The Rev. Jesse Jackson — a confidant of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and who was with King as he was shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis — preached from King's pulpit during the 11:30 a.m. service Sunday at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
The visit came in honor of observing the 50th anniversary of "The Poor People's Campaign" and King's death, the historic church said in a news release.
“Moreover, it comes amidst a government shutdown which threatens the life chances of poor children served by the endangered Children's Healthcare Program (CHIP) and immigrants seeking a dignified path to citizenship,” the release stated.
The sermon also served as a history lesson, including the significance of Watch Night services for black churches. Jackson also used his presence in the pulpit for a lesson on current events, from the government shutdown to voter registration to building a wall along the border with Mexico.
Jackson spoke of the moral tone he views surrounding the current administration.
"Is this a government shutdown or a shakedown?" he asked the congregation.
Of all injustices, King described inequality in health care as the most shocking and inhumane, according to the church’s release.
Ebenezer's pastor, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, commented on the fight to pass legislation to help those affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, or DACA, which grants two-year work permits and deportation deferrals to immigrants who were brought here as children.
"You have no right to celebrate the dream if you will not liberate the dreamers," Warnock said.
Jackson's sermon addressed the “misplaced priorities” and “spiritual bankruptcy of those who managed to open the national treasury wide enough to pass a huge tax cut for the richest of the rich but cannot keep the government open long enough to heal the sick, feed the hungry or pay those who serve and protect us all,” according to the release.
He spoke of student loan debt as a form of slavery and said one thing worse than slavery is degradation.
“We must never adjust to degradation,” Jackson said. “It’s not enough to resent it; we must resist it.”
In Jackson’s sermon Sunday morning, he suggested churchgoers, of which hundreds watched live via the internet, spend time registering people to vote.
He criticized Mexicans whom Jackson said had been reported bidding on contracts to build the president’s proposed border wall on the southern border of the United States.
“Can you imagine blacks bidding to build slave ships?” he asked.
His closing remarks suggested people place their values higher than money and follow King’s example.
“Don’t just admire Dr. King,” Jackson said. “Follow him.”
“I’m 76 now,” he said near the end of the sermon. “I've seen a lot in my time. ... I saw a black man become president. ... I haven't seen the righteous forsaken. Hold on, hold out. ... Keep hope alive.”
Ebenezer Baptist Church is at 101 Jackson St. NE in Atlanta.