The Beginning of a New Series
If you want to find God you need go no further than 1707 San Jacinto Street in Dallas, Texas. That’s where you will find that bastion of Christianity presided over by Dr. Robert Jeffress—the First Baptist Church of Dallas. And what a monument to higher power it is. Founded 30 July 1868, its membership reported two years ago is approximately 12,000. I lived in Dallas many years and always knew this church as the go-to place for the city’s movers and shakers. Sunday attendance is massive, and what a congregation it is. From the church Web site:
There can be little doubt this institution embodies all we come to think of regarding morality, faith, wealth, and power. Except for the part about morality. The back story shows that “morality” is difficult to pin down.
W. A. Criswell, in a discussion of racial integration, stated that he expressed astonishment at the cowardice of ministers “whose forebears [sic] and predecessors were martyrs and were burned at the stake”, but who themselves refuse to speak up about “this thing of integration”. True ministers, he argued, must passionately resist government mandated desegregation because it is “a denial of all that we believe in”.
Current pastor Jeffress has spoken out in the past against Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Mormons and homosexuals, claiming that Islam “promoted pedophilia“. In 2008, Jeffress, in his sermon “Gay Is Not OK”, stated that “What they [homosexuals] do is filthy. It is so degrading that it is beyond description. And it is their filthy behavior that explains why they are so much more prone to disease.” In September 2010, Pastor Jeffress branded Islam as an “evil, evil religion”. And in December 2010, Jeffress established a “Naughty and Nice List” where businesses are identified based on whether or not they openly celebrated Christmas, saying “I wanted to do something positive to encourage businesses to acknowledge Christmas and not bow to the strident voices of a minority who object to the holiday.” Also in 2010, he referred to Roman Catholicism as a “Satanic” result of “Babylonian mystery religion”. In October 2011 at the Values Voter Summit, Jeffress branded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) as “a cult”. He received widespread criticism for his statement, but has not retracted it despite then U.S. presidential candidate and LDS church member Mitt Romney‘s request for him to do so.
Yeah, not a train load of brotherly love going to waste here. I recall those years when W. A. Criswell was the man. He is credited with building the church to its current greatness and apparently with setting its current tone. What an honor it was to view this spectacle from a distance. Now it’s time to take a long view.
Since I retired it became my job to sign up for email from the likes of Pastor Robert Jeffress, and there has been no shortage of fascinating stuff landing in my in-box. A recurring theme is selling salvation.
So, enough of that. I know that a church, any church, cannot live off of air. There has got to be a source of income. With a reported net worth of $15 million, Pastor Jeffress far outstrips my personal fortune (shared with Barbara Jean), and we all know God does not pay his shepherds out of pocket. But God is for sale. That given, what follows?
How about concern for basic humanity? Not so much, as evidenced by the company he keeps. In this analysis we should distinguish Pastor Jeffress from his predecessor, W.A. Criswell:
Criswell did not mince words. He railed against both the National Council of Churches and the NAACP as those “two-by scathing, good-for-nothing fellows who are trying to upset all of the things that we love as good old Southern people and as good old Southern Baptists.”
He even used racist humor to make his points: “Why the NAACP has got those East Texans on the run so much that they dare not pronounce the word chigger any longer. It has to be cheegro.”
Criswell saw integration an attack on both state rights and democracy by carpetbaggers. Even more so, it was a blow to Southern Baptist religious liberty: Churches had the right and the responsibility to keep their congregations segregated.
To his credit, Pastor Jeffress adopts a more civilized tone. I do not, however, see him seeking the company of moral icons. See the following images from my in-box.
Yeah, Pastor Jeffress is a great fan of Fox News and President Donald Trump. The allegiance is reciprocated. An important note from the the above is worth digesting: “Donald Trump may be the most faith-friendly president in history…” The note also mentions Jeffress’ role in the Trump inauguration. When your definition of faith falls to this level the evidence accumulates rapidly:
Pastor Jeffress’ definition of morality is one I never encountered in my growing up. From where I view his claims of morality, Pastor Jeffress is running on empty.