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E.W. Jackson
Art Cox/Patrick Henry College
E.W. Jackson

Under conviction

Q&A | On and off the campaign trail, pastor E.W. Jackson is unabashed about his Christian beliefs and standing up for the truth

Issue: "Going it alone," Nov. 2, 2013

Pastor E.W. Jackson, 61, is the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia. He served in the Marine Corps, graduated from Harvard Law School, and practiced law until 1997. He then founded Exodus Faith Ministries, a nondenominational church in Chesapeake, Va., and recently launched Exodus Now, an effort to encourage African-Americans with biblical values to leave the Democratic Party. He’s been married for 42 years and has three children. 

Jackson’s campaign is nationally significant because he is unabashedly laying out his Christian beliefs. A Sept. 21 WORLD article, “Against the tide,” reported on Jackson’s difficult early childhood in foster homes, and then his progress from age 9½ when he reunited with his dad. On Oct. 3, before students at Patrick Henry College, I asked him about his law school experience and the current campaign. 

What advice did you receive about applying to law school? I had been told Harvard was the best. I had an outstanding academic record, but some well-meaning professors told me, “Well, it’s good you want to do that, but don’t get your hopes up because you know black people don’t do well on standardized tests in America because they are culturally biased against you.” I said, “Well, we’ll see about that.” One of the things that concerns me is this victimization mindset that makes people feel incapable, handicapped—“the world is against you, there’s systemic racism, they won’t let you.” We ought to be telling people, “Sure there are obstacles, and race could be one of them, but the question is, what are you going to do with your life?”

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Harvard accepted you. I did very well on the LSAT. When I graduated, you can imagine what it was like for my dad, who was a third-class welder in a shipyard with a sixth-grade education, to see his son get a Harvard Law degree. I give the credit to him and to the Lord for allowing that to happen.

Why are your political views so different from those of President Obama and many other graduates of Harvard Law? I gave my life to Jesus Christ after the first semester of my second year. When I came back, I was a very different person. That helped me to see through a lot of what I was being told. 

How did that conversion happen? My dad got saved in his early 60s. He said to me one day, “I’m reading the Bible from cover to cover.” I thought, “That’s interesting. The Bible is one of the great books. I’m going to do that. If it comes up at cocktail parties I’ll be able to comment intelligently on it.” Little did I know: I got in the middle of it, and I came under conviction—conviction. … I still get emotional about it because all my life I’d been looking for answers, looking for the truth.

Externally, your life was going well. I found out you could look good on the outside. People can be all impressed: Look at him, Harvard Law School student, wearing a nice suit. But inside you are full of dead man’s bones and all corruption.

You came to this realization in 1976? A Sunday in December I sat up in the balcony of St. Paul AME. When Rev. Brandon gave the call to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior I sprinted to the altar and wept because the load of sin had been lifted off of me. My life was changed forever. 

How did that play at Harvard? I went back to school in January. You know that saying, “You’ve got to figure out how to distance yourself from friends who might mislead you”? I didn’t have to distance myself. When my friends found out what had happened, they distanced themselves. Walking in Harvard’s halls was like the parting of the Red Sea. They would say, “Here he comes, get away from him or he’ll talk to you about Jesus”—and I would. 

How have secular reporters covered your current campaign? Most of them have no frame of reference for understanding Christianity, so it’s almost as if you’re speaking a foreign language or that you’re from another planet. 

What’s an example of misreporting? In my writing I mention the doctrine of original sin, noting that everything from storms to birth defects is the result of sin. Reporters took the last part of that and said, “Jackson believes parents who have children with birth defects have those children because they sin”—that’s so far from anything I’ve ever believed or taught. 

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