Buzzfeed News is reporting this morning what I wanted to report last week but couldn’t verify: Prior to V.P. Mike Pence’s visit to First Baptist Church in Dallas on Sunday, there was an outbreak of COVID-19 among the church’s orchestra and choir. I had heard this from two twitter accounts but could not get primary source verification, so I didn’t run with it.
Buzzfeed reporters were able to get that confirmation and went with the story today. The video of the event shows that the choir was singing and the orchestra was playing without masks. The congregation was close together and the only real precautions were taken by Pence. You don’t need to watch the whole video to see what I mean:
Texas is experiencing a scary surge in cases and V. P. Pence should have shown leadership by canceling his appearance and urging Robert Jeffress to hold an online event. Just last week, in neighboring Arkansas, fellow evangelical Governor Asa Hutchinson told the public that the churches who are not experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks are the ones using masks and social distancing. He identified by name nine churches on a naughty list of churches which had not been following guidelines and thus experiencing more cases of COVID-19.
Jeffress’ church was a clinic in how not to do things. Singing and playing wind instruments are effective ways of spreading a virus. The congregation was not spaced properly and it appears not all were wearing masks. Given that some of the orchestra members have been infected (although none of those members were there), it is possible that some of the orchestra members playing that Sunday had been exposed in prior rehearsals.
While it appears that most church leaders are trying to take COVID-19 seriously, I don’t see how it helps to have so-called leaders disregard best practices. I have been tracking church outbreaks for just over a month and it is starting to get a little hard to keep up with. I count 48 churches as of this writing. As the pandemic enlarges in the U.S., it may be difficult to keep a complate count.
In any case, having church as normal can be a super spreading event and leaders need to heed best practices while still caring for their flocks.
First Baptist of Dallas pastor and Trump court evangelical Robert Jeffress doubled down on his warning of a “civil war like fracture” if Trump is removed from office via impeachment and conviction. Watch:
One of the CBN hosts gave him an opportunity to ratchet back his rhetoric but in Trump-like fashion, he called his analogy to the Civil War “a perfect idea.”
When the same host cited Illinois GOP Representative Adam Kinzinger’s tweet condemning the reference to the Civil War, Jeffress said:
Read the comment and if they come away with that conclusion that I’m advocating or the president’s is a civil war, then they either can’t read or are too stupid to understand what we’re saying.
Donald Trump just tweeted the following quote from Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress:
“Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats can’t put down the Impeachment match. They know they couldn’t beat him in 2016 against Hillary Clinton, and they’re increasingly aware of the fact that they won’t win against him in 2020, and Impeachment is the only tool they have to get….
….Election, and negate the votes of millions of Evangelicals in the process. They know the only Impeachable offense that President Trump has committed was beating Hillary Clinton in 2016. That’s the unpardonable sin for which the Democrats will never forgive him…..
….If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.” Pastor Robert Jeffress, @FoxNews
This is of course is an outrageous statement from Jeffress and a sign of panic and desperation from Trump. It is one more sign that Trump is unfit for office that he would incite such divisive rhetoric to try to keep himself in power.
For Jeffress to equate the impeachment of Trump to slavery as a reason for a “Civil War like fracture” is absurd. While we are in the minority, there are many evangelicals who want to see respect for the rule of law.
Trying to defend President Donald Trump’s comments preferring immigrants from Norway over Haiti, El Salvador and Africa, First Baptist Church of Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress told the Washington Post that race is an acceptable reason for the government to discriminate in immigration.
According to reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Jeffress told her that the U.S. has the right “to restrict immigration according to whatever criteria it establishes, including race or other qualifications.” He claimed that there isn’t anything racist about such restrictions.* I would like to hear an explanation for that. What else besides racial prejudice would lead the U.S. to prefer whites over non-whites? I would like to hear Rev. Jeffress’ answer to that question.
Jeffress’ blatant defense of racial discrimination is reminiscent of opposition by other Southern white men to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. INA struck down immigration quotas and increased immigration from Africa, Latin America and Asia. INA was opposed by those who wanted to maintain discrimination in immigration policy. Essentially, the policy prior to 1965 favored European immigration with limits on people coming in from elsewhere in the world. Now in 2018, Trump’s preference for white Norwegians over dark skinned Africans and Jeffress’ defense of his position sound like the same rhetoric used by opponents of the INA in 1965.
One of the most vocal opponents of INA was Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC). During Senate hearings on the bill, Ervin expressed that race and country of origin should be used in immigration discrimination. Ervin said:
The people of Ethiopia have the same right to come to the United States under this bill as the people from England, the people of France, the people of Germany, the people of Holland. With all due respect to Ethiopia, I don’t know of any contributions that Ethiopia has made to the making of America.
He wasn’t alone in his views.
As Tom Gjelten documents in his book A Nation of Nations, Spessard Hollard (D-FL) asked during debate on the bill:
Why, for the first time, are the emerging nations of Africa, to be placed on the same basis as are our mother countries – Britain, Germany, Scandinavian nations, France, and the other nations from which most Americans have come?
Without the profanity, Ervin and Spessard raised the same questions in 1965 as Trump and Jeffress are raising now. Why do we want these people from Africa? We should have more people from Europe.
Blinded by the White
A sign of white privilege is the distortion of reality it promotes. Ervin and Spessard seemed oblivious to the fact that citizens in their states had African heritage. As Gjelten points out in his book, “In the 1960 census, Americans of African descent out-numbered Scandinavian Americans by a margin of two and a half to one, and there were more African-Americans in the United States than there were Americans whose origins lay in Italy, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, and Switzerland combined.”
Apparently, as Gjelten notes, Ervin and Spessard didn’t consider African nations as “mother countries.” Of course, that is absurd. One would have to look at U.S. history through the lens of white privilege to think people with African heritage have made no contributions to American life and culture.
Some of Trump’s defenders have said Trump just said what some people are thinking when he expressed his preference for Norwegians over people
from “shithole” countries. Perhaps some white people are thinking those things, but a look at the history of the Civil Rights struggle shows that some people always have. In the 1960s, those views were shown the door legislatively. Now they are front and center in the White House, with evangelical religious leaders to defend them.
As a religious advisor to the president, Jeffress claims that the United States has the right to engage in racial discrimination in immigration policy. His evangelical peers should not let that stand without condemnation. Racial discrimination was evil in 1965 and it is evil now, wherever it occurs. There is no national interest in that kind of evil.
Tomorrow we remember Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy. King, Jr. lamented the silence of the white church during the fight for civil rights. The church should not be silent now.
*I confirmed this conversation with Washington Post reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey. Jeffress told Bailey that the United States has the right to restrict immigration according to whatever criteria it establishes. She then asked him, “Would you include race?” He said, “Whatever criteria we deem necessary.” She asked him a direct question about race which he agreed to.
Yesterday, CBN’s The Brody File posted a statement from court evangelical, Baptist pastor and Trump religious advisor Robert Jeffress regarding Trump’s authority to take out North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. In it, Jeffress makes an extraordinary claim:
When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un.
It is likely that Jeffress is referring to the first seven verses of Romans chapter 13, where Paul wrote:
1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Historically, Baptists Believed in Church-State Separation
Biblically and politically, Jeffress is just wrong to insert himself as a spokesperson for God into the situation. He should turn in his Baptist card.
During the revolutionary and post-revolutionary period, Baptists were among the staunchest supporters of separation of church and state. Now the Baptist-in-name-only Jeffress advises Trump that God has given the green light for lethal action in North Korea.
Romans 13 Doesn’t Apply
First, in our non-theocratic republic, the authority for Trump’s actions comes from the Constitution, not God. America is not a new Israel where the prophets advised the King when to attack an enemy. Jeffress is not God’s mouthpiece to the president with orders from on high.
Second, the Romans passage doesn’t apply in this situation. Although rulers come and go in accord with God’s providence, the rulers do so within God’s timing and the political structure of their state. Paul does not establish a mechanism for a ruler to discern God’s plan.
Regarding citizens of a nation, they are to respect the authority of that nation’s rulers. The words are addressed to citizens of a nation, not to our president about strategy for deposing rulers of other nations. This isn’t a mandate for America to become take out evil dictators around the world. While in some cases it may further America’s interests to do so, the authority and mandate don’t come from these verses.
What Should Happen with North Korea?
The correct policy might or might not include a preemptive strike. That is a decision for those who are more knowledgeable than me. However, I can say with certainty that Trump and his advisors should not be waiting around for a prophet to speak for God.
Messiah College’s chair of the history department John Fea coined the phrase “court evangelical” to describe evangelical leaders who defend Donald Trump no matter what he does. Even Republican Senators have expressed confusion and negative reactions to the firing of James Comey, but not the court evangelicals. Watch:
Robert Jeffress is most certainly a court evangelical. Actually, the Comey controversy is real and for more reasons than Trump fired the head of the agency investigating him. Trump sent his surrogates out with a cover story and then changed it the next day. Somewhere in there is a lie and it doesn’t seem very evangelical to lie; except that for the court evangelicals, lying is just one of those political things that strongmen do.
According to Fea (I agree with him), court evangelicals “have put their faith in a political strongman who promises to alleviate their fears and protect them from the forces of secularization.” Fea’s list includes:
Jerry Falwell Jr.
Editors’ Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Faith and the Election. Read other perspectives here.
Now that Donald Trump is the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, we can look back at some of the promises he has made. Of interest to the current Patheos Public Square conversation on faith and politics are his promises to make businesses say Merry Christmas and his pledge to “work like Hell” for Christian power.
In February, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas TX Robert Jeffress told a rally that if Donald Trump is elected that evangelical Christians “will have a true friend in the White House.” Trump followed Jeffress’ remarks by declaring:
Christianity is under siege. Every year it gets weaker and weaker and weaker and I had a meeting with various ministers and pastors about two months ago and I’m pretty good at figuring things out. And I say with them and some of them said we love you. We want to endorse you but we are afraid if we do we are going to lose our tax exempt status. And I said what’s this all about. That takes you and makes you less powerful than a man or woman walking up and down the street. You actually have less power, and yet, if you look at it, I was talking to some, we probably have 250 million, maybe even more, in terms of people. So we have more Christians — think of this — than we have men or women in our country, and we don’t have a lobby because they’re afraid to have a lobby because they don’t want to lose their tax status. So I am going to work like hell to get rid of that prohibition, and we’re going to have the strongest Christian lobby, and it’s going to happen.
About Christmas celebrations, Trump said.
We’re going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ now on Christmas. We’re going to start going to department stores, and stores, and you’re going to see big beautiful signs that say, ‘Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday,’ and we’re going to have a big, big, big lotta fun.
Working “like hell” seems like an apt description of what Trump has in mind. If we can take him at his word, he plans to somehow coerce business owners to post Merry Christmas signs and favor Christianity as a kind political lobbying force.
There is another religion Trump mentioned briefly in his February speech and then repeatedly throughout the campaign. Trump has famously suggested shutting down some mosques and banning Muslims entering the country. If Trump wins and he follows through on his promises, Christianity will have a “true friend” in the White House and Islam will have quite an adversary.
Does Christianity need this kind of help? Will special help make America great?
The issue of Muslim (Mahometan) participation in the new Republic came up during the North Carolina debates over ratification of the Constitution in 1788. Some delegates expressed worry that the lack of a religious test would allow atheists or people from non-Christian religions to be elected to office. In the debate, James Iredell, appointed to the Supreme Court by George Washington in 1790, answered concerns that a pagan or Mahometan might gain office:
But it is objected that the people of America may, perhaps, choose representatives who have no religion at all, and that pagans and Mahometans may be admitted into offices. But how is it possible to exclude any set of men, without taking away that principle of religious freedom which we ourselves so warmly contend for? This is the foundation on which persecution has been raised in every part of the world. The people in power were always right, and every body else wrong. If you admit the least difference, the door to persecution is opened. Nor would it answer the purpose, for the worst part of the excluded sects would comply with the test, and the best men only be kept out of our counsels. But it is never to be supposed that the people of America will trust their dearest rights to persons who have no religion at all, or a religion materially different from their own. It would be happy for mankind if religion was permitted to take its own course, and maintain itself by the excellence of its own doctrines. The divine Author of our religion never wished for its support by worldly authority. Has he not said that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it? It made much greater progress for itself, than when supported by the greatest authority upon earth.
Justice Iredell addresses the Trumpish desire to favor Christianity over non-Christian religions. Iredell told his North Carolina peers that even the “least difference” opens the door to persecution. Iredell, speaking as a member of the majority, exhorted his colleagues to resist the temptation to consider themselves always right and others wrong.
As Iredell warned, favoritism can lead to persecution which is why the Constitution protects religious freedom and included the clause barring religious tests for public service. Moreover, Iredell argued, Christianity needs no assistance from the government. He asserts that religion should take its own course and stand on “the excellence of its own doctrines.” If Christianity is the religion it claims to be, why should it require “worldly authority?”
James Madison wrote in 1785, “every page of it [the Christian Religion] disavows a dependence on the powers of this world.” The same is true today. Christianity does not need a “strong lobby” or a “true friend” in the White House to accomplish its mission. We don’t need governmental power to enact a coerced allegiance to our religion. It is unconscionable that Trump would promise such a thing and worse that ministers of the Gospel would applaud it.
Christianity doesn’t need Donald Trump’s kind of help.