but he had a truck to get through the snow so all was well. (I know – it doesn’t make any sense to me either.) Jackson attempted to overturn the law by forming a group called Stand for Marriage DC. There was one problem: It was bankrolled by Religious Right groups, not city residents.
After the U.S. Supreme Court extended marriage equality nationwide in 2015, Jackson was among those claiming that houses of worship would be compelled to perform such unions. He told PBS, “Right now, we wonder, who is going to conduct weddings and these kinds of things and how free will we be?”
Five years have passed since the high court’s ruling in that case. If you’re wondering how many houses of worship nationwide have been forced to perform weddings for same-sex couples, I have the answer: zero.
Over the weekend, millions of Americans marched or attended vigils, demanding a serious look at the issue of systemic racism. These events were truly intersectional and included many LGBTQ people who spoke out against racism and police brutality. (In D.C., a band of evangelicals marched.) Americans want action, and if ever there was the time for leadership from the White House, it is now. Administration officials clearly aren’t interested. If they were, they wouldn’t have turned the discussion over to Jackson, an anti-LGBTQ extremist who tears bridges down instead of building them.
Photo: President Trump and entourage walk to St. John's Church. Screenshot from C-SPAN.