A few years ago, my mother delightedly told me that the Baptist church in my Georgia hometown had raised more than $3 million to build a new state-of-the-art sanctuary. The sanctuary campaign came on the heels of another several million dollar fundraiser to move from a downtown location to the outskirts of town, to build a state-of-the-art worship center and gymnasium.
My mother was proud of her hometown church, where I spent most of my early teen years. I wasn’t all that impressed and asked, “So, there were no poor people in town that may have needed help?”
My mother sighed impatiently and began to talk about her tomato plants.
I’m always flummoxed when churches – which claim to follow a guy named Jesus who commanded his followers to feed the hungry and clothe the naked – instead spend their treasure on buildings, and frequently, political campaigns. A new report from the Washington-based LGBT publication DC Agenda shows that two of the biggest contributors to the battle against marriage equality for gays and lesbians in the nation’s capital are religious groups affiliated with Bishop Harry Jackson’s church in Maryland. They contributed more than $102,000 to the campaign.
Contributions from the High Impact Leadership Coalition and Christian Hope Ministries-High Impact comprise slightly more than half of the $199,530 raised as of Jan. 31 to fight the city’s same-sex marriage law, according to reports filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.
High Impact Leadership Coalition and Christian Hope Ministries-High Impact are components of the Beltsville-based Hope Christian Church, where Jackson serves as senior pastor. His wife, Vivian Michelle Jackson, is listed on the church web site as executive pastor.
The church’s web site describes the High Impact Leadership Coalition as a non-profit, tax-exempt group that “exists to protect the moral compass of America and to be an agent of healing to our nation by educating and empowering churches, community and political leaders.”
The web site does not disclose the tax status of Christian Hope Ministries-High Impact, but its listing as an arm of the church suggests that it also has a tax exemption under the Internal Revenue Service 501(c)(3) provision.
Jackson’s efforts have been in vain. The D.C. City Council passed a measure to ensure marriage equality in the District, and it is expected to become law in March after a congressional review. That hasn’t stopped Jackson from trying, also in vain, to get the question of marriage equality on the ballot, spending more than $146,000 through three different committees.
Whether it’s my hometown church and its new sanctuary, or Jackson’s tireless campaign to keep loving same-gender couples from attaining legal recognition from the government of the country where they are tax-paying citizens, it boggles my mind to see so much money wasted – especially when there really are poor people in need. My hometown is full of them – but so is Washington, which Jackson is so desperately trying to protect from the supposed menace of marriage equality. Census data released last year show that one in four children in the District were living in poverty in 2008.
The poverty rates for District children diverged widely by race and ethnicity. The rate was 36 percent for black children; 17 percent for Hispanic children; and 3 percent for non-Hispanic white children. Virginia and Maryland also had large racial and ethnic gaps in childhood poverty, but none as great as in the District. The data was virtually unchanged from 2007.
Washington and Baltimore were the only jurisdictions in the region whose share of the total population living in poverty — 17 percent in the District and 19 percent in Baltimore — was greater last year than the national average of 13 percent, according to the Census Bureau.
All those hundreds of thousands of dollars thrown away in an effort to keep loving gay and lesbian couples locked into discrimination may not have made a huge dent in those statistics, but it might have helped to lift many families out of poverty in Jackson’s backyard.
Sadly, poverty just isn’t a sexy issue like same-sex marriage. If you believe the religious right’s hype, gays and lesbians need to be barred from marriage to save the children. Yet while hundreds of thousands of dollars were poured into a campaign to deny marriage rights to a group of citizens, children continued to suffer in poverty in the DC area. But maybe poverty really is the root of the problem. Perhaps those who oppose marriage equality continue to spend boatloads of money on this issue in an effort to avoid dealing with their own very deep spiritual poverty.