Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., a leading voice of black conservatism who challenged those on both the political right and left to live Biblically, died on Monday at age 66.
The senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in the Washington, D.C., area since 1988, Jackson led a congregation of more than 2,000 members. He served as one of the chief conveners of The Reconciled Church: Healing the Racial Divide Movement—an effort to heal racial division, first in the church and then the nation. He was also the founder and chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, which seeks to educate and empower church leaders to improve their communities.
On Sept. 26, Jackson had joined Franklin Graham in Washington, D.C., for Prayer March 2020.
“Bishop Jackson was a true friend of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Franklin posted on Facebook following the announcement of Jackson’s passing. “… He was a man who stood for truth and was a great supporter of the Lord’s work around the world. His voice will be missed.”
Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the 1950s and ’60s, he became a star football player at his majority-white private school, Cincinnati Country Day School. He went on to attend Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he became an All-American football player. He even got a tryout with the New England Patriots, but after three days at training camp, he was sent home.
“I prayed he wouldn’t make the football team,” his mother, Essie, once said in an interview with the Washington Post. She secretly wanted him to go into the ministry.
Soon after Jackson returned home, he took an executive job at Republic Steel in Ohio and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1980.
When his father died, Jackson began to contemplate the trajectory of his life. He eventually rededicated himself to the Lord and began to pursue ministry.
In 1973, he married his childhood friend, Vivian Michele Alexander. Together, the couple founded the Christian Hope Center, in Corning, New York.
From the beginning, the parishioners were mostly white. Yet God used Jackson’s time in Corning to reveal to the young pastor that he himself had some racial biases. That would begin Jackson’s decades-long pursuit of reconciliation and healing across races.
In recent years, Jackson was known for serving as one of President Trump’s unofficial evangelical advisors. He prayed at Trump’s inauguration in 2016 and visited the White House numerous times, advocating for policies such as the First Step Act, a bipartisan prison reform bill that was signed into law in 2018.
“You can’t be a prophet to the culture while you’re standing outside of the room,” Jackson said in response to critics of his interactions with President Trump. He told the Associated Press after the prison reform bill was signed, “I believe with all my heart, if Dr. Martin Luther King was alive, he would have been in that meeting. And he would have been advocating for the voiceless instead of playing politics and personality games.”
While Jackson’s death on Nov. 6 was a shock to many, his friends and family have no doubt that he is now in the Lord’s presence.
Jackson’s daughter, Michele, shared her thoughts on her father’s passing in a video posted to the Hope Christian Church’s Facebook page: “One thing that we can be confident about and rest assured in the Lord, is that my dad, our Bishop Harry Jackson, fulfilled his mission; he ran his race, and he did so with love for the Lord in his heart and love for others.”
Vice President Mike Pence also expressed his condolences, tweeting, “Bishop Harry Jackson Jr.’s legacy of faith and love for America will continue to inspire generations. We ‘mourn with those who mourn’ but we know in our hearts, that he heard our Savior say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”
“[Jackson] tried to bring heaven into history,” Tony Evans, senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, said. “He didn’t just want to theorize and pontificate from the pulpit. He wanted to see action take place in communities that sought to bring change.”
Jackson had recently remarried after his wife, Vivian, died in 2018. He dedicated Hope Christian’s Sunday service on Oct. 4 to his new wife, Rosalind Lott, noting they had been married for one month that weekend.
Above: Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. speaks before a crowd at Prayer March 2020 on Sept. 26 in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Paul Zambrana/©2020 BGEA