He also told me that the pro-life movement should focus more on persuading people to oppose abortion than on just changing the laws. Without cultural change, political change is empty, he said.
We also talked about his surprise victory at the state convention. That win, Jackson said, wasn’t a surprise to him and his camp. The last polls his campaign took before the convention were too good to be true, he said, and he almost couldn’t believe them.
Jackson, as you’ve probably figured out by now, is a man of belief. He told me he became a Christian while attending Harvard Law School. Jackson’s father told him he was reading the Bible cover to cover, and Jackson decided to try it out as well. “I ought to know something about the Bible,” he said. “It might come up at cocktail parties, who knows.” His attitude started to change when he got to the Psalms.
“David, of course, was a warrior, a man of tremendous courage and boldness,” Jackson said, “but yet, he talked with this just tender intimacy about God, and it really got to me. And I began to say, Man, what would make a man like this talk about God like he was in love with him? And I began to pray.”
That was in October of 1976. On December 22 of that year, he woke up and felt different. “When I woke up, I knew that God was real,” he said. “I didn’t see anything visibly, I didn’t hear anything audibly, but the presence of God was just so strong that it was as if he were standing in the room, and it just elevated me.”
The change was so sudden and dramatic that his wife and the rest of his family thought he’d had a nervous breakdown.
“From the drinking, smoking, cussing Jackson to, ‘Let’s talk about Jesus!,’ it’s like, ‘Uh-oh! Harvard Law School’s just been too much for him!’” Jackson recalled with a laugh. “It took them a while to figure out I hadn’t lost my mind, I’d really found it.”
When the pastor gave the invitation at church that Sunday, Jackson said he sprinted to the altar — at least, that’s what it felt like — where he laid and wept.
From that point on, you couldn’t keep him away from church. The change seemed especially sudden to his fellow law students.
“Walking down the hallway of Harvard Law School was like the parting of the Red Sea,” Jackson said. “They’d say, ‘Here he comes, get away, he’s gonna talk to you about Jesus.’ And they were right, I would!”
Jackson finished law school, passed the bar, and then entered the ministry. Within a few years, he had left the Democratic party, partially under the influence of Ayn Rand’s writings.
A few decades later, he’s late for the church service he leads because he was at a campaign stop in Northern Virginia the night before.
He said he talks with Cuccinelli every two or three days — “In fact, we were texting just this morning” — and is learning a lot from his party’s gubernatorial candidate.
“Look, this is my first rodeo as a statewide general-election candidate,” Jackson told me. “It’s not his, and so he’s got a lot to teach me.”
And Jackson seems eager to learn.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.