This weekend Soulforce posted video of Bishop Harry Jackson's closing remarks at a dinner meeting with LGBT families at his Beltsville, Maryland church on May 24, 2008. The meeting was part of the American Family Outing, which is visiting six mega-churches between Mother's Day and Father's Day 2008.
Jackson, who recently co-authored a book with Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, seems conciliatory and grateful in these remarks, which offers a sharp contrast to his May 27 appearance on the Christian Broadcasting Network News, where Jackson characterizes the families as "irrational," "heathen," and "aggressive."
In his remarks to the families participating in The American Family Outing, Jackson says:
"I want to thank you tonight for coming. Again, if you had not invited us originally, if you had not insisted on the dialogue, it never would have happened."
Nothing in these remarks would suggest that Jackson is speaking to a group of aggressive and irrational heathens. In fact, Jackson commends the families for their civility:
"I am thankful for the spirit in which you have said you were going to operate and in which you have operated thus far."
Soulforce also posted an extended version of the remarks in which, fascinatingly, Bishop Jackson seems to acknowledge the 1,000+ rights and responsibilities that are denied same-sex couples and to suggest that political solutions could remedy some of the inequalities. I wasn't at the meeting, but I've heard that my friend Michelle Freeman made a spontaneous and impassioned plea to Bishop Jackson and the elders of Hope Christian Church to understand the hardships that she and her partner, Georgia Chambers, have experienced as two women of color whose relationship is not legally protected. Jackson clearly references Michelle's story in his own remarks.
As someone who is deeply invested in the utopian possibilities of The American Family Outing, I won't deny that it hurt to have Jackson call the families irrational heathens on Christian Broadcasting Network. And for the families who were part of the visit to Hope Christian Church, who know that they experienced some moments of real connection, I know it was exponentially more painful. But just because Jackson and his PR people decided to deny that connection doesn't mean it didn't happen and that it won't ultimately make a difference.
When we began reaching out to mega-church congregations in a spirit of nonviolence, we committed to interacting with authenticity and openness. At times, when our interlocutors are in the grip of misinformation so profound that they do not treat us with respect and integrity, it is tempting to close up, to withdraw, to become defensive -- and yet we persist. Why? Not because we are naïve, but because we believe that, ultimately, no misinformation or slander can obscure the goodness and authenticity of our families and our quest for justice.
[The Johnson-Willoughby Family. It was 15-year-old Zahndria who took the video.]