Last August, as Americans watched the fallout from a police shooting in Kenosha, Wis., pastor James E. Ward Jr. found himself in a position to help. The victim, Jacob Blake, had been shot seven times in the back in an encounter with police.
Violence erupted in Kenosha. Ward, pastor and founder of INSIGHT Church in the north Chicago suburb of Skokie, Ill., turned to prayer.
“I get this phone call on my cellphone from Julia Jackson,” Ward tells The Daily Signal. “Julia Jackson is one of our faithful intercessory-prayer team members in our church. Julia happens to be the mother of Jacob Blake Jr. … And we prayed that Jacob would live and not die. And we’re thankful that he’s alive today, and he’s doing well.”
The shooting left Blake paralyzed below the waist. Yet both Jackson, Blake’s mother, and Ward, her pastor, decided “to speak a different narrative.”
“We weren’t calling for a hatred,” Ward recalls. “We weren’t calling for destruction. We’re calling for peace and speaking the love of God over the city. And it really went viral.”
Ward rejects “victim mentality” and ideologies such as critical race theory. He purposefully took a different approach from Black Lives Matter and found himself working with President Donald Trump last year. Now, he’s preaching this “new attitude” in a book called “Zero Victim.”
Ward visited The Daily Signal to discuss “Zero Victim: Overcoming Injustice With a New Attitude” and his experience in Kenosha last year. Listen to the full interview or read a lightly edited transcript are below.
Rob Bluey: We are joined on “The Daily Signal Podcast” today by pastor James Ward Jr. He’s the author of the book “Zero Victim: Overcoming Injustice With a New Attitude.” Pastor, thanks so much for being with us on the show today.
James E. Ward Jr.: Hey, Rob, it’s really an honor, sir. Thanks for the opportunity. So grateful to you and Charles and Kay [James], everybody here at The Daily Signal and The Heritage Foundation. Really an honor to be with you, sir. Thank you so much for having me.
Bluey: Before we get into the book, you have an amazing story growing up in Alabama. And you said those experiences in the time that you were in elementary school really shaped your thinking about a whole host of issues. Can you take us back to then and what it meant to you?
Ward: Sure. So, the way that I got to the book, this title of “Zero Victim,” of what that means, Rob, I grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the tail end of segregation, growing up on the all-black side of town. You literally did not cross the river into the white side of town.
Third grade, they integrate the school system. And so, I remember the day I first took that bus ride to the white side of town. And going through that experience and seeing that, wait a minute, it looks different here. It feels different. The homes are nice. The landscaping is nice. There’s no cars jacked up on cinder blocks and things like that.
I said, you know what? I belong here. There’s something in me that connected. Went to this new school, nice chalkboards, the playground equipment works, all of these kinds of things.
But I went into it with a mindset that this is going to be hostile, because I’m a black kid in a predominantly white school. The interesting thing is that the teacher of my third-grade class, which I didn’t know was a friend of my grandmother’s, a black lady, Mrs. Pitts, she would put students’ names on the board for doing well. If you did well on a spelling test, she’d write your name on the board.
She didn’t write your name up for behavioral issues, but to celebrate you. And Rob, I began to notice week after week, my name was on the board, and it clicked with me that I’m as smart as the white kids. And when I discovered that internally, it disarmed the hostilities of my perception, the perceive hostilities in terms of my animosity toward them when I felt that I was doing well, that I can do well. They weren’t holding me back.
That built something in me that their trajectory for my life, from that point until now, is that I don’t believe in white supremacy because I don’t believe in black inferiority. And so, there’s a narrative that’s going around right now that pits people against each other, that’s based upon victim mentality.
Here’s the basic idea of “zero victim” mentality from a faith perspective. Jesus Christ was the only innocent person that ever lived on the face of the planet. He suffered the greatest injustice that anyone has ever suffered. And while still in the process of being victimized, while the nails are still being driven in his hand, Jesus is already praying, “Father, forgive them, because of their ignorance. They don’t know what they’re doing.” And that is the standard for forgiveness and dealing with injustice.
And so I called the subtitle of the book, “Overcoming Injustice With a New Attitude.”
“Zero victim” mentality is the mind of Christ. And we’ve got to get that out to our nation right now, especially dealing with the contentions that we see, the divisions, the hatred. We’ve got to get the “zero victim” mindset communicated through our society. That is the soil, even from which victim mentality is, is critical race theory. All of these ideologies that are divisive, it grows from the soil of victim mentality. And so we go right to the root of that with this new book.
Bluey: Well, thank you for writing it. Again, it’s called “Zero Victim.” What was the catalyst or the moment that you decided that you needed to write this book and present these ideas to the American public more broadly?
Ward: So, the interesting thing, the title “Zero Victim” is, I was working for a relatively large church at the time before we planted the church that we’re in right now, working for a church. And we brought in a guy to do what’s called an “attitudinal assessment.” One of the categories on the attitudinal assessment is to measure the percentage to which you see yourself as a victim. I did the exam, my score comes back zero.
The guy calls me up. He says, “You know what? I’ve never seen anything like this in the history of facilitating this.” He says, “Everyone has some degree of victim. I’ve never seen anyone score zero. I need to know your story. I need to know what’s behind this.” I went on a consult for his staff and do a number of other things, but that’s where I got the term “zero.”
Now, the interesting thing about zero, if you imagine a number line, the reset place is zero. And I think if we can bring our society back to zero, I’d say it’s the only way to push the reset button on race relations. I could go into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a “zero victim” thinker.
It doesn’t dismiss problems that need to be eradicated and things that need to be addressed, but what it is, victim mentality, it’s like a set of lenses through which people see. And you literally read victimization into your circumstances, whether that’s in marriage or bankruptcy. It’s being politicized and weaponized in terms of race to destroy a people group.
We’ve got to get this “zero victim” mindset. You can’t control what happens around you, but you can control what happens within you. And by nature, that is God’s design, is for us to live life from the inside out, not from the outside in.
If you live your life from the outside … your life will be a constant yo-yo. You’ll never have a night of peace. You’ll never sleep well.
Those things are something that will absolutely destroy your church. I tell our church, the grand dragon or the grand wizard of the KKK, whoever the guy is, I love him. Not because of him, but because of me. There’s something in me. I am not a victim.
And so again, I don’t see anything such as white supremacy, because I don’t believe in black inferiority. We got to get that mindset back out into our nation right now.
Bluey: We certainly do, and you’re absolutely right. It is everywhere, in the media and social media. We hear it from politicians, so it’s hard, I think, on a day-to-day basis, to escape it.
Bluey: So, it’s important to have people like you out there talking about alternatives and different ways to think about it.
Bluey: For our listeners who might be struggling with it themselves, what are some of the first steps that you would recommend they take? I mean, obviously one is reading your diagnosis in the book. But if they’re thinking on a practical level, if they’re a parent themselves, what should they be talking to their kids about?
Ward: Sure. I’ll give you a short expression of “zero victim” mentality and how to apply it practically—is, I simply tell folks to act and not react, simply act and not react before we engage and respond emotionally, when we respond even out of our own pain.
If we just sometimes take a moment to think about what we’re doing and we act intelligently, instead of reacting emotionally, then we have a much better shot of minimizing expressions of victim thinking being operative in our life. We got to get back to know that these are spiritual and moral issues.
Very quickly, I teach that there are three laws that govern every society. No matter where you go, three laws: spiritual law, moral law, and civil law. Civil law is the kind of law that we’re only familiar with. We pretty much dismissed spiritual and moral law.
Here’s the problem with dismissing spiritual and moral law and only dealing with civil law: The weakness of civil law is that you cannot legislate morality. So, here’s the deal, a righteous man with the launch codes to our nuclear arsenal, people will be safe because he’s inherently righteous. But if you give an unrighteous, immoral guy a paperclip or a soup spoon, you got to fear for your life.
The issue is not the weapon. We have many fights and debates about gun control and all of these things. It’s heart control, but we’re not dealing with spiritual and moral law. So, we got to get back to the fundamentals of faith here in the United States of America. And we’re just encouraging and calling on believers to stand up, not be intimidated.
This is the time for us to express the true biblical principles, not social justice. We need biblical justice. And this is the time for us to return to our foundation of God’s word, if we’re ever going to see our way out of darkness.
Bluey: I couldn’t agree with you more on that. And in fact, I do a weekly radio segment with a station called Faith Radio.
Bluey: And one of the reasons I’m so passionate about doing that is because I truly believe that religion and faith plays such an important role in restoring some of the cultural challenges that we find ourselves in.
Bluey: Talk to us about the message that you have for your church … for the people who are coming there, particularly in a time when, in many cases, all across our country, where we’re recovering from a really tough year of COVID.
Ward: Sure. Yep.
Bluey: Maybe people have lost family members or others who have suffered. They may be looking for jobs. They’re out of work. How can we remain hopeful, and how can faith play a role in that?
Ward: Sure. Yeah. I have an amazing story to share about that. Again, we pastor a church. We’ve been teaching this “zero victim” message in our church. We’ve been praying about this in prayer meetings, and this is public information.
On Aug. 23, 2020 … you remember the George Floyd situation that happened? There was COVID. We’re getting into the contention of the election, and things were just … streets were burning in Portland, Minneapolis, St. Louis. Things were on fire in our nation. And on Aug. 23, I get this phone call on my cellphone from Julia Jackson. Julia Jackson is one of our faithful intercessory-prayer team members in our church.
Julia happens to be the mother of Jacob Blake Jr. Jacob Blake Jr. was a young man that everybody saw in Kenosha was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer. And we prayed that Jacob would live and not die.
And we’re thankful that he’s alive today, and he’s doing well. He’s a tremendous young man that the nation does not know. But as Julia and I began to engage, and we spoke in the press conference, we began to speak a different narrative.
We weren’t calling for a hatred. We weren’t calling for destruction. We’re calling for peace and speaking the love of God over the city. And it really went viral. And the folks start saying, “Wait a minute. These folks are different.” You don’t hear black people speaking that way in the height of Black Lives Matter and all this contention. They’re saying something different.
And I’m so proud of Julia as well. That led to us being involved in the presidential roundtable and really working on some things with President [Donald] Trump and his staff.
But here’s the thing: When you apply that message in terms of Julia being in this crisis, she responded the way that she did because we’ve been teaching and praying into the “zero victim” message for many, many, many years before this crisis happened to her and to her son. Jacob has that same mindset.
And so, it’s something that by returning to the truth of God’s word, I think that pastors in particular have a strong responsibility and obligation to teach believers to have the mind of Christ.
For example, we’ll preach Scriptures and say, “No weapon formed against you will prosper.” And people just shout and clap and say, “Hey, that’s wonderful.” But at the same time, we have to tell them that racism is a weapon. So, if no weapon formed against you prospers, racism is a weapon. And then we teach Scriptures and say, “Hey, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Except get over injustice. “No, I can do all things.” And so, as pastors and faith leaders, Bible teachers, we just got to start bringing people back to the truth and the veracity of God’s word, to apply it to the things that are happening in society, to act and not react.
Bluey: Pastor Ward, we thank you for sharing that story about Jacob and Kenosha. The Daily Signal sent a team last year to that city.
Bluey: Spoke to a lot of the business owners and others whose lives were uprooted because of some of the destruction that took place there. How is Jacob doing? How is the city recovering? Can you give us an update on how things are there today, almost a year later?
Ward: Sure. Yep. Haven’t been to Kenosha recently, but I can say of Jacob, he’s an incredible young man. He’s a great dad. And one of the passions of my life and my wife is to actually communicate a better narrative to our nation about who people really are, a narrative and empathy and compassion.
There was a moment when I was on the phone with President Trump, and then I’d hang up, and I’d be on the phone with Julia telling me about Jacob. And then I’d be back on the phone with President Trump. People that America says it’s impossible that these people can’t get along. They would never talk. And I really felt the Lord, Rob, speaking to my heart and say, “What are you going to do about it?”
So that launched us really into this space that we’d already been speaking into, that we really want to see reconciliation and renewal happen in America. We want to see folks coming together around the word of God.
I’m in partnership with the Museum of the Bible. We lead prayer meetings at Museum of the Bible, and we’re seeing this groundswell of folks coming together around faith, not some of the cultural, sociopolitical issues, the things that we’re dealing with there, but around our faith. And we’re seeing people come together from all walks of life. And so, we’re really encouraged about that.
I encourage you, folks, just go to my website at jamesewardjr.com. You can pick up the book there and get some YouTube videos and hear some of the messaging that we put out there. We’re seeing some really amazing things happen. And we’re honored to be here, to join forces with you and others to get the narrative out there that’s correct.
Bluey: That’s great. Well, Pastor Ward, thank you so much for joining us on “The Daily Signal Podcast.” We appreciate you bringing your message here to Washington, D.C.
Ward: My pleasure.
Bluey: And for all the work you’re doing back home, it’s so critically important. Again, we’ll leave a link to the book in our show notes. Again, it’s called “Zero Victim: Overcoming Injustice With a New Attitude” by James E. Ward Jr. Thanks so much.
Ward: My pleasure, thank you.