Harry Jackson Shakes Religious Right Money Tree for “Below the Radar” Anti-Obama Campaign

A collection of religious right leaders is gathering in Orlando today for a “Defense of Marriage Summit” that kicks off a “Traditional Marriage Tour” through seven swing states that is being organized by Bishop Harry Jackson, the religious right’s point man for racial wedge strategies. Last night, evangelical publisher Steve Strang hosted a call to help Jackson raise money for his campaign. Strang’s invitation to ministry leaders made it clear that the target is Obama; on the call, Strang said, “We need to defeat same-sex marriage by defeating President Obama.”

Strang described the campaign this way:

The strategy is to target these seven states, to embolden African American and Hispanic pastors who believe in the word of God, who might normally be Democrats. We saw this happen in California and in Florida in 2008. Florida and California both went for Obama but both states also passed marriage amendments, because a lot of the same people who voted for Obama also voted for marriage. The strategy is that there are enough people who are upset over this issue, who feel that Obama and the Democrats have gone too far, that this may be the deal breaker.

Jackson was initially a bit more circumspect, perhaps because he is asking for checks to be made to his self-promoting High Impact Leadership Coalition, whose website says it is a 501(c)(3) organization and which seems to operate as a ministry of his church. Jackson said on the call that his campaign “really is a defense of marriage strategy” designed to make sure whoever is president cannot change the definition of marriage. But later in the call he spoke admiringly about strategies used in 2004 to mobilize anti-marriage equality African Americans in Ohio and Florida. Those two states, he said, put George Bush back in office, and they can again shift power in America and “put the right man in the presidency.”

Jackson slammed Obama for his administration’s decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act. “What the president really has done is an impeachable offense, let’s start there, ok?” He warned that if Obama is able to put new justices on the Supreme Court, gay marriage could be the law of the land. And he repeated religious right claims that the advance of LGBT equality is a threat to religious liberty, arguing that “the other side is trying to make it so that we cannot make our case,” and that soon pastors will not feel free to preach the biblical definition of marriage and human sexuality.

Jackson has big-name allies. Jackson lists Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, the Latino evangelical leader who will give the benediction on the first night of the GOP convention, as one of his partners in the effort. Among those scheduled to take part in his summit in Orlando, which includes a training for pastors and leaders followed by a public rally in the evening, are: Brian Brown, whose National Organization for Marriage has enthusiastically embraced racial wedge strategies; retired Gen. Jerry Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council; Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel and Liberty University Law School; Alveda King; and James Robison. On the call, Jackson said the Heritage Foundation would also be sending a speaker; his website says that Rep. Sandy Adams is scheduled to attend.

Strang made a hard-sell pitch for help raising $1.5 million to fund Jackson’s campaign in Florida, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, Maryland, and Virginia, saying he was seeking 100 people to commit to giving or raising $1,500 each. Jackson said he had just gotten a contribution from Pat Robertson, and that James Robison had also kicked in.

Also on the call, at least at the beginning, was dominionist Lou Engle, who Jackson called a long time friend and hero. Engle said the feeling was mutual. But there was no response from Engle when later in the call Strang asked by name if he would commit to raising money for the effort. In fact, when Strang asked for financial commitments from the 30 or so people who had called in, he heard mostly crickets, along with pledges of prayer and verbal support.

In response to a question about how public the campaign is, Strang said, “we have to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, that’s what the Bible says. It’s impossible to be totally secretive about this… I think we need to try to fly below the radar screen as much as we can, because there are those who would like to squelch what we do. However, This is America we do have freedom, and we need to not be intimidated… it is a spiritual warfare attack, and we need to just take authority over the attacks that would come…sometimes the attack of the enemy is the lethargy among God’s people.”

One preacher from Memphis said she was ashamed that Strang and Jackson were in a position of having to beg for money from Christian leaders for his campaign. Jackson also let some frustration show, saying, “What the church is good at right now is by default letting the other guys absolutely eat our lunch… That’s what we’re doing, nothing. We’re sitting here and watching it happen and taking no action.” Fumed Jackson, “I’m not going out like this.”

Strang praised Jackson, saying, “You’re our Moses and I want to be your Aaron and Hur.” But instead of holding Jackson’s hands up, Strang is holding his out.

 

 

Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation where he was on staff for 15 years. Before that he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause and wrote for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.