Given President Donald Trump’s current predicament, one would think he’d be careful about the things he says and does. Nope. He remains as reckless and irresponsible as ever – and his Christian nationalist allies keep egging him on.
Trump, in a series of Sunday tweets, quoted Pastor Robert Jeffress, one of his leading far-right evangelical confederates. Jeffress, appearing on Fox News Channel, asserted that evangelicals are so furious over the House of Representatives’ plan to open an impeachment inquiry against Trump that it will lead to a “Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which our country will never heal.”
Decent people are appalled by such reckless statements. Trump thought they were so great he wanted to spread them far and wide.
Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, has a long history of extremist statements and behavior. He first came to Americans United’s attention in 1998 when he was serving as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls, Texas. A parishioner was disturbed by LGBTQ-friendly children’s books in the town’s public library, checked them out and brought them to Jeffress, who announced that he would not return the books. Jeffress decided that his moral viewpoint should control the entire city.
His behavior since then has only gotten worse. Jeffress has attacked LGBTQ people, calling them “miserable,” “filthy” and “degrading.” When the Supreme Court upheld marriage equality in 2015, Jeffress called it “the greatest, most historic, landmark blunder in the history of the United States Supreme Court” and “nothing short of an affront in the face of almighty God.” After the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced its support for transgender rights, Jeffress asserted, “I’ve said often that the greatest threat to freedom of religion in America is not ISIS, it’s the Chamber of Commerce.”
Jeffress has attacked church-state separation as a myth, has blamed school shootings on the Supreme Court for striking down mandatory school prayer and has compared religious diversity in America to “idolatry.” He has repeatedly attacked other faiths, calling the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “a cult,” referred to Islam as “a heresy from the pit of hell,” and said of Catholicism, “Much of what you see in the Catholic Church today doesn’t come from God’s word. It comes from this cult-like pagan religion.”
In 2014, Jeffress penned a book asserting that President Barack Obama was paving the way for the Antichrist. Two years ago, Jeffress urged Trump to attack North Korea, citing the biblical Book of Romans as justification. Earlier this year, he asserted that evangelicals who don't support Trump are "morons."
Jeffress’s views are extreme, and his theology is anchored in intolerance, Christian supremacism and division. Yet Jeffress remains a prominent member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board and clearly has the ear of the president. That Trump is allowing extremists like Jeffress to wield so much influence on public policy is a threat our nation’s fundamental promise of religious freedom.
(Photo: Screenshot from CNN)