WorldTribune, September 6, 2020
Commentary by R. Clinton Ohlers
Perhaps the single most surprising outcome of the Jacob Blake shooting has been the response by his mother, Julia Jackson and her pastor James E. Ward, Jr.
What was remarkable about Ms. Jackson was that although enduring a heartbreaking family crisis, she found words to help heal an angrily divided nation. In the week that followed, her words became the basis for sermons, and the incisive cultural analysis of her pastor brought him to the forefront of the national discussion on race, with a call to spiritual renewal.
These were Ms. Jackson’s words: “Do Jacob justice on this level and examine your hearts. As I pray for my son’s healing physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I also have been praying even before this for the healing of our country.”
The message struck a resonant chord, quickly dominating the news, and going viral on social media. That weekend, her words were the basis for at least one Sunday sermon at a Anglican church that meets on the campus of Trinity Evangelical Divinity school, a conservative Evangelical Christian seminary located in the mostly white, affluent Chicago suburb of Deerfield, Illinois.
Ms. Jackson is herself a long time resident of Chicago and has for years attended Insight Church, a church of 150 pastored by the gifted James E. Ward, Jr., author of “No Victim: Liberate Yourself from the Mentality of Defeat”.
Pastor Ward seems equally to have surprised pundits and observers, as he is also committed to the same message and vision the Ms. Jackson voiced.
In an interview with CNN, Ana Cabrera asked Ward how he believed “the law enforcement community has handled the situation even just since the shooting.”
In reply, Ward laid bare the root of our present crisis with prophetic clarity:
My thoughts, Anna, are that these are much much deeper, much more multi-faceted issues than we understand. I think that we fail to develop a comprehensive understanding and an analysis of what’s really happening. And that’s a perfect example: I’m not a law official, so I can’t really speak to that issue.
But I can speak this, being a pastor, from a spiritual and a moral standpoint. That’s my understanding of why we never see change. We cry for change every time these incidents happen, over and over again. We cry for change, we cry for justice, but we never see change.
I want to offer you an explanation as to why I believe that is so. Because we only deal with these things and see them from a civil law perspective. And we never understand that the more important two kinds of law that govern and define a nation are spiritual and moral law. Spiritual and moral law apply to the police officers as well as the citizens.
So, we have to step back as a nation and really understand that as we continue to violate spiritual and moral law, civil law is incapable of legislating the heart. Civil law can’t make people kind, it can’t make people loving, it can’t make people respectful, and I believe that we are missing the conversations that need to be had—conversations about compassion and morality and spirituality that are The foundation and the pillars upon which every society must be founded.
I want to call our nation back to focusing on spiritual law so that we can see real change, lasting change and we can stop seeing blood spilled both by innocent civilians — in this situation, of course, an investigation is happening, I can’t speak into that—but even police officers being assaulted.
We’ve got to come back to the roots of a spiritual and moral foundation, and I want to help be a leading voice in calling others together to help make that happen in our nation.
I’m a pastor, Jeremiah 17:9 says that the human heart is deceitful, it’s desperately wicked. And I use this analogy to explain this, that if you give a righteous man the launch codes to our nuclear arsenal, everybody will be safe because he is a righteous guy. But if you give a wicked man with malicious intent a straw or a soup spoon you have to fear for your life because his heart is wicked.
We’ve got to deal with the hearts of citizens, the hearts of police officers, the hearts of politicians, the hearts of clergy, people like me. This is a heart matter.
And Jesus also says in Matthew 15:18 that wickedness comes from within. The things that come from within the heart the heart defile a man. Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our heart because out of the heart comes the issues of life.
This is a heart Matter and I am praying with God’s grace and with your help and the help of others, we can come together and really start to deal with the heart.
Ward’s message has had an enormous reach.
Pastor Ward was interviewed at length on two CNN news shows prior to the Aug. 31 appearance with Cabrera. He also appeared in multiple interviews on other media and received a phone call from President Donald Trump.
On Sept. 1, Pastor Ward appeared with his wife Sharon in a panel with the president, Attorney General William Barr, and other officials, that aired on C-SPAN and other outlets. There, James Ward brought his message of the importance of spiritual and moral law, without which civil law is impotent. He affirmed the importance Christ placed on “peacemakers,” and offered to be a resource help to “listen with empathy and compassion to the real pain that hurts Black Americans.”
President Trump also requested insight from Sharon Ward, who emphasized this moment in history as an opportunity. The president received their message graciously and called the Wards “an incredible couple.”
Not only are Ward’s comments welcome and needed, any doubt as to their prophetic nature was dispelled by what also immediately followed on Aug. 31.
Trump recounted the call, saying, “I spoke with the pastor, wonderful man, the family’s pastor” and called it “a great talk.”
That evening, James Blake Sr. appeared on CNN in an interview with Jim Acosta, where he responded to the president, saying: “We don’t have a family pastor,” and adding “I don’t know who he talked to, I don’t care who he talked to.” Acosta then addressed the family’s attorney, Ben Crump, stating, “Mr. Blake didn’t seem to have any idea who the President is talking about when he talks about this pastor.” Crump referred to Ward, but implied that no call had occurred.
What followed was a visceral furor in the mainstream media, which repeated Acosta’s misinterpretation that no such call had ever occurred and no such pastor existed. The accusation echoed so far and wide that even three days later it still went unchallenged on Fox News’ “The Five,” where it was voiced by Jessica Tarlov.
In point of fact, the two men did speak by phone prior to Trump’s Aug. 31 press conference.
Further, on CNN itself on Aug. 26, James Ward referred to himself as “ministering to the family.” Both Ms. Jackson and Blake’s grandmother attend Insight church. Ward, although always clarifying that he is not the pastor of the whole family, by Aug. 31 also was interacting with Jacob. Ward has also known Ms. Jackson for thirty years, ten years before Jacob was born.
Given that at the time Trump described him, Ward was ministering to three generations of the same family, to describe him as “the family’s pastor,” although not literally precise, cannot in good faith be labeled a lie.
Also left out of the MSM narrative was the fact that whatever appearance was created by the couple appearing together for their televised statement, Ms. Jackson and Blake, Sr., have been divorced for years. Blake resides in North Carolina. He is also a follower of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, and for that reason would certainly not have a Christian pastor.
However, for Jacob Blake, Sr., his lawyer, Jim Acosta, and the mainstream media to imply that no such pastor existed and that no such call occurred has the earmarks of conscious deception.
The fact that, prior to Acosta’s comments, Ward had already appeared on CNN on at least four separate occasions, and would next day appear with the president on C-SPAN takes this false narrative to the level of the surreal.
But certainly it is more than that. What happened in the press only highlights the truth of Pastor Ward’s message.
America, as Ward says, “doesn’t have a skin problem, it has a sin problem.”
The version of that problem affecting America’s mainstream media is that these outlets, while claiming to report the facts, increasingly demonstrate willful disregard of the truth, promoting outright and obvious falsehood in pursuit of political gain.
Such an irony can hardly be lost on Pastor Ward and other Christians as they recognize the truth of Jesus’ description of Satan as “the father of lies.“
Such ironies also do not appear to be lost on most of the American populace. Eighty-four percent blame the media for the U.S. political divide, according to a recent Gallup poll.
All this is confirmation of the desperate moral and spiritual failings that endanger this country. Where people can’t agree on simple facts and turn the normal ambiguities of well-meaning speech into slander, it is no wonder they cannot resolve complex socio-economic challenges, navigate matters of policy, achieve a civil society, or even avoid falling prey to blatant manipulation.
That such a healing moment would be hijacked by the unvarnished and cynical motives of a politicized press, may be the best single example of the divisive problems facing America. Fortunately, it also stands to reason that this irrational tempest in a teacup shall soon also pass if you will return to Ms. Jackson’s and James Ward’s message of hope and healing.
What Ms. Jackson, James and Sharon Ward, and the pastors gathering around them seek to achieve does appear to be the one realistic hope for a lasting civil peace and just society. It is reasonable to believe that Americans on every side of the political aisle and from every cultural enclave have a shared and equal interest in the success of Julia Jackson’s and James E. Ward, Jr.’s mission of good will.
R. Clinton Ohlers, PhD (University of Pennsylvania) is a historian of science and religion and a contributing editor for the FreePressMediaGroup. Previously, he held the position of Research Assistant Professor in the Humanities at the University of Hong Kong. His book, The Birth of the Conflict Between Science and Religion, is scheduled to appear in 2021.