Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day kicked off with controversy over a Southern Baptist preacher selected to preach at a private prayer service for the president-elect and his family shortly before taking the oath of office.
Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas with a long history of remarks critical of Muslims, Mormons, Catholics and gays, said on Twitter he planned to preach from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah at the Friday morning prayer service at St. John’s Episcopal Church across the street from the White House.
Jeffress, who did not formally endorse Trump but appeared alongside the candidate frequently on the campaign trail, added details in an interview with Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly.
“I’m not going to lecture the new president,” Jeffress said. “I’m going to encourage him, and so I am going to compare him to another great leader God chose 2,500 years ago to restore the nation of Israel.”
“God didn’t choose a politician or a priest,” Jeffress explained. “He chose a builder named Nehemiah, and interestingly, he told Nehemiah to build a giant wall around Jerusalem to protect the citizens.”
“I’m going to use Nehemiah’s story as an example of why God blesses leaders, and I want to be a tremendous encouragement to our great new president and vice president,” the preacher said.
A CNN report breaking news of Jeffress’ role in Inauguration Day events made note of the pastor’s long history of inflammatory remarks about Muslims, gays and other groups. He has called Islam an “evil” religion “from the pit of hell” that “promotes pedophilia” because the Prophet Muhammad reportedly married a 9-year-old girl.
“Unfortunately, the choice of Rev. Jeffress is symptomatic of the incoming Trump administration’s inclusion of notorious Islamophobes in the transition team, in the picks for cabinet nominees and, beginning Friday, in the White House,” Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, commented Thursday evening.
Jeffress has called homosexuality “an abomination” and described AIDS as “a gay disease” prevalent enough to warrant keeping homosexuals out of the military. Anti-Trump protesters in Dallas marched on First Baptist Church in November, pronouncing it “an official hate church.”
Jeffress has called Mormonism a “cult” and said in 2012 that presidential candidate Mitt Romney is not a Christian. He wrote a book claiming President Obama’s re-election in 2012 paved the way for the coming of the Antichrist.
He also has criticized “namby-pamby, pantywaisted, weak-kneed Christians” refusing to vote for Trump as a matter of moral principle. Jeffress recently suggested to The Wall Street Journal that his church might withhold funds from the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission because of agency head Russell Moore’s frequent denunciation of Trump during the presidential campaign.
Jeffress said Jan. 19 on The O’Reilly Factor that he “can’t stand” pastors “who use their minutes before a president to give a lecture and to chastise them.”
“I don’t think that’s my role,” he said. “And by the way Donald Trump is my friend, so I do want to encourage him.”
Jeffress, a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board, said he has had many discussions with the incoming president – a Presbyterian who appeared awkward discussing religion on the campaign trail – about his faith.
“I’d say this,” Jeffress said. “Mr. Trump’s faith is very important to him but very personal with him.”
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