A controversial Texas pastor who partnered with Dallas officials to offer counselling and support services to local law enforcement is under fire for making anti-LGBT comments.
The Rev. Robert Jeffress is head of the 12,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas and he has a long track record of saying things that get him in trouble. Americans United has reported this “Christian nation” advocate to the IRS more than once for unlawful pulpit politicking, including an incident in 1998 during which Jeffress, then pastoring a church in Wichita Falls, encouraged his congregation to “vote out the infidels who would deny God and his word” in a city council election.
Jeffress did something similar in 2011 when he endorsed then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) for president and posted that endorsement on his church’s website. Once again, Americans United reported Jeffress to the IRS.
Jeffress also has a tendency to attack any faith group that isn’t his own; he has referred to Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as “false” religions and he once said the Catholic Church is a “cult-like pagan religion.” He also called Mormonism a “cult.”
Recently, Jeffress turned his intolerance toward the LGBT community. While on Family Research Council President Tony Perkins’ radio show last week, he said states that face pushback for anti-LGBT laws are experiencing something like terrorism.
“And when states are being faced with the loss of business, they tend to fold real quickly,” he opined. “And I’ve said often that the greatest threat to freedom of religion in America is not ISIS, it’s the Chamber of Commerce. I mean, it’s the businesses that say to our representatives, ‘Oh, don’t pass laws like that, don’t pass these religious freedom laws because people will interpret that as anti-gay and we’ll lose business.’”
Jeffress later claimed his comments were misinterpreted – but he stood by them.
In the wake of his outlandish interview, LGBT rights groups are calling on Dallas to end its relationship with the outspoken pastor.
“This most recent thing has crossed a bridge that should not be crossed,” Rafael McDonnell of the Resource Center, a Dallas-based LGBT aid organization, told WFAA-TV. “That ends up being a dangerous game if [Jeffress] wishes to silence the expression of people to state positions.”
But it’s not just LGBT groups that disagree with Jeffress. Notably, his position stands in contrast with other members of the faith community.
“I get how serious transgender issues are,” wrote Father Joshua Whitfield, director of faith formation and education at St. Rita Catholic Church in Dallas, in a column for The Dallas Morning News. “It’s not something to be flippant about or dismiss right away with disgust. To be human and to be moral here requires that we pay each other the respect of serious thought.”
Said the Rev. Mark Wingfield, associate pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, in another column for the Morning News: “Understanding the transgender experience seems so far outside what I have ever contemplated before. And the more I learn, the more theological questions I face as well. This is hard, even for a pastor.”
Given Jeffress’ history and his ongoing narrowmindedness, one has to wonder why any city would have a relationship with him. And what kind of counseling are police going to get from someone who holds the opinions Jeffress has expressed?
Clearly, Dallas officials have a problem. While it’s not necessarily unconstitutional for government to offer religious counseling services to public servants, there should be counselors from multiple viewpoints available for anyone who may want them. We don’t know if Dallas police have any options besides Jeffress.
But regardless of constitutional issues, the city would be wise to sever its ties with a pastor who clearly has no love for anyone who doesn’t follow his narrow theology. Someone like that has no business influencing anyone in government and government has no business promoting his exclusionary perspective.