Pastor: GOP Didn't Fight Hard Enough To Uphold Military Gay Ban

Supporters of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell — the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military — have lost their battle. That's after the Senate voted to repeal the 17-year-old policy this weekend. Host Michel Martin discusses the implications of the vote with the Rev. Harry Jackson, Jr., a conservative pastor who opposes the expansion of legal protections for gays.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Later in the program we're going to continue today's focus on politics with an exit entry with one of the departing members of the House of Representatives: Delaware Republican Mike Castle. He was defeated in the Republican Senate primary by Tea Party favorite Christine O'Donnell. He was trying to win the Senate seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden, and we'll hear his reflections on his career and what is next in just a little later in the program.

But, first we want to focus on two of the big issues tackled by the Congress in this unusually productive lame-duck session: immigration reform and gays and lesbians in the military. By now the news is known, supporters of those who wish to repeal the nearly two-decade-old ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military won their fight to lift the ban. That ban was called "don't ask, don't tell."

But those who wish to open a path to citizenship for young people brought to this country illegally by their parents - the bill to do that was called the DREAM Act - well, they were disappointed. One thing that both these fights had in common was that both supporters and opponents made moral and religious appeals.

So we decided to hear from two members of the clergy who were active in those issues. In a few minutes we'll hear from the Reverend Jim Wallis. He supported the DREAM Act. But, first, Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. He's senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in the Washington, D.C. area. But he's become a national figure due to his advocacy of traditional marriage and against expanded public roles for gays and lesbians. And he's with us now. Bishop Jackson, welcome back to the program. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. HARRY JACKSON JR. (Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church): Good to see you, Michel. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: I'd like to ask how you understand what happened over the weekend with "don't ask, don't tell," first politically, but then theologically.

Mr. JACKSON: Well, politically I saw it as a desperate move. Those congressmen and senators who passed this over the last week, knew this would be their last opportunity to take action. And I think that they've taken a situation that may have negative safety, national security ramifications. And they're advancing a political point, perhaps at the expense of the nation.

Nearly 45 percent of the Marines, for example, have said that they don't want to serve. They may get out early. That's a large number to simply say, hey, it doesn't matter.

MARTIN: OK, but the Marines is the smallest service and overwhelmingly that you're referring to a survey that was taken by service members, a very large survey that was taken by service members where they overwhelmingly said that it didn't matter to them. But what I'm asking you is...

Mr. JACKSON: They'll accommodate.

MARTIN: But what I'm asking you is, how do you understand this...

Mr. JACKSON: Theologically?

MARTIN: ...politically and theologically? I do want to note that the members who really made the difference on this on the Republican side are not leaving. George Voinovich of Ohio is a Republican who is leaving, a number of the Democrats are leaving, but the critical swing votes, as it were, Susan Collins, Mark Kirk, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, they are staying.

So, again, I want to ask politically and theologically, how do you understand it?

Mr. JACKSON: OK. I'm a little clearer now. Politically I think it says to conservative people of faith that maybe the GOP is going to throw them under the bus, as they did with protecting marriage in 2006. Way back there, President Bush did not do the things we felt he should've done. He, after having been elected for a second term, he never really brought the marriage issue to the fore. And very often politicians take an issue that's really motivating for you as a voter, and they dangle it out in front of you and see if they can keep you running to the polls in subsequent races without ever really delivering.

I think that would be one of the concerns and one of the calls that has to go out from the faith community in general is to say: don't take us for granted. So I don't feel as though the GOP really fought as hard as they could have to put up a firewall in this issue politically.

And then I also believe that once this issue has changed, it's going to be used, I believe, legally and in some other ways to get some other targets as it relates to marriage and other things of that nature and gay rights, if you will.

So, my concerns are this is a classical example perhaps of political overreaching and folks who know the system, using it and maybe that this report, I thought, was maybe misrepresented, people closer to actual battle and combat. I just got off the phone from one of our bishops that serves with me, an organization that I lead. And he's a military guy, retired, is really in touch with a lot of different people. They say it's a big, big issue.

MARTIN: How are you addressing this spiritually and theologically? And I do want to point out, for those who may not know or remember, you are African-American. You're also a Democrat. So, there are those who align the gay rights movement with the civil rights movement and who say is comparable. And what they say is at the end of the day that justice, ultimate justice won't be denied. And so they see this as part of that kind of long march toward sort of ultimate justice and human dignity.

OK. So, and you disagree with that. So I'd like to ask you, spiritually, how are you dealing with this at this moment?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, I think spiritually I disagree with that for a lot of reasons. I would say spiritually as I look at this, there seems to be an undue deference to gays on several fronts. When you start changing fundamental institutions, you're going beyond what is a civil right afforded to everyone. Even the military, it's not an absolute right to serve, like having a drivers license or anything. We have a volunteer force that really serves because they want to be engaged. And the numbers we're talking about are very, very low.

So, my concern spiritually is that the real things that matter in the culture at the end of the day for me are what happens with the chaplains who are in the military, their understanding of the scriptures now will be called perhaps hate speech. What happens with people who want to voice their opinion not to condemn someone to say, hey, these are the ways we think you should live, and those kinds of things.

MARTIN: Is this a - forgive me if you don't mind my asking, we have about a minute left - is this a faith-testing experience for you? Given that you've put a lot of effort and time into this, you obviously feel very strongly about it. And I know people have different opinions, but is that a faith-testing experience for you?

Mr. JACKSON: At one level it really is, in that you work with the system, try to get people to understand your point of view and I think there is a disappointment first, even though I'm not a Republican, with the GOP, with whether they're going to stand with their proclamation of social issues over the long haul. And whether this process really works at times in terms of letting your voice be heard.

But I think we're going to just keep praying and keep pushing and praying that the American public will wake up and find the fine line between civil rights in its truest form and changing institutions, again, that have broader, more harmful ramifications for all of us.

MARTIN: I think the debate will continue, so we hope you'll continue to join us for these important discussions. Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., senior pastor of Hope Christian Church. It's in the Washington, D.C.'s area. It's in Maryland just outside Washington, D.C. He's also a national figure in advocacy and support of traditional marriage. He was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Bishop Jackson, thank you so much for joining us once again.

Mr. JACKSON: Thank you, Michel.

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