July-August 2020 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

With President Donald Trump under growing pressure to address racial unrest in America, the White House decided to send Vice President Mike Pence to meet with black religious and business leaders on June 5.

The White House, however, made a strange choice to facilitate the gathering: It asked Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., a Maryland pastor known for his strident anti-LGBTQ views, to run the event.

Jackson, who pastors a mega-church in Prince George’s County, Md., has no history of working on issues of racial reconciliation. He’s mainly known for his close alliance with the Republican Party and ties to the Religious Right. He has several times spoken at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, where he attacked marriage equality and LGBTQ rights. (Jackson is also a member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board.)

When Congress debated anti-hate-crime 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. He even 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?”

Pence’s meeting with Jackson came during a time of national unrest in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died after a police officer knelt heavily on his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd cried out repeatedly that he could not breathe. His death led to protests in cities nationwide.

On its “Wall of Separation” blog, Americans United noted the Trump administration’s decision to align with Jackson shows they don’t care about promoting racial justice.

“Over the weekend, millions of Americans marched or attended vigils, demanding a serious look at the issue of systemic racism,” observed AU. “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.”