Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

A few days ago, I sat on the set of CNN’s Washington studio. The lights were as bright as the sun in this plush high tech setting. Everything about the office and the organization was very impressive. My task was to talk about Christianity and the environment for a special edition of the Anderson Cooper Show which airs this week.

In classic debate style, a kindly evangelical leader was placed in another studio and asked to share a contrasting view from my own. As I waited for the gracious Mr. Cooper to address us, I could not help ask myself, “How did I get here?” After all, I am not nor ever have been a scientist.

The answer was simple – a private letter, sent to a national religious leader, was leaked to the press. A concerned group of evangelical leaders simply wanted to correct one of their own. The signers of the letter unanimously believe that there was a need for the evangelical community to come to some corporate agreement on this huge social issue before we rush into a national fight. After all, Vice President Gore’s documentary (An Inconvenient Truth) and senate hearings have made this a major popular concern.

As I sat in the hot seat, I hoped desperately that I would not be called upon to attack one of my fellow evangelical comrades. I decided before the program that I would not let the session dissolve into a name-calling contest. Further, I realized that in the name of scientific faithfulness, the reporters could cast me as a well-meaning Neanderthal or worse – a mean-spirited, religious zealot.

I have learned from Martin Luther King, Jr. that the strength of the civil rights movement was twofold – its strategic focus and its public unity.

King’s “strategic focus” was his ability to fight a war based on successive meaningful campaigns. The fight he chose was important but also winnable. He looked for measurable results. King and his team were not looking to be echoes of what others were saying and doing. Instead, they wanted to chart a new course and eventually overthrow the grizzly demon of racism which held America in a death grip.

In addition, King’s ability to mobilize a diverse group of leaders who spoke the same message to the nation gave their cause credibility long before it gained popularity. Through this public unity, a group of relatively unknown men changed the course of the nation. If they had sought personal notoriety instead of advancing a corporate message, their cause would have died with them.

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

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.