“How can one read the 66 books of the Christian Bible and not have a sense of the Christian mission in the world, which is not only what happens to someone after death, but also on this earth,” says Reverend Troy Jackson, to which he adds: “In his Lord’s prayer, Jesus said: ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,’ pointing specifically to an earthly mandate for His followers.”
In fact, for Jackson, an Evangelical minister, God’s call is not only for mercy and compassion for the afterlife but also, and as importantly, for justice and peace on this earth, achieved by recognizing and fighting the systemic causes that prevent their being.
Growing up, Jackson at age six was sent to a white Evangelical church where he
developped a discipline at reading regularly the Bible, a routine he has kept ever since. In his senior year of high school and part of a youth group event, he discovered the religiously-based video series “You can make a difference” by Tony Campola, an Evangelical theologist. Struck by their strong social justice message, he was pleased to find that it resonated very well with his own biblical understanding.
At age17 traveling to Haiti to do service work, part of a group his church connected him to, he was shocked by the massive poverty he encountered there.
“Enlightened by Tony Campola’s now familiar analysis, I quickly realized that poverty in Haiti was systemic in nature,” Jackson says. “Major baseball leagues had their baseballs fabricated there and paid workers only $1 an hour. It was increasingly obvious to me that global inequity was shaping the world.”
From that time on Jackson became very animated about the importance of justice for the poor, the outcast, the immigrant, the widow and orphan, for racial and all other kinds of justice, convinced they were part of God’s scheme and finding references to them in his readings of the sacred scriptures.
Attending Franklin College in Indiana, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in religion, philosophy, and Spanish. He served also for a while as the president of its intervarsity Christian fellowship and facilitated a “miss a meal, make a difference” plan whereas students willingly skipped a meal and gave their saved money to fight world hunger.
Having wanted from a very young age to become a minister, “wanting to have some impact on eternity,” as he says, Jackson then joined Princeton Theological Seminary and graduated with a Master’s degree in Divinity. During his study years he became increasingly exposed to the issue of racism and the injustices of the system. At the end of his 1st year in seminary, for instance, the Rodney King verdict came out absolving the police officers from his brutal beating, and triggered, as a result, major racial riots in South L.A. Jackson, very affected by the situation, was at the same time very surprised to see the majority of white students at the Seminary not reacting as if not concerned, sitting on the sideline, indifferent. Part of his field education then was also time spent in Plainfield and Camden, NJ, communities involved in racial unrest in the 60’s, which still were experiencing racial tension and a growing immigrant population.
“In my Evangelical church I had heard about challenges around the globe but almost never about American racism or poverty in America,” he states. “White privilege refuses to acknowledge racism and behaves as if it did not exist. Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Laureate, once said: ‘The opposite of love is not hate but indifference’ and we, white Evangelicals, are guilty of massive indifference when it comes to racism.”
After Seminary, Jackson moved to Cincinnati and joined the University Christian Church (UCC) where he was ordained minister and where he served as Senior Pastor for 19 years. During these years he was involved in an immigration effort to prevent the deportation of Bernard Pastor, the 18 year-old Dreamer, who, in 2010, was held in custody by the Springdale Police Department because he was unable to produce a driver’s license after a fender-bender. Pastor had been in the US since the age of 3 but his parents had no asylum status. Jackson was also involved in passing a set of ordinances in City Council providing opportunities for returning prisoners to get service jobs in the city. He also worked as a faith outreach coordinator on the campaign to repeal Senate Bill 5, issue 2 on the 2011 ballot, which would have restricted Ohio’s 400,000 public workers’ ability to strike and collectively bargain for wages, health insurance and pensions.
At the same time as his ministry at UCC, Jackson pursued his education and obtained a Master’s then a doctorate degree in US history working specifically on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project. This culminated in the 2008 publication of his book Becoming King: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Making of a National Leader, which explores the critical role the grassroots Montgomery Movement played in the development of MLK.
Spending time discovering, analyzing and reminiscing on MLK’s writings and on his life, further determined Jackson to become himself more involved in grassroot activities, in community organizing and coordinating, in local work building power with regular everyday people, addressing economic and racial injustices wherever they were. He decided then to leave his church and 4 years ago joined the Amos Project as its Executive Director.
“Amos is a justice organization that is multifaith,” states Jackson. “Our main focus is to build power with people affected by injustice in order to bring a change; and being multifaith enhances our work and makes it stronger.”
Under his leadership, Amos is growing, with new congregations involved, and is moving deeper into evangelical justice-based work. Some of the issues addressed since have been, for instance, the Cincinnati Preschool Promise that aimed at insuring paid pre-schooling for every 3- and 4-year-old child in the city. Pairing with CPS, the proposal was presented to the community as part of issue 44 on the November 2016 ballot and was widely passed. Amos has also been very involved at fighting mass incarceration, mostly of people of color and at undoing the detrimental effects of the war on drugs. It has also been concerned with wages and work conditions in the service sector and in the healthcare industry where positions are mostly filled by women of color, and where the average wage is $9/hour, resulting often in child poverty.
Right now its emphasis is on collecting signatures in favor of an Ohio wide 2018 ballot initiative for a constitutional amendment to retroactively make class 4 and 5 felonies for drug possession, misdemeaners. This change will result in lower prison population, in the absence of felony mention on records, in increased opportunities for housing, jobs, public support, family reunion, and in saving the State, at the same time, $100 Million every budget cycle, dollars that could be invested in drug prevention, drug treatment, childhood recovery. Amos recently put together an agenda for the years to come titled “Forward Together” in which economic and racial justice are forefront.
Working with Crossroads, Jackson has been involved for the past 2 years with a program called “Undivided” which offers participants a 6 weeks experience around racial reconciliation.
Including lectures, small group discussions, interactive activities, the program looks at history, at the role of empathy versus sympathy, at systemic and structural issues, at personal culpabilities… and moves those engaged at living an “undivided” life.
“My faith is very important to me at the personal level,” says Jackson, “but it is not a personal piety faith alone. Evangelical beliefs have at their core that one influences the world, that one has a responsibility in the world… These beliefs are mine and are rooted in the scriptures.”
After leaving UCC Jackson joined for 4 years the diverse People church, and this year, in the wake of the Trump election, the predominantly African American New Prospect Baptist church, led by Reverend Damon Lynch III.
“I wanted a faith experience more justice-oriented when it came to teaching and preaching,” he says. “I also wanted to be part of a black congregation.”
Jackson likes to quote the revolutionary sermon of MLK, The one sided approach of the Good Samaritain, in which MLK expands upon the Samaritan’s good, calling attention to the need, in addition to mercy, for deeper actions to uproot from systems the evil responsible for the victims along the road.
“We need to understand the reason for injustice which is baked in the system,” he says.
“If we limit ourselves to just charity without asking the why of the problem and trying to remedying it, we may be working in the vested interest of those in power, and indirectly perpetuating the problem.”
Jackson’s relation to God and his commitment to a Christian community trigger his passion for justice and serve as his call. He is working now at bringing people of different faiths into the mix of justice, at addressing inequities wherever they are, at finding their root causes and at empowering people at solving them.
What Is Evangelicalism Evangelicalism or Evangelical Christianity, is a worldwide, transdenominational movement within Protestant Christianity, the origins of which are trace back to early 18th century, with various theological streams contributing toits foundation. According to the National Association of Evangelicals, a large network of American Evangelical churches, Evangelicals, in addition to a Trinitarian view of God, share the following beliefs: • Conversionism: the need for lives to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a lifelong process of following Jesus • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts • Biblicism: the high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority • Crucicentrism: the stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity Today, Evangelicals are found across many Protestant branches, as well as in various denominations not part of a specific branch. The movement gained great momentum during the 18th and 19th centuries in both the UK and the USA; and today, the Americas, Africa, and Asia are home to the majority of its members. Worldwide, Evangelicals are estimated at 550 million, their largest concentration being in the United States, where they form a quarter of the population, are politically important and based mostly in the Bible Belt. Evangelicalism, a major part of popular Protestantism, is among the most dynamic religious movements in the contemporary world, alongside Islam. While on the rise globally, the developing world is particularly influenced by its spread.