Salem Baptist Church Senior Pastor Rev. James Meeks announced he is retiring next January.
The church has more than 9,000 members, according to its website. The vision statement is that Salem is "a multi-generational church focused on extending God's love, encouraging personal growth and establishing healthy family relationships."
Sources ranging from iHeart.com/V103 to ABC 7 Chicago noted that, beginning Jan. 8, 2023, Rev. Dr. Charlie Dates will succeed Meeks, a former state senator (2003-13) who once ran for Chicago mayor before abandoning his campaign in December 2010.
Meeks has many admirers and followers, but he has also been a lightning rod in the LGBTQ+ community. He has said polarizing comments about the demographic and has consistently railed against same-sex marriage.
In addition to other positions, Meeks has also been the chair of the Illinois State Board of Education. Then-Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, appointed Meeks, a Democrat, to the post in 2015; Meeks took office Jan. 21, 2017. Meeks' confirmation was opposed by several groups, including the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, which stated in 2015, "It is a hard day in Illinois when a person who has repeatedly expressed contempt and disgust for LGBT people, women, Asian Americans, Latinos, Jewish Americans and other vulnerable minority groups can be confirmed to lead the Illinois State Board of Education.
"He has said publicly that LGBT people are 'not natural' and that people who are part of this community are 'an evil sickness.' And, his life-threatening anti-choice views place our children at risk. We must all work together to support and protect all children." Other organizations had joined an anti-Meeks coalition, including About Face Theatre, Affinity Community Services, Center on Halsted, Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal, Peoria Proud, Prairie Pride Coalition and Pride at Work Chicago, Windy City Times reported.
Darren Reisberg, an openly gay man, is currently the Illinois State Board of Education chair.
In addition, in 2010, Meeks said on the radio station WVON that only Blacks should qualify for city contracts meant for women and ethnic/racial minorities, inciting more controversy. He subsequently walked back that comment.