On May 15, 2007, I stopped at one of Washington DC’s most well-known soul food restaurants. As I waited for my favorite fare, a news flash came over the air stating that Jerry Falwell had died of a heart attack. Suddenly, a black waitress began to dance and celebrate because of Falwell’s passing. She was truly elated. In her mind, a great enemy of civil rights and the black community had just left the battlefield.
Ironically, I had just spoken in a conference with Dr. Falwell a month before. In fact, I served on a board with him. He was warm, friendly, and had a heart for all people - including African Americans. In my view, he was a champion of Christian values and faith.
The wild antics of the waitress showed that she simply did not know the man. She, like many blacks, only knew the caricature that the mainstream media had painted of a spiritual giant. Unfortunately the “Moral Majority” never worked to change its image among the millions of blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities who had no firsthand knowledge of the movement. Further, the Moral Majority never took it upon itself to challenge followers who were genuinely part of a racist fringe. As a result, an invisible “no blacks allowed” sign seemed to hang over the entrance to the movement.
Once again, the Left is trying to label decent people as monsters and the righteous as hypocrites. Today conservatives and the religious Right have a unique opportunity to re-brand themselves as being compassionate and caring toward the poor. We cannot afford to fall into the trap of winning a Pyrrhic victory on pet issues, while being negatively labeled so that no one can hear our voices on major long-term fronts.
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.