I was excited recently when I got the word that I was featured in an extensive article in USA Today. The voice on the other end of the phone also informed me that a sizable picture of me would also appear. Needless to say it only took but a few minutes for me to get a copy of the paper in my hand. As I read the article, I was further flattered by the fact that the writer included the story of my father being threatened by a Florida State Trooper in a 1950s hate crime.
The joy that my message is getting huge traction in the mainstream media faded as I read the second paragraph. "Jackson's argument is a lie, and it should not be told in the name of the Gospel." This riveting line stopped me in my tracks. Spoken by a major gay advocacy group's leader, these words were meant to vilify me and the thousands of Christian ministers around the country that believe exactly like I do. I was saddened but not surprised. I could not help asking myself the question, "Have we reverted to senseless name calling, instead of debating the facts?"
Growing up in the ghetto, I am familiar with the politics of intimidation. I learned early in my youth that it was when I was most afraid that I could sometimes bluff toughness and "sell a few wolf tickets." My loud voice and an intimidating looks got me out of more than one close call. On one occasion, a friend of mine yelled at a guy who had pinned him to the ground and was beating him unmercifully, "I dare you to let me up!" Much to his surprise he was turned loose from a choke hold by his larger, ferocious foe. My friend wisely ran for cover upon his release.
Like my childhood friend, gay activists around the country are getting nervous that they are about to experience an embarrassing political setback. Instead of amending the hate crimes legislation that protects churches in a substantive way, they are simply crying out in a louder, more threatening manner. Gay advocates are not looking for fairness; they are looking for an upper hand.
The Senate refers to S-1105 as the Matthew Shepard Law. Matthew Shepard was a gay student who was tragically murdered in Wyoming nearly a decade ago. This legislative moniker identifies the bill as being pro-gay vs. pro-everyone's civil rights. Fortunately for Matthew Shepard's family, justice was served in that case. The murderers were found promptly and dealt with swiftly.
In contrast, the families of many blacks murdered in the civil rights movement era are still waiting for justice. Last Friday, the following words appeared in the USA Today along with the article on hate crimes:
"Justice for two black teens came 43 years late Thursday when a jury convicted reputed Klansman James Ford Seale for taking part in their abductions and killings."
Both gays and blacks should get justice in America, but we cannot allow either group to receive special privileges at the expense of another group of Americans. If the loopholes in this legislation are not closed, Christians and Bible-teaching churches could become victims of a strange brand of reverse discrimination. These actions are tantamount to the gay community saying, "Freedom for me, but bondage for you." This attitude is just not consistent with America's ideals.
Despite the fact that legal experts like the Alliance Defense Fund and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberties confirm the legal legitimacy of my concerns, gay activists quoted in the US Today article called my concerns "completely bogus." Their hope is to paint all outspoken leaders of faith as narrow minded Neanderthals and bigots who are out of touch with the will of the nation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Major Christian ministries around the nation have begun to lift their voices to join in a chorus of concern about the potential muzzling of our pulpits. Radio and television ministries are trumpeting warnings to the faithful. Many have produced special programs to inform the average Christian citizen about the impending dangers to their freedoms. As a result, there is a ground swell of popular opposition to the Senate's proposed Hate Crimes Bill emerging from grass roots America.
In conclusion, let me remind you that we must do our part to protect the liberties of all Americans – not just the ones that scream the loudest. E-mail or call your Senator's office and state your position against the Hate Crimes Bill. Then e-mail or call the White House and thank President Bush for promising to veto this spurious legislation.
Keep Hope Alive!
Bishop Harry Jackson is the senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in College Park, Maryland (www.thehopeconnection.org). He is also chairman of High Impact Leadership Coalition (www.himpactus.com), the nonprofit organization which drafted the Black Contract with America on Moral Values.