I really wanted to give Bishop Wayne T. Jackson the benefit of the doubt for inviting Donald Trump to speak at his church. I did. And when I spoke to him a little more than a week ago, the reasons he gave (see last week’s Michigan Chronicle interview) sounded mostly reasonable and fair. His congregation is smart enough to make up their own minds, he said. There are two candidates running, not just one, he said.
“Now, what I want to come out of this [interview] is a clear understanding what his policies will be. I understand that criticism has come about me allowing Mr. Trump to come and speak at Great Faith Ministries. But you gotta understand that we are in a race, and there’s two people in the race. Mr. Trump may become the next president of our country.
“I’m not a journalist, but I’m a broadcaster. And my network goes to millions of homes. And I owe it to the viewers to bring both sides. This is not an endorsement. This is engagement. And we have given Hillary Clinton the same opportunity. [she has not yet responded]. This is not to put one up above the other. This is to inform our community of what they will do if elected.”
This is what Bishop Jackson said.
But then I saw this picture. And then I saw a lot more pictures. And then I listened to the full speech delivered by Donald Trump to the congregation of Great Faith Ministries on Saturday morning. And at this point…?
Look, I know Bishop Jackson said he also extended an invitation to Hillary Clinton, and that she has not yet accepted. So if and when Clinton does, accept, then maybe we’ll see another photo op like this. And even though the saying goes that a picture speaks a thousand words, there’s that other saying that pictures can lie. So maybe that picture taken at Saturday’s service showing Bishop Jackson smiling broadly as he draped this cloth from Jerusalem across a beaming Trump’s shoulders – or that other one with Trump smiling in the audience in the same row with Ben Carson seated several seats away, or that video of him dancing (?) to the gospel music – are all being grossly misinterpreted by those of us who are wondering, well, WTF?
Oh, and maybe it will all be cleared up by the interview that Bishop Jackson was supposed to conduct in his office after the church service was over and then broadcast one week from now on his Impact Network.
But here’s the problem with all of that, and let’s start from the beginning…
Originally, the deal was that Donald Trump was supposed to come to Great Faith and be interviewed by Bishop Jackson live in front of his congregation during the service where he would then ask Trump a series of questions that would seek to better educate his congregation and his millions of Impact Network viewers (Impact is the largest African American-owned Christian Broadcasting network in the country, and possibly the world, and also one of the country’s most successful black-owned businesses). When I asked Jackson why he chose to interview Trump in front of his congregation rather than in his network’s studio, he responded:
“This gives us an opportunity to not just myself but the congregation. I teach my congregation to be educated in their voting. For us to vote in this day came with a price, and we inherited that price. Don’t sit down because you may not like a candidate or you may not understand a candidate. So we need to hear both sides. And I don’t need a guardian to tell me who to listen to and who not to listen to. When you get grown enough, you should be able to discern what you can see and what you can’t see.
“And for people to say Donald Trump, is he manipulating the black vote? Come on now, all politicians want your vote. But I’m just trying to say that we’re not stupid. Black people can discern what’s real and what’s not. And let them be able to decide. So that’s why, in the congregation, when Mr. Trump lays out his plan, then people can hear it for themselves. But don’t just tell me what I can’t hear. Let me be independent in my thinking and in my vote.”
But then, within a matter of days, Trump’s people got cold feet about their guy appearing in Detroit in front of a lot of black folks responding to questions about black folks from a pastor that could potentially expose who he really is, so the public interview got scrapped and the new deal was that Trump would ‘attend service’ and ‘experience the black church’, but he would not say a mumbling word. He would simply praise Jesus and all of that. Then, following the service, Trump would grant Jackson his interview for Impact – which would air one week after the service. For some strange reason, Bishop Jackson agreed to these rather insulting new terms of (dis)engagement.
But then the New York Times got a leaked transcript showing that not only were the questions that would be presented to Trump scripted and pre-approved by Trump’s team, but the answers to those questions were pre-ordained and scripted as well (Impact Network has strongly denied that their organization was manipulated in such a manner).
So, as you might expect things got a little worrisome in Trump-town. So then the NEW new deal, as of Friday morning, was that Trump actually WOULD speak in front of the congregation after all. And he actually did. Except that none of what he said had much of anything to do with the questions Bishop Jackson was originally going to ask, nor did they shed any light on any tangible plans he had for uplifting Detroit or the black community. He just mostly let the crowd know that he really does care about black folks, knows times is hard, and then he quoted some scriptures. And then, after a speech that lasted a little over 10 minutes, Trump was gone.
But for the true intended audience of Trump’s speech? Which was not Great Faith International at all but Trump’s white followers who are a bit on the fence about his being endorsed by the neo-Nazis and the Klan? Those who think naked racism makes it hard to get Trump elected? For them, however unintentional, Bishop Jackson has now provided Trump with a grand slam home run. Because now, not only can Trump say he ‘experienced’ a black church in Detroit, but that he delivered a message of peace, prosperity, and harmony. He can say he ‘proved’ he’s not a racist. And those black church folk in Detroit loved him for it.
“Just look at those pictures!” he can say.
“Just look at that video! Look, look how those negroes adore me! It’s like I always told you, I have a great relationship with the blacks!” he will say.
Can’t wait for that Impact interview. Not that it will matter much in a week.
Meanwhile, for those interested in what Trump had to say, the following is a transcription from a taped recording. Not everything came through clear, but most of it did. Whatever I was not able to clearly understand, I omitted.
“For centuries, the African American church has been the conscience of our country. So true. It’s from the pews and pulpits and Christian teachings of black churches all across this land that the civil rights movement lifted up…the soul of a nation.
“It’s from these pews that our nation has been inspired.
“The African American faith community has been one of God’s greatest gifts to America, and to its people. There is perhaps no action that our leaders can take that would be more healing in our country…than to provide a greater platform to the black churches and church goers. You do right every day by your community, and your families. You raise children in the light of God. I will always support your church. Always.
“I am here today to listen to your message and I hope my presence here will also help your voice to reach new audiences in our country. And many of these audiences desperately need your spirit. Christian faith is not the past, but the present and the future.
“And those who seek office do not do enough to step into the community and learn what’s going on. They don’t know. They have no clue. I’m here today to learn so that we can together remedy injustice in any form. And so that we can also remedy economics so that the African American community can …
“Our political system has failed the people and works only to enrich itself. I want to reform that system so that it works for you. I believe true reform can only come from outside the system.
“Becoming the nominee of the party of Abraham Lincoln. A lot of people don’t realize that Abraham Lincoln, the great Abraham Lincoln, was a Republican. Has been the greatest honor of my life. It is upon his legacy that I hope to build the future of the party. But more important, the future of the country and the community. I believe we need a civil rights agenda for our time. One that ensures the right to a great education. So important. And the right to live in safety, and peace, and to have a really, really great job, a good paying job, and one that you love to go to every morning. And that can happen.
“We also need to have a government that protects our workers and fights, really fights, for our jobs. I want to help you build, and rebuild Detroit. We can do that, especially with people like Bishop Jackson.
“Nothing is more sad than when we sideline young black men with unfulfilled potential. Tremendous potential. Incredible people. And they’re looking for jobs. Our whole country loses out when we’re unable to harness the brilliance and the energy of these folks.
“We’re one nation and when anyone hurts we all hurt together and that’s so true. We’re all brothers and sisters, and we’re all created by the same God. We must love each other, and support each other, and we are in this all together. All together. I fully understand that the African American community has suffered from discrimination, and that there are many wrongs that must still be made right. They will be made right.
“I want to make America prosperous for everyone. I want to make this city the economic envy of the world. We can do that.
“New roads and bridges, new schools, especially schools, and new hope. I have been so greatly blessed in so many ways. Nothing will make me happier and more fulfilled than to use what I’ve learned in business, and in traveling all over the world …to bring the wealth and prosperity and opportunity to those who have not had these opportunities before. And that’s many, many people in Detroit.
“Please know this; things are gonna turn around. Tomorrow will be better. Much better.
“We’re going to win again for all of our people. I want to work with you to renew the bonds of trust between citizens. And the bonds of faith that make our nation strong. America has been lifted out of many of its most difficult hours through the miracle of faith, and through people like Bishop Jackson. …
“And now in these hard times for our country, let us turn again to our Christian heritage to lift up the soul of a nation. I am so deeply grateful to be here today, and it is my prayer for the America of tomorrow – and I mean that – the America of tomorrow will be one of community, togetherness, and peace. Perhaps we can add the word prosperity.
“I’d like to conclude with a passage from First John, Chapter 4. [There are lots of those who read scripture who don’t know that. But we know that.] If you want we can say it together, ‘No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us. And His love is made complete in us.”