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The Rev. Kim Jackson, Georgia’s first African American out lesbian state senator

The Rev. Kim Jackson, Georgia’s first African American out lesbian state senator

The Rev. Kim Jackson (Photo: Allison Shirreffs, ENS)

She earned national attention as first out LGBTQ person elected to the body in a tide of LGBTQ electoral wins across the nation last fall. She has come out strongly against a recent bill that passed the Georgia legislature severely limiting voting access in that state.

ENS:

Jackson spoke from the Georgia Senate floor on March 25, just hours before the governor signed one of the nation’s most restrictive voting laws, criminalizing offers of food or drink to voters waiting in line, requiring stricter voter identification and strengthening legislators’ oversight of elections. She raised her voice against it.

“I, as a Southerner, as a pastor and as someone who cares for my neighbor, just cannot understand [that] we have made it illegal — illegal! — for someone to pass out some food … or water or an extra chair to someone while they’re sitting in a long line in the Georgia heat,” she said, her tone rising, her cadence and gestures quickening during the 5-minute speech, calling out the legislation’s potential impact on disabled people.

“I want to be clear that this bill has ignored the pleas and the needs of those who are living with disabilities in this community,” she said. “We owe it to people who are already struggling to do all we can to make voting easier for them — never harder.”

Sojourners profiled her ministry and her journey soon after her election:

In 2010, Jackson became the first out Black person ordained in the Atlanta diocese of the Episcopal Church. In October, Jackson celebrated her first anniversary with Church of the Common Ground. They describe themselves as a “church without walls,” not as a figurative slogan, but because they actually do not have a church building.

Church of the Common Ground is made up of 50-60 core congregants, all of whom have experienced homelessness and around 90 percent of whom are currently unhoused. Before the pandemic, they held foot clinics, massaging and washing each other’s feet; currently, they have lunch on Sundays and morning prayer on Mondays and Wednesdays.

“Our core mission is to simply be church, to do spiritual care, to offer old-school Sunday school, to simply be church in all the ways that those of us who are housed get to be churched,” Jackson said. “We try to be like Jesus and wash people’s feet, and particularly the feet of our friends who have to live on the streets and have to spend a whole lot of time on their feet.”

Her parishioners have been particularly excited about her election, “because they get to be close to somebody who might be able to help them,” she said.

Writing for Episcopal News Service, Michelle Hiskey, describes how Senator Jackson witnesses to an expansive and inclusive faith that sometimes feels quite different that the usual brand of Christianity presented on the Senate floor:

Georgia’s General Assembly operates with set Christian rituals. Each day, a chaplain opens the session with remarks and leads the Pledge of Allegiance, and lawmakers typically open committee meetings with prayer. As two-term Rep. Matthew Wilson, an All Saints’ member, said, “On Sunday mornings, I am tempted to roll over and go back to sleep because I’ve already had five days of church.”

Jackson said she struggles to understand the General Assembly’s adherence to Christian practices as lawmakers pass bills that she says further marginalize Georgia residents who live in poverty, which is 13% of the state’s 10 million people. “Showing a different way of being a Christian is needed,” she said. “I follow a Jesus who gave free health care.”

Jackson invoked the Gospel story of Jesus’ healing the sick at Bethesda to encourage senators’ support of Medicaid expansion. “The federal government is troubling the waters,” she told them. “We need to get in the pool.”

“I want to be honest in saying that being Black and lesbian in the Georgia State Senate feels scary,” Jackson told Episcopal News Service in an interview in early March. “I’ve always been out as a priest, but here it kind of feels like I’m walking a careful tightrope to not upset the status quo.”

 

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