Harry R. Jackson, Jr.

Last weekend Washington, DC awaited the showdown of “two opposing rallies.” I heard those words voiced by the host of NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” as I appeared on that program two days before the rally. We had a delightful time discussing the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (MLK). The program focused very tastefully on the fact that quotes from Dr. King have recently been used to justify a wide variety of moral and political stances. From the far left to the far right and everyplace in between, different groups have claimed ownership of the spiritual mantle of our nation’s most quoted religious leader.

Two knowledgeable professors respectfully disagreed with my assertion that if alive today, MLK would be a conservative. The program ended with a projection that Glenn Beck and AL Sharpton were about to face off. In my mind they were billed as titans of epic strength with comparable followings. The only thing the 47th anniversary of MLK’s “March on Washington” lacked was a frizzy-haired Don King to ramp up excitement and draw more people to town.

As the public relations stage was set for the weekend, the mainstream media seemed to be siding with Rev. Al Sharpton. They unanimously questioned Glenn Beck’s motives and voiced their concerns about the crowd that would come to support him. They assumed that the attendees of Beck’s rally would be racist. They also assumed Beck’s tone would be angry.

Nothing was further from the truth. The crowd that filled the city was between 500,000 to 750,000 joyous and hopeful people. Many of them had come with their kids to participate in a historic event, a spiritual awakening. Neither Glenn Beck’s crowd nor their speakers did anything but celebrate those who had brought honor to America in their own individual ways.

Meanwhile, back at the Sharpton event, the 2,000-3,000 in attendance continually disparaged their rival event. Although several of my friends felt that the emphasis on educational excellence was very commendable, it carried the same old tone of past Sharpton events. The reports I received reminded me of a scene in the Rocky IV movie in which Apollo Creed, a former American champion, faced a Soviet foe (Ivan Drago). Unprepared for the realities of fighting in the new era, Creed died in the ring because he was stuck in an old mindset. Rocky, on the other hand, eventually beat the nearly bionic foreign hero by keeping his tried and true values of hard work and valor; while updating his specific fight strategy.

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.