He had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2005 and had a stroke later that year, but recovered to continue preaching. Rickardo Bodden, the chief of staff at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, confirmed the death but said he did not know the cause.
As senior pastor at Hope Christian, Bishop Jackson led a Pentecostal congregation of about 1,500 members and built a national profile through radio commentary, magazine columns and television appearances. He called himself a “biblical conservative and social reformer,” accused liberal Black ministers of being out of touch with their congregations and founded the High Impact Leadership Coalition to bring together evangelical pastors.
Bishop Jackson cited biblical scripture while condemning abortion and same-sex marriage, which he once called part of “a satanic plot to destroy our seed.” In 2005 he introduced a “Black Contract With America on Moral Values,” alluding to the legislative agenda of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) while calling for the privatization of Social Security, among other right-leaning policy proposals.
Even as he backed conservative politicians, he pushed leaders of both parties — including Trump — to promote economic development in low-income neighborhoods and overhaul the criminal justice system, in part through sentencing changes for drug offenders and better rehabilitation for former inmates. “The old labels of Democrat and Republican, left and right, have outlived their usefulness,” he once told the Baltimore Sun. “Whoever supports a moral platform is fine by me.”
Bishop Jackson “often went against the grain in terms of how he applied the Bible to cultural issues,” said Tony Evans, a megachurch pastor in Dallas. “He would be very conservative when it came to high-level moral issues, but very socially conscious when it came to equity across racial and class lines.”
“He tried to bring heaven into history,” Evans added in a phone interview. “He didn’t just want to theorize and pontificate from the pulpit. He wanted to see action take place in communities that sought to bring change.”
Bishop Jackson said he admired Trump in part for his willingness to adopt criminal justice changes, and joined a group of evangelical advisers to the president that included Paula White and Black pastors Darrell Scott and Alveda King. He visited the White House several times, delivering an Easter blessing earlier this year in which he prayed for “this plague” — the coronavirus — to pass over.
At a roundtable discussion in June, Trump called him “a great unifying source of strength and everything else.” Bishop Jackson hosted Vice President Pence at Hope Christian Church that same month for a discussion on racial discrimination, in which he recalled that his own father was held at gunpoint by a state trooper in 1953 while working on voter registration efforts in Florida.
“I feel like Blacks feel like they’ve been misused by the culture, Democrat and Republican, Black, White and every other group has misused them,” he said. “This is a deep wound in the soul of African Americans.”
In Bishop Jackson’s telling, he made a “paradigm shift” after the 2014 killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager who was shot by a White police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Months later, he partnered with Bishop T.D. Jakes in Dallas to organize a forum on social justice issues that brought together White and Black members of the clergy.
Some faith leaders questioned Bishop Jackson’s effort to build “bridges of peace,” given his incendiary remarks about gay people and opposition to same-sex marriage, which he described as a threat to Black families. Though he was a longtime Maryland resident, he moved to Washington to oppose the District’s same-sex marriage laws in 2009, launching a legal battle in a city that he described as “the Armageddon of marriage.”
After the D.C. Council voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, Bishop Jackson spearheaded a ballot initiative that would recognize only marriage between a man and a woman. The initiative was blocked by city election officials, who ruled that it violated LGBT protections under the D.C. Human Rights Act.
Bishop Jackson appealed the decision of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics all the way to the Supreme Court, which rejected his legal challenge without comment in 2011, nearly two years after the D.C. Council voted to legalize same-sex marriage altogether. He found slightly more success, in his telling, in placing a “curse” on the Washington Blade, an LGBT newspaper that chronicled his crusade against same-sex marriage.
In a 2012 sermon, he recalled laying his hands on a Blade newsstand and cursing the paper “in the name of Jesus.” Two months later, he said, the newspaper’s parent company declared bankruptcy. The Blade’s staff continued to publish.
Harry Ralph Jackson Jr. was born in Tallahassee on Feb. 4, 1953, and grew up in Cincinnati. One of his grandfathers was a preacher, but at age 13 Bishop Jackson stopped going to church and dropped out of the choir to play football. He starred at defensive tackle at Williams College in Massachusetts, where he graduated in 1975 with a degree in English, and later landed a tryout with the New England Patriots.
After lasting just three days in training camp, he took an executive job at Republic Steel in Ohio and received an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1980. He began to turn toward the ministry after the death of his father, an employee of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
Bishop Jackson never graduated from a seminary — “I was trained in the field,” he once told The Washington Post — and started out preaching in storefront churches in Cleveland in his time off. After moving to Corning, N.Y., to work in marketing at Corning Glass Works, he started his own church, the Christian Hope Center.
By then he had found a spiritual partner in Vivian Michele Alexander, whom he married in 1976. She later served as a pastor at Hope Christian, which recruited Bishop Jackson in 1988. She died in 2018, and Bishop Jackson married Rosalind Lott in September.
In addition to his wife, survivors include two daughters from his first marriage, Joni and Elizabeth Jackson.
Bishop Jackson recently published “A Manifesto: Christian America’s Contract With Minorities” (2020), and collaborated with pollster George Barna and Family Research Council chief Tony Perkins on books about church leadership and public policy, respectively.
He was often questioned about his support for Trump, and asked why he had visited the White House in 2018 to discuss criminal justice restructuring. The end result was worth it, he told the Associated Press, after Congress passed a bipartisan bill that shortened sentences for some offenders and expanded job-training programs for prisoners.
“I believe with all my heart, if Dr. Martin Luther King was alive, he would have been in that meeting,” he said. “And he would have been advocating for the voiceless instead of playing politics and personality games.”
Sarah Pulliam Bailey contributed to this report.
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