Born in August 1956, Rev. James T. Meeks since 2002 has been a Democratic member of the Illinois state senate, where he served alongside Barack Obama from 2002-2004 (prior to Obama’s election to the U.S. Senate). Meeks also has been the pastor of Chicago’s 22,000-member Salem Baptist Church since 1985, and he formerly served as an executive vice president for Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH coalition.
Strongly opposed to homosexuality, Meeks has blamed “Hollywood Jews for bringing us [the 2005 film] Brokeback Mountain.” According to a 2006 Chicago Sun Times article, Meeks’ church sponsored a “Halloween fright night” which “consigned to the flames of hell two mincing young men wearing body glitter who were supposed to be homosexuals.” In some of his sermons, Meeks has referred to same-sex attraction as “an evil sickness.”
In July 2006, Meeks sparked controversy when he delivered a heated sermon excoriating Chicago mayor Richard Daley and others regarding public-school funding issues. “We don’t have slave masters,” Meeks shouted. “We got mayors. But they still the same white people who are presiding over systems where black people are not able, or to be educated.” Also among the targets of Meeks’ wrath were African Americans who supported Daley. Said Meeks: “You got some preachers that are house niggers. You got some elected officials that are house niggers. And rather than them trying to break this up, they gonna fight you to protect this white man.”
When Mike Flannery, a political editor for a local CBS affiliate, subsequently asked Meeks whether it was “fair to compare Mayor Daley … and the governor to slave masters,” Meeks replied: “They do the same thing. They preside over systems where they have the control of the lives of African American and Hispanic people.”
Flannery also raised the issue of Meeks’ use of the word “nigger.” “The N-word,” Meeks answered, “is not in the African American community a bad word. It’s a term of endearment. And I don’t see it as derogatory or defensive, offensive.”
Prior to his 2006 run for re-election to the Illinois state senate, Meeks stated from the pulpit of his church: “If I do run and there are two people in the race who both are not standing for morality, if I don’t have every white Christian vote in the state of Illinois, I will stand on top of the Sears Tower and call every one of y’all racist.”
Meeks is a longtime political ally of Barack Obama, who in 2003 and 2004 frequently campaigned at Salem Baptist Church during his run for the U.S. Senate. Meeks, meanwhile, appeared in television ads supporting Obama’s candidacy. Also in 2004, Obama personally selected Meeks to endorse him in a radio ad. Barely 24 hours after Obama had won the 2004 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, Obama attended a bible study meeting at Meeks’ church “for prayer” and “to say thank you.” In a 2004 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Obama described Meeks as an adviser to whom he looked for “spiritual counsel.”
In 2007 Meeks served on Obama’s exploratory committee for the presidency. Just hours after Obama announced his presidential candidacy early that year, Meeks galvanized his church choir to sing songs of praise at a pro-Obama rally in Chicago. The Obama campaign website listed Meeks as one of the candidate’s “influential black supporters.” A Meeks endorsement of Obama was featured on that same website in 2008. Also in 2008, Meeks was named as an Illinois superdelegate pledged to Obama for the Democratic convention in Denver, Colorado.
According to a Chicago Sun Times report, Meeks, like Obama, has been the recipient of large campaign contributions from indicted real estate developer Tony Rezko.
An opponent of racial profiling, state senator Meeks sponsored a bill allowing police departments to apply for grants to purchase video cameras for police cars, on the theory that if all traffic stops were automatically videotaped, instances of racial profiling would be less common.