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Bishop Harry Jackson fights gay-marriage in District and across nation
He started writing a column, "A Capital View," for Charisma, a Christian magazine. "The editors said, 'We'd like you to write about what you're seeing in politics and life.' "
The columns took off. There was fan mail, "and I liked that," he says. "I suddenly got speaking engagements to go around the country."
He wrote about abortion and same-sex marriage and the oft-quoted stats about black family breakups. "I began to research issues that Christians were upset about around the country."
And what struck a nerve, what got them up out of their seats, was the issue of same-sex marriage.
That was a big stick to start waving in the church air. And wave it he did.
"I believe that the Bible teaches that same-sex marriage is an oxymoron," he says. "If you redefine marriage, you have to redefine family. You'd have to redefine parenting. I'm looking at the extinction of marriage. And black culture is in a free fall."
With fame came backlash.
Someone slipped a note under his door at his apartment. "Bishop Jackson, 50% of the people in this building are gay!"
"I was in line someplace recently," Jackson says, "and a woman who obviously opposes what I'm doing looked at me and said, 'You better go back to Maryland.' "
His wife says: "We have been verbally abused by the best."
Some of his appearances unleashed vitriol, even threats.
At a Board of Elections hearing in June, some of Jackson's followers gave it back -- mini-tirades that seemed cruel and mean-spirited, that Jackson says he regrets.
Jackson allows that his church is hardly a one-note crusade. "In my church we have a gang-prevention group. We're concerned with all those things -- social ills. But the reason the gay marriage issue is so polarizing is that, from a theological construct, it is clear that gay marriage shouldn't be the order of the day."
Critics have accused Jackson of being a tool of the right wing, a preacher suddenly in love with the klieg lights and big auditoriums.
"I'm amazed at how many times I hear him on the radio or see him on TV," says Pastor Phil Munsey, of Irvine, Calif., who has participated in conferences with Jackson. "He's fighting for political ideas in the religious arena."
Bishop Wellington Boone, of Atlanta, chief prelate of the Fellowship of International Churches, has known Jackson for more than 20 years. "I think Bishop Jackson feels that a lot of blacks are not just culturally conscious, but culturally controlled."
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson says he disagrees with the principles espoused by Jackson. "It's an unfortunate reality," Mendelson says, "that one can't preach discrimination without inciting homophobia."
It's a Sunday morning, and Bishop Jackson is in the pulpit. There's a couple of big television screens on the wall, with quotes from the Scripture printed on them. He's in a suit jacket and jeans, and he has a microphone attached to his ear. It's the new age of preaching, both serious and casual.
The bishop has a greenroom. He can sit there and relax; guests can relax there.
He comes upon the stage and gives a hand motion to the choir, and their voices rise up. He joins in. "What we do in a time of testing?" he says, offering his sermon.
"Being relevant," he says, "means you have to speak to the problems of today. Too often we analyze too long. We are not aggressive in deciding what positions we are going to take."
There is a chorus of "amens."
There are 300 people at the second of morning services. It is a big church, though not a mega-church. He's talking about contentious social issues without mentioning gay marriage or abortion. He says: "You can love individuals without condoning what they do."
Some choir members swoop around the front of the stage in angel-white dresses.
A security guard is positioned near the bishop, another in the hallway.
He's still on the football field.
Let the blows come.
"I think they'll try to pass a same-sex marriage bill in early December," he says of the D.C. Council.
He can't wait for winter.