Who Is Pastor Robert Jeffress?
Long before he was making appearances on America’s most watched cable news shows, Robert Jeffress was acting as the young pastor of the First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls. Despite his Evangelical background, Jeffress’ early ministry work wasn’t defined by fire-and-brimstone-type condemnations of homosexuality. In 1998, however, Jeffress made his first public foray into the culture war. According to D Magazine's Michael J. Mooney:
He had just finished preparing a portion of a sermon titled “We Cannot Condone What God Has Condemned” when a member of his church came to him one morning with two books from the Wichita Falls public library. The books, Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate, are both about children raised by gay couples, and the latter features an illustration of two men in a bed together.
He thought about those books. And when he was preaching his message that Sunday, something welled up inside of him. The words just came out. “I’m gonna take my stand right here!” he said. “I’m not gonna return these books!”
Jeffress went on to spearhead an effort to remove the books from the Wichita Falls public library - an effort that earned him national attention as the City Council and ACLU became involved in the dispute. A judge eventually ruled that it was unconstitutional to exclude the books from the library, but the incident helped propel Jeffress’ popularity among Evangelicals, and his congregation expanded as a result.
In 2007, Jeffress became the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, where his national profile continued to grow. In March of 2013, the church opened a new $130 million church campus - completing the “largest Protestant church building campaign in modern history.”
Since spearheading the campaign to get gay-friendly books removed from the Wichita Falls public library, Jeffress hasn’t evolved much in his views on homosexuality or the LGBT community. Though he claims he’s now willing to consider the possibility that homosexuality is a “genetic predisposition,” Jeffress has peddled a number of extreme anti-gay smears, including:
Jeffress’ bigotry isn’t just directed at LGBT people; he’s also made a number of disparaging comments about other religions, including the claim that Islam is a violent religion that “promotes pedophilia" and that Muslims, Mormons, and Jews are doomed to go to hell.
Jeffress’ extremism hasn’t got unnoticed. In February of 2013, former NFL player Tim Tebow announced that he was withdrawing from an event held at Jeffress’ church after being informed about the pastor’s history of bigoted comments:
Jeffress denied the charges of extremism, supported by a number of prominent right-wing media figures. Fox News reporter Todd Starnes published several columns accusing the “anti-Christian media" of having "smeared" the pastor, and notorious hate group American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer cited the incident to argue that Jeffress had become "the Most Important Man in America.”
But Tebow’s public rebuking of Jeffress’ extremism hasn’t been enough to temper the pastor’s public rhetoric. In a press release for his new book Perfect Ending, Jeffress asserted that President Obama’s policies are “paving the way for the Antichrist.”
Nor has it deterred cable news outlets from treating Jeffress like a credible media commentator. In December, for example, CNN invited the pastor to discuss the controversy surrounding anti-gay remarks made by Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jeffress used the opportunity to defend his view that gay men are more likely to be pedophiles than straight men.