By Adam Serwer
The parishioners at Bishop Harry Jackson Jr.'s Hope Christian Church in Prince George's County, Maryland, are an eclectic mix. Some are in formal church garb; others wear sullen faces and casual dress, as though they would not be here but for sins committed the night before. Ushers shepherd elderly congregants to their seats as dancers in beige tunics and multicolored sashes dance feverishly to the congregation's singing.
An associate preacher takes the stage and turns to Jackson. "Thank you for having clean hands, thank you for having a clean heart, thank you for not propping up your image," she says. "Thank you for not trying to make a name for yourself." Collapsing into Jackson's and his wife's arms, her voice fills with the choking sound of tears. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."
Read more about NOM and the Mormon Church's crusade against gay marriage.
She then recounts how she accidentally stumbled upon a gay-pride parade the day before. A parishioner sitting next to me spits the word "pride" and shakes her head. The preacher describes a pregnant woman she saw at the event. "She had an entire belly exposed, and she had a rainbow painted on the belly," the preacher says, her face wrenching in disgust. The congregation gasps. "Brought this thing on the unborn baby."
As Maryland has become ground zero in the culture war, Jackson is on the front lines. In February, the state legalized same-sex marriage. Now a ballot initiative to overturn that law awaits voters in November, and activists led by the National Organization for Marriage believe they can prevail by appealing to African Americans, particularly socially conservative churchgoers. Some of the biggest mega-churches in the country are in Maryland, notes Derek McCoy, an associate pastor at Jackson's church and the director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, an umbrella group bankrolled in part by NOM. "The difference is they're African American."
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