'Return, Jesse, return. But not so soon, not so easily.'
BY: Robert M. Franklin
The recent revelations regarding the Reverend Jesse Jackson's private life have evoked great sadness and pain. For over forty years, Jackson has been a world-class "public theologian," politician, and opinion leader. He was a close aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, and stood at his side on the fateful day of King's assassination. Since then, he has founded numerous civil rights organizations, twice run for president of the United States, and become a death-defying peacemaker able to venture successfully into war zones to extract prisoners and embarrass professional diplomats.
The revelations of an extramarital affair with a staff member, Dr. Karin Stanford, the birth of a child now twenty months old, and his secret support for the two hit hard and hurt deeply those around the world who have looked up to Jackson for public moral leadership. Ironically and outrageously, Jackson's illicit relationship was underway while he provided pastoral support to President Clinton during his all-too-public grappling with the frailties of the flesh.
It is too easy to be cynical about Jackson and other religious and political leaders who harbor contradictions in their private lives. This is unoriginal sin. It has happened before and will happen again. Perhaps it is more productive to place this episode in a theological and biblical framework.
The Old Testament story of David comes to mind. David was a tall, handsome, popular king of Israel who committed adultery with the wife of his own solider and arranged to have the husband killed. An extraordinary child, Solomon, was born from the union. But Second Samuel 12 opens with these chilling words: "But God was angry with what David had done." So, what light does this story shed on Jackson's troubles?
First, Jackson has been and will continue to be an instrument in God's hands. Like all public servants, he is a feeble, complex, well-intentioned human being trying to make his time on earth count.
Second, what he did was wrong. It was sinful. We cannot pretend that it was otherwise, and we should respect the moral teachings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that demand honesty and straight talk about human sinfulness.