As pastor of Solid Rock Assembly of God, the Rev. Jay Bailey shepherds an ethnically diverse congregation.
Bailey, a native of Jamaica, West Indies, also has been at the forefront of mission work and efforts to support Israel. On March 29, his congregation, in partnership with other Christian organizations, will host the fifth annual “A Night to Honor Israel,” which will be held at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts.
Bailey sat down with reporter Alva James-Johnson and talked about his background, ministry and advocacy for Israel.
Here are excerpts from the interview, with the content edited slightly for length and clarity.
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Your family’s from Jamaica. Tell me about that history and how your family got to the island.
Well, my mother is Jamaican. She was born in Jamaica. Her family really fled Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition. Some went to Latin America, some settled in Jamaica. ... My father, however, is Canadian. He worked for the Royal Bank of Canada. He served in their international division, and while serving there, he met my mother. I, consequently, and my younger sister, were born in Jamaica. My two older brothers, however, were born in Magueyes, Puerto Rico.
What are your memories of growing up there?
Well, you know, I remember we were a very close- knit family. I was very close to my grandparents; we lived beside them. One of the most vivid memories that I would have ... was every Saturday morning I would go down and have porridge with my grandfather. I would sit there on the veranda eating porridge with him every Saturday morning. It was a fabulous memory. I think back on those days with great fondness.
Jamaica is a close-knit community and celebrating family, but we’re an emotional people, we’re a passionate people. So we were always with friends and family. In Caribbean culture you just drop in. You can go to people’s homes — they love that — or they’ll come to your home. It’s a very relational community. I spent a lot of time outdoors, playing sports, celebrating, doing physical activities outdoors.
Are a lot of people surprised when they find out that you, being a white man, are from Jamaica?
They are surprised. They’re not use to seeing a white Jamaican. ... I tell our friends when they ask me. They look at me with a sense of incredulity. ... They’ll say, “No way.” I’ll say, “Yes, I’m really Jamaican. I was born in Jamaica. I’ve been away from Jamaica since I was 14 years old, almost 35 years.” I tell them, “I’m really a black man and the longer I’ve been away from Jamaica, the whiter I’ve become.” We laugh and we have fun with that. They look at me with some surprise.
How would you compare race relations in Jamaica to race relations in the United States?
Growing up in Jamaica, the white community is the minority. A lot of my relationships were interracial — our friends, our family. It really wasn’t a big thing. Honestly, it wasn’t a cause of division or tension, necessarily. Then coming to America as an older teenager and spending most of my adult life in America, I have come to understand some of the racial divide, some of the racial tensions. Growing up as a little boy in Jamaica, I never really felt the adverse reaction that we were of different skin color.
What part of the United States did you first come to?
Well, I came to America to play tennis for the University of Georgia. That’s what brought me to America. My first introduction to America was at Athens. ... At the time of my coming to America, my mom and dad were living in Canada — Oakville, Ontario.
Why did your parents move there?
... During the ’70’s, Jamaica was going through some political turmoil and it was getting quite dangerous. My father moved us back to Canada, and that’s what led me, ultimately, then to come to America to play tennis. My goal was to be a professional tennis player.
You studied economics in college, right?
Yes. I studied economics and my goal, ultimately, though, was to be a professional tennis player. Then I came to know Jesus as my Savior as a freshman at the University of Georgia. Over the next couple of years, my relationship with the Lord really changed the trajectory of my life. ... I felt a definite sense of the call of God to go into the ministry — it was very pronounced for me. In fact, I can tell you the day and time in which God spoke to me to confirm that he was wanting me to go into the ministry. It took place on May 5 of 1984 at about 11 o’clock in the morning. In fact, I was at Forsyth, Ga., with a group of students that I was leading. They were at a youth summer camp when God spoke to my heart in an undeniable way.
What did he say to you?
He confirmed to me that his call was upon my life to go into the ministry and that I was to take that step of faith and that he would go before me and lead me in every step that I take. He has done that... in a most remarkable way. That’s what’s brought me, ultimately, to Columbus, Ga., where I pastor Solid Rock Church. I’ve been the pastor of Solid Rock for the past 13 years and I’m having a blast.
Tell me how you got to Columbus and how that call came?
Well, at the time I was pastoring in Macon, and Solid Rock was looking for a pastor. They approached me about the possibilities and I made myself available. My wife and I came down and met with the leadership team here, spoke with the board, and we really felt that this was the right place and the right time and that we were to yield to that wonderful privilege of serving Solid Rock. We knew ... at the time that our ministry in Macon was coming to a close. It was a season, and every season has a beginning point and every season has an ending point, and we knew that we were arriving at the ending point in Macon. The Lord opened up the door here for us to come and lead this incredible church family.
What did you find when you came here?
I found a wonderful group of people who were really desiring to be led, to hear the Word of God and to accomplish what God had called this church to accomplish in impacting our city. They were so receptive and so honoring. And it has been a privilege to serve this body. ... This June will be 13 years that my family and I have been in Columbus, Ga., and loving it.
What do you like about Columbus?
I love the people. I love the area. I think it’s a great place to bring up a family. We love the progressive mindset of the community, always wanting to grow bigger and better, to do things on a different level — the entrepreneurial spirit of Columbus, Ga. It truly is remarkable that a community of our size has some major international corporations right in our city. And then the people are just wonderful. I don’t necessarily sense the racial division. The leaders of our community have been wonderful to me. I appreciate their heart for our community.
What is the demographic makeup of your church?
We’re an interracial congregation and we have seen a growth in the African-American culture here, as well as Africans (and) Hispanics. We love it. We have Nigerians. We have Kenyans. We have Ghanaians. ... And our congregation has embraced the diversity in a beautiful way.
A lot of churches have difficulty with that. Some say Sunday is the most segregated hour in the nation. Why do you think that is?
Well, lamentably, that’s true across our land. I speak specifically about Solid Rock. Our congregation is a loving congregation. One of the things we’ve talked about in 13 years is making Solid Rock a safe place — a safe place for everybody, irrespective of our background, irrespective of our culture. Because ultimately, we’re all created in the image of God regardless of our skin color, the pigmentation of our skin. We have been created in the image of God and, therefore, it is our privilege to love everybody, irrespective of where we’re from.
It’s my understanding that your church does a lot of mission projects. Can you tell me about some that you’ve done?
It’s built on Matthew Chapter 28. It’s the Great Commission. Jesus gave the mission statement to the church to go into all the world and preach the Gospel — the good news — and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ... We want to take that seriously and we try to do that (not only) in supporting missionaries all across the world, but also mobilizing our congregation in mission projects, in building churches, in building schools, in helping in a very practical and a tangible way to fulfill the good news of Jesus Christ. We support missionaries financially in our giving, but we also are advancing the kingdom of God in our going. We want to increase the footprint of the kingdom of God wherever we can, all across the planet.
Where are some of the countries where you’ve done mission work?
Well, we’ve done missions work in Jamaica, in Guatemala, in El Salvador. Our men have built schools and churches in Costa Rica. They’re getting ready to go on a project to Latin America. In fact, we have a team getting ready to go to Zambia this coming May to really help to impact those that live along the Zambezi River. Building schools, helping to drill wells for potable water. ...
You are a big supporter of Israel. Is that correct?
I’m a very big supporter of Israel. Absolutely ... unambiguously and unashamedly so.
OK, so tell me why that is?
Well, once again, everything at Solid Rock we seek to do has to be built on a Biblical premise. If it’s not Biblical, I’m not interested in it. Because the Bible tells us in Genesis, Chapter 12 and verse 3, that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed. ... Christians love what God loves. God loved his son Jesus Christ, and as a Christian, we’re called to love Jesus Christ and to surrender our lives to his lordship. God loves Israel, therefore there is one motivation, one mandate for me and for this church, and that is to love Israel. God has an everlasting, unconditional covenant with the land of Israel and with the people of Israel, and the Jewish people are the apple of God’s eye. And because I love God, I love Israel and I love the Jewish people. And Solid Rock has mobilized around that call.
... Let me hasten to say that loving Israel and loving the Jewish people does not mean that I have to hate Muslims — I love Muslims, or any other people group. That loving Israel means that we love Israel and we love the Jewish people, but I don’t have to do that to the exclusion of other people groups. We have a special affinity to come alongside to support Israel and the Jewish people.
How does that play out politically in terms of your views about the situation in the Middle East and all these years of national leaders trying to develop peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
... Honestly, I cannot solve the political quagmire of what’s going on in the Middle East. It’s a difficult, complex neighborhood, honestly. I don’t feel a need to solve that problem politically. My heart, and our modus operandi — our method of operation — is to do what we can Biblically to come alongside Israel and the Jewish people. How we seek to do that ... is in tangible ways. Show our love for Israel and the Jewish people (in ways) that will impact their lives for the better. Let me give you an example. Earlier in 2015, we began a new initiative to partner with an organization in Israel called Operation Life Shield. Operation Life Shield is designed to build bomb shelters in critical areas in the land of Israel that will protect innocent civilians from the incoming rockets.
... These are some of the ways that we want to come alongside and help improve the lives of Israelis — not just Jews, because there are Arabs there, there are also Christians. Remember, those incoming rockets are non-discriminatory. They don’t know whether they’re going to land in an Arab Israeli community, a Christian community, or a Jewish community. We express the love of God by helping to install those bomb shelters for the preservation of lives.
Are we seeing an increase of Christian churches getting involved in supporting Israel?
... Absolutely. ... I am the Southeast regional director of an organization called Christians United for Israel. Our goal is to help educate and empower Christians all across America as to the Biblical mandate to stand with Israel. It was founded in 2006, and in those 10 years our membership has grown from 400 people to over 2.7 million Christians who are standing with Israel. We’re the largest grassroots, pro-Israel organization on the planet. It’s taken place in 10 years. This truly is a move of God that’s gone viral across America. This is a powerful entity that is really helping to inspire Christians to stand with Israel, the only democratic, freely elected sovereign state in the Middle East and of the greatest allies of the United States of America. It’s an amazing thing.
How much does this have to do with Bible prophecy? Do you see Israel playing some significant role in the future of the world?
When it comes to Bible prophecy ... Israel is always the hinge on which Bible prophecy revolves. All of human history, really, centers around Israel. Israel is always at the center of God’s worldview concerning prophecy. To answer your question, you cannot talk about prophecy without talking about Israel. It’s at the very core of prophecy because prophecy is God’s perspective on where humanity has been, where humanity is now currently, and where humanity will be in the future. Israel is at the very center of that.
Have you ever been to the Holy Land?
I’ve been to the Holy Land several times and every time I go I fall more in love with the land and more in love with the people.
You have “A Night to Honor Israel” event coming up. Tell me about that.
On March 29, we are going to be having an epic night to honor Israel at the RiverCenter (for the Performing Arts). It will be our fifth annual night to honor Israel, our second occasion to have it at the River Center. Dr. David Jeremiah is going to be our keynote speaker. He’s an internationally renowned Bible teacher and an avid supporter of Israel. Along with him as our speaker, we’ll also be having Rabbi Shalom Lewis, who is a rabbi in a synagogue in Atlanta and an amazing, passionate communicator. Along with that we are going to be having the world-renowned choir and orchestra of First Baptist Atlanta. That is Dr. Charles Stanley’s church.
... Also, we’ll be having our two Jewish synagogues and their rabbis as a part of that night. The synagogue Shearith Israel, under the leadership of Rabbi Brian Glusman, and Temple Israel, under the leadership of Rabbi Beth Schwartz, will be joining with us because it’s a night to honor the Jewish people. They’re going to be there with us as our honored guests. ... I’m so grateful for their leadership. They’re wonderful friends and they believe in what we’re doing in a night to honor Israel.
Let’s talk a little bit about politics. ... What are your thoughts about this year’s presidential campaign?
You know what grieves me about it is to see the level of incivility. In politics, there’s always been disagreement. I think that is the nature of a democracy. You start with a thesis, an idea; it is met with a prevailing world view or an antithesis. Then, as the two sides are able to dialogue and talk, you arrive at synthesis. What is happening is that we no longer want to talk about ideas. We seem more interested in vilifying our opponent and tearing down those who might have a different opinion. It’s happening on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans. Instead of us maturely engaging on the issues, we have deteriorated into a level of dialogue that is profoundly immature. That harms our culture. Our children are looking at how we dialogue with one another and they see this incivility and the vilification of people with different ideas — that this one says that he’s a liar, and this one says that he’s a lowlife, and this one says that he’s nasty. Is this what American politics have come to? God help us.
Instead of us talking about the issues on reversing our national decline, we really are engaging in buffoonery and silliness and downright nastiness, and we’ve become a laughingstock of the world. Let me tell you, I have family living in Jamaica, I have family living in Canada, and I dialogue with my family. What the press really says about what’s happening in America, it’s a national disgrace and a source of embarrassment.
You had Ted Cruz at your church in August. Are you a Ted Cruz supporter?
I was asked by the Republican party if we would open up our facilities to do that and I consented willingly. Personally, I do believe in the value system of Ted Cruz. I believe that he has the intellectual gravitas. He has the moral backbone and the moral courage, and I do believe that he looks at life through a Biblical prism. I am closely aligned with his positions. I believe that he is able to speak to the issues and to lead based on principle, rather than on political expediency.
It seems like many evangelicals are actually supporting Trump; this is despite him being twice divorced and his use of foul language. He even said that he doesn’t ask God for forgiveness, according to media reports. Why do you think so many evangelicals are supporting him?
I don’t know Donald Trump. ... I’ve never had a personal conversation as to his relationship with Jesus Christ, so I cannot assess where he is spiritually. To the broader question that you’ve asked — “How is it that evangelical Christians have gravitated towards him?” — that is a mystery to me. As evangelical Christians, there ought to be one thing that moves us, and that is, “Does that individual most closely represent a Biblical worldview?” ... I’m not interested in fads, I’m not interested in personalities. I’m interested in principles. I’ve tried to live by this maxim. It’s not who’s right, but what’s right. If we base our life upon that maxim, then we are principally centered, rather than personality centered. As Christians, we have to look at the individuals who most closely reflect and live out a Biblical value system.
Mr. Trump has made some controversial comments about Muslims. He thinks that they should be kept out of the country. What are your views about that? Do you think that Muslims should be kept out of the country?
We can never deal with the critical issues of our time through generalities or a stereotypical approach. We will never solve the problems in a redemptive, healthy way by broad generalities. To throw that out there — that all Muslims ought to be banned from America — creates a divisive culture in our land. If we’re concerned about terrorism, that is a legitimate concern and is my concern. How do we best deal with that through immigration policies and security issues?
What are your views about the Muslim religion?
Be more specific with me. What do you mean by that?
Based on what we’re hearing from some evangelicals, they see it as an evil religion. Do you agree with that?
I believe that there is a percentage in Islam that have been radicalized. In their radicalized worldview, it is built on hostility, it is built on worldwide domination, and its goal is the annihilation of Western civilization and Christianity. That is a major, major problem. There are some who have assessed that anywhere between 5 percent upwards to 25 percent of Muslims worldwide are radicalized. If that is true, and even at 25 percent as an outlier of Muslims being radicalized, that means that there are over 200 million Muslims that are radicalized and seek for a caliphate and for Sharia law to be imposed upon the world. I know, personally, Muslims that are loving, delightful people and they’ve been in our home. I love them greatly. Not all Muslims are radicalized.
Let me hasten to say that moderate Muslims must rise in force to push back on the radicalized form of Islam which is terrorizing the world and seeks to destroy Israel, the little Satan, and destroy the United States of America, the great Satan. We have to be honest and we have to be courageous in dealing with the challenges of this rise of radical Islamic jihadist.
What do you think should be done about immigration in this country?
Well, I do believe that we need to have a very sane, reasonable, consistently applied immigration policy. Absolutely. Every sovereign state has the right to protect its border. If we cannot control our border, we’ll lose our sovereignty. We begin to see the deterioration and decay of culture. ... I am an immigrant. I was not born in America. I spent most of my life in America. I love America. I tell people I’m Jamaican by birth, Canadian by parentage, but American by choice. America’s opened up its arms and its heart to me and I’m thankful for that. We have to have a mature, responsible immigration policy that protects America from illegal immigration and allows a mechanism for those who desire to come to America and add value to America to be able to come in. It’s as simple as that.
Our politicians are paid to solve the problem and they must solve the problem.
How do you feel about Trump’s proposal for the wall to keep out Mexicans?
Well ... in framing it that way, it implies that that wall is to be built purely to keep Mexicans out. Any people group and any particular ethnicity are welcome to come to America, but they must do so legally. We know that there are individuals from all over the world who seek to do harm to America that are coming through the Mexican border. We’ve got to solve that problem. If building a wall, if through the employing of sophisticated technologies can help us to solve that problem, we’ve got to solve that problem. However we do that, in a myriad of ways, it must be employed for the protection of America.
On a lighter note, I’ve been told that you’re a big Columbus Cottonmouths supporter. Tell me about your love of hockey.
Well, I tell you, when I went to Canada, I had never seen skates before, never seen the game hockey. I was what we call in Jamaica a footballer. In America you call it soccer. I played football and cricket and some rugby. So going to Canada, hockey is everything and I fell in love with the game. I wanted to play hockey and so I taught myself how to skate and then eventually started trying out for our school hockey team. I made the hockey team and just fell in love with the game of hockey. I love it. I love the camaraderie of it. When I came to Columbus and found out that we had a professional ice hockey team here, I had the great joy and privilege of meeting Jerome Bechard, the coach/general manager. ... He invited me to be their team pastor and I’ve been their team pastor for 11 years.
He’s opened up that locker room to me, and the hockey players have opened their heart to me and I love them. In fact, I was with them this morning. I’m with them every Monday morning. I take them breakfast before every home game. I love those guys. They’re my brothers and it’s one of the great joys to be with them.
Do you get back to Jamaica much?
I do. In fact, I’ll be going back there in July. ... Or I’ll go back to Canada. I have my mom there and always love going home to my mother.
NAME: Jay Bailey
HOMETOWN: Kingston, Jamaica.
CURRENT RESIDENCE: Columbus
JOB: Pastor of Solid Rock Assembly of God
PREVIOUS JOB: Lead pastor at Victory Christian Center in Macon.
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s in economics from the University of Georgia (1985); masters of divinity from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Mo. (1990).
FAMILY: Wife, Danna, of 28 years; five children; and a 1-year-old grandson.