Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. has quickly become one of the nation's foremost religious leaders, especially when it comes to standing up for traditional marriage and intact families. In light of his position opposing the passage of Maryland's law legalizing gay marriage, Jackson took time to talk with The Christian Post on a range of issues pertaining to faith, Scripture and the criticism he takes for his stances.
The prominent black evangelical was born in Ohio and moved to the Washington, D.C. area with his family as a child. After graduating from college, he attended Harvard Business School with his sights set on a career in business. But after the death of his father, Jackson felt called to the ministry and began preaching as a part-time pastor. In 1988, he became the senior pastor at Hope Christian Church in College Park, Md.
In addition to his role as a pastor, Jackson is the presiding bishop of the International Communion of Evangelical Churches that represents about 1,200 churches across America.
CP: I want to start out by asking in light of Maryland's recent debate and upcoming legalization of same-sex marriage, tell me why you are willing to take such a pronounced and visible stand to defend marriage?
Jackson: First, we as people of faith are not trying to impose our views on others. We are simply using God's Word, given to us by the scriptures, to stand up for what is right. Instead, those who are advocating for what they call "marriage" that does not involve a man and a woman, are trying to impose their agenda on us.
The reality is, if you change the definition of marriage, you change the definition of the family, then you change what is taught in schools – that it's okay for Heather to have two mommies – and exploring your "sexual awareness" as a young child is acceptable; and it's not.
CP: Can you expand on how families will be impacted when same-sex marriages are legalized?
Jackson: Yes, let's use Washington, D.C. as an example. It's encouraged in public schools to teach children – young children – to explore and examine the differences in heterosexuality, homosexuality and transgender lifestyles. Now you and I both know that children should not be encouraged to examine these types of issues, especially in public schools. To say that it's okay for Heather to have two mommies is not biblical.
CP: Many times proponents of gay marriage compare the issue to the civil rights battles of the 1950s and 60s. Do you feel that is a fair comparison?
Jackson: No, I do not and for this reason. The issue of gay marriage is not one of civil rights because all people are protected by the laws of our different levels of government. African-Americans and even people of others races who had to endure the tragedy of slavery, of being viewed as less than a whole person, had many obstacles to overcome. But you cannot compare those struggles to the issue of gay marriage. Saying you are being discriminated against for wanting to marry someone of the same sex does not even come close to those who were bound by slavery.
CP: In your opinion, what is the real objective of the homosexual activist?
Jackson: They want to change the definition of marriage – plain and simple. If those who have a radical gay agenda were to be successful in changing the definition of marriage, then they could define, for example, what "hate" speech is and then what a minister could preach from the pulpit. We're already seeing efforts to try those very things.
CP: The recent debate over religious freedom has been highlighted by President Obama's recent mandate on contraception. Do you feel religious freedom in America is under attack?
Jackson: Most definitely. It's interesting to note that the Roman Catholic Church has become the standard bearer on many of these issues. We don't need to let them stand by themselves; everyone who believes in Scripture, in religious freedom, should stand with them.
What this administration is saying, what they are trying to do is an "end reach" into and around the church. When we're dealing with issues of religious freedom or gay marriage, it's sometimes easy for the evangelical community or for the African-American churches to say, "That's not my issue." What we need is a more consolidated engagement on these types of issues.
CP: There is an effort to place a referendum on same-sex marriage in front of the voters in November. How will you and others be involved in the issue?
Jackson: The coalitions I work with are multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-generational. I would say about 3,000 groups and churches will be working together to educate the citizens of Maryland. I attended a meeting of about 250 clergy members on Saturday. I would say about 40 percent were Hispanic, 50 percent were black and the rest were white. There will be a lot of effort put into this issue.
CP: Supporters of same-sex marriage say one of their primary goals is to educate the public that gay marriage does in fact strengthen families. How do you respond to that comment?
Jackson: It is an oxy-moron. Two people of the same sex who marry and try to indoctrinate children into that lifestyle does nothing to strengthen marriage or families. Again, it only attempts to redefine what marriage is and what a family should be. A mother and a father best raise children. There are factors in our society that interrupt that process and that is unfortunate, but gay marriage will not strengthen marriage.
CP: Bishop Jackson, I have heard from some black pastors that the Democrat Party or key individuals who are Democrats have told black ministers like you not to preach on issues of gay marriage or other issues that run contrary to their platform. Have you ever personally experienced anything of this nature?
Jackson: As a matter of fact I have. Once when I was fighting the federal hate crimes legislation, I received an overnight, registered letter from Rep. James Clyburn saying that his father was a pastor and what I was doing was a form of bigotry. I've also had complaints lodged against me with the IRS for comments I made about our former Lt. Gov. and other politicians who happened to be Democrats. Naturally, the charges were unfounded – the issue they referred to was taped – and I was clearly not in violation of any law. I would never use the church or my position to endorse a specific candidate.
CP: Do you believe the efforts to repeal same-sex marriage in Maryland will be successful?
Jackson: Yes, I do. To use a phrase from Muhammad Ali, "We float like a butterfly, but sting like a bee." But I must say that the opposing side has waged a brilliant public relations campaign. They want the public to believe the debate about gay marriage is only a religious battle, but it's not.
We are 31 for 31 on gay marriage when it's been put before the voters of different states. They are trying to press the issue in different states hoping to advance their cause with the Supreme Court. Still, when people examine what marriage is and should be, they tend to vote overwhelming against gay marriage.
But let me say this to conclude. I feel our opponents have become so aggressive on this issue, that they are overplaying their hands and only harming our culture. Yes, they may win a battle or two here and there but our side will prevail in the long run.