Four months ago I was a part of a very high level meeting with the evangelical community’s most influential leaders. We spent an entire day interacting with politicians on the Hill and the current administration’s most trusted advisors. Most of us were shocked that the president had not led the charge to protect marriage more aggressively---after all it was May, 2006. In our view, he had used up a great deal of political capital on social security reform, the unexpected Katrina debacle, the war, and other internal squabbles and fights. Frankly, we wondered if we had been pushed out of the “big tent.” Although our concern was universal, everyone sat quietly, hoping to be proven wrong.
Everything was going fine until one of the speakers said, “The values voters did not make the difference in the 2004 election.” The speaker failed to even thank the folks in the room for their efforts to get out the vote, to get the marriage amendment on the ballots of important swing states, and for their unwavering support of President Bush. I am not sure of the speaker’s true intent. Maybe he meant to say: “the three major issues on the minds of the average voter are: 1) the war in Iraq, 2) gas prices, and 3) the domestic economy.” Such a statement would have been understood by the leaders in the room. By contrast, what we heard in our heads was a condescending voice bellowing, “It’s nice that you supported us, but we could have done it ourselves. We admire your passion, but you don’t know how we play this game in D.C.”
As the chairman of the only black-led organization in the room, I tried to wait for someone else to talk first. When I could stand it no more, I spoke up in my most diplomatic tone of voice. “Sir, I am a part of this group because I grew weary of the Democratic Party taking blacks for granted,” I opined. Further, I explained that democrats treat blacks like we are in some kind of tawdry, adulterous affair with them. They show up at our house at midnight wanting us to meet their basest needs (votes-on-demand), yet they never publicly show us respect, romance, or courtship.
My homespun analogy incited the administration’s representative. He angrily became even more condescending. Later on, one of my colleagues said sympathetically, “He was having a bad day. He didn’t mean what he said.” I, however, left the meeting a little deflated. I had joined the evangelical Christian political movement feeling like Jamal Wallace, the bright African American kid in the movie “Finding Forester.” I left the building that day feeling more like “Forest Gump.”
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.