Both Bishop T.D. Jakes and Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. are vibrant African American pastors with large multicultural congregations and enormous influence over portions of America's faith community. Yet their behavior toward the families of the American Family Outing has been very different.
Bishop Jakes and Bishop Jackson received similar letters from Soulforce and our partnering organizations in December, 2007, and March, 2008. Both letters asked the bishops to participate in a time of fellowship -- to break bread and have conversation with same-gender families. (Links to letters below.)
Bishop T.D. Jakes and his staff responded to our letters with honesty and integrity. During our visit, we felt true Christian hospitality and a willingness to engage those with whom they differ with respect and dignity. Bishop Jakes personally telephoned Jeff Lutes to thank him for the positive manner in which Soulforce had approached him for dialogue and he agreed that further conversation was important. The welcome offered to our visiting group was consistent with Bishop Jakes' CNN.com commentary (April 14, 2008) in which he wrote:
"It has always been my goal and purpose to be a bridge builder and to not build walls. It is in that spirit that I would plead with the church to seek common ground rather than to focus on irrelevant and often erroneous information that seeks to divide."
The experience with Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. was markedly different. Bishop Jackson called Jeff Lutes on May 2, 2008, and agreed to our written request for dinner, conversation, and worship with members of his church. In a charming and friendly tone, he asked that we simply call his staff with the total number of people in our party so they could prepare the appropriate amount of food. Then, on May 21, 2008, three days before the meeting, Jackson's High Impact Leadership Coalition issued a press release falsely claiming that Soulforce was planning a protest and demonstration outside his church and that he had invited us to dinner and a "debate." On Friday night, May 23, twenty-four hours before the dinner, Soulforce received an email from Hope Christian outlining a specific debate-style format in which each group would ask eight questions to the other. Nonetheless, our courageous and beautiful LGBT families proceeded in the spirit of love and nonviolence.
Bishop Jackson concluded the meeting with the following remarks:
"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. And I am thankful for the spirit in which you have said you were going to operate and in which you have operated thus far. Again, we did not know whether you were coming in peace or whether you were coming with a sword. We had no way of knowing that, we really didn't. And so we are very thankful for this opportunity to dialogue with you, and I believe that we have learned quite a bit from this time together."
In contrast to the conciliatory tone of these remarks, Bishop Jackson then granted a Tuesday, May 27 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, called our families "irrational," and falsely characterized the spirit of our meeting.
When we reach out to mega-church congregations in a spirit of nonviolence, we commit 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.
Video of Bishop Harry Jackson with our Families and CBN Interview Afterwards
Letter to T.D. Jakes, Letter to Harry Jackson, Second Letter to Hope Christian