Detroit pastor set to ask Trump: ‘Are you a racist?’

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

The Detroit pastor who is hosting Donald Trump at his congregation on Saturday is defending his decision to let the Republican presidential candidate appeal to African-American voters on his Christian television network.

Bishop Wayne T. Jackson acknowledged Monday he has faced backlash from some Detroit black leaders for inviting Trump to sit down for a one-on-one interview on his Impact Network television show.

“There’s a lot of emotions going on right now — people are upset that he’s coming to Detroit,” Jackson told The Detroit News. “... But if we don’t sit down to talk to him, we’ll never know what his policies are. It’s not an endorsement, it is an engagement — so let’s talk.”

Trump will attend an 11 a.m. service at Jackson’s church, Great Faith Ministries International, on Grand River and then will sit for a one-on-one interview, Jackson said.

The pastor said he has several questions about Trump’s plans for helping low-income blacks get better education and training opportunities as well as the politically charged topic of the New York businessman’s personal views about minorities.

“I’m going to ask him that question: Are you a racist?” Jackson said. “I’m going to ask him questions that pertain to the heart of our community. ... But there’s a lot of emotional anger tied to this, and we need to make sure that our concerns as a community are met.”

Jonathan Kinloch, chairman of the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party in Detroit, said it “disgusts” him that any local black leaders would want to meet with Trump after some of his controversial statements, suggesting they are “trying to carve out some sort of positive benefits” for themselves.

“There is no appeal to black voters,” Kinloch said of Trump’s recent messaging to black voters. “He has not demonstrated any inkling of a sense of understanding or passion or caring for black folks up until this time. I think what he’s doing is basically trying to create a conversation to become this softer, gentler, kinder Donald Trump that does not exist.”

Jackson, a self-described Democrat, said he has been working with the Trump campaign for two months to arrange a meeting in Detroit.

“At least he’s coming to Detroit,” Jackson said. “... African-Americans feel like the Republican Party is someone who looks over them anyway. That’s why so many of the African-Americans have come to the Democrats, because at least the Democrats have come to the churches, to the communities and so forth.”

In recent weeks, Trump has been making a direct appeal to black voters, contending their lives have not gotten better after decades of voting for Democratic politicians like his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton has been invited to appear on the Impact Network as well, Jackson said.

“We’re waiting to hear back,” he said.

It was unclear Monday whether Jackson would interview Trump in front of his congregation or privately. But the interview will air live online and cable TV immediately following the worship service around 12:30 p.m., Jackson said.

The pastor said he has been asked in recent days by friends and members of his congregation whether he thinks Trump is trying to manipulate black voters in his attempt to cut into Clinton’s base within the Democratic voting bloc.

“Well, we know all politicians are trying to get votes,” Jackson said. “That’s not the question. I feel that black people or African-American people are intelligent enough to know what’s real and what’s not real, and they’ll make the choice.”

Jackson said he also wants to know whether Trump will support getting rid of “bad cops” after a spate incidents of police officers shooting unarmed black men across the country.

“When you have questionable shootings of unarmed black men, I want to know — and I’m sure every African-American citizen wants to know … What are his policies going to be when it comes to getting the bad cops out and making sure we train and support the new ones with racial sensitivity?”

The Detroit News first reported Friday that Trump would visit Great Faith Ministries on Grand River and appear on Jackson’s television program.

Impact Network, which was founded by Jackson and his wife, Beverly, said in a statement that Trump’s appearance on the African-American-owned cable and satellite television show is “not a rally or an endorsement of Trump’s candidacy by Impact Network, Bishop Jackson and Great Faith Ministries.”

The Detroit-based cable channel owned by Jackson that has been operating since 2010 and employs about 50 people, said Terry Arnold, senior vice president of the Impact Network.

“It’s the only African-American Christian television network in the nation,” Arnold said Monday.

Trump will be the first presidential candidate to appear on the channel, which claims it reaches 50 million homes through Comcast cable, DirecTV, Dish Network and Roku. Saturday’s program will be called “Voice of the People.”

“I’m honored that he reached out to me and thought I was a fair person,” Jackson said. “I’m not coming as a journalist. I’m coming as a pastor.”

The Trump campaign confirmed details of the New York businessman’s visit to Detroit in a statement released by Pastor Mark Burns, a prominent African-American television evangelist from South Carolina who has become a surrogate for Trump.

“Mr. Trump will answer questions that are relevant to the African-American community such as education ... unemployment, making our streets safe and creating better opportunities for all,” Burns said. “He will then give an address to outline policies that will impact minorities and the disenfranchised in our country.”

Trump will be accompanied to the Motor City with Detroit native Dr. Ben Carson, said Armstrong Williams, Carson’s business manager.

“Citizens around the country will see, as I’ve have seen, the heart and compassion Mr. Trump has for all Americans, which includes minority communities whose votes have been taken for granted for far too long,” Burns said.

Trump’s trip to Detroit on Saturday will be his second in a month and third to Michigan since the Republican National Convention last month in Cleveland. It comes two days before Democrats will gather for the annual Labor Day parade, which has attracted President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in recent years.

The Clinton campaign has not said whether Clinton or another national Democratic Party leader will be in Detroit for the parade.

Twitter: @ChadLivengood

Detroit News Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.