Jeffress’ presence at the inauguration and his role on Trump’s evangelical advisory board can tell us something about Trump’s plans.
by Kristance Harlow
Just before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Reverend Robert Jeffress delivered a sermon privately for Trump and his family. It was a decision that, like many of Trump’s decisions, drew controversy.
In 2010, Jeffress gave a sermon during which he said, “The deep, dark, dirty secret of Islam: It is a religion that promotes pedophilia — sex with children. This so-called prophet Muhammad raped a 9-year-old girl — had sex with her.” Embracing Robert Jeffress is confirmation that Trump is anti-Islam and pro-discrimination of marginalized members of society. Less than a week into his presidency, Trump has already signed an executive order to deny visas to anyone from seven majority Muslim countries.
Jeffress disparages many identities, frequently invoking the threat of the apocalypse. When he spoke at Liberty University in March 2015, he said that the 9/11 terror attacks were caused by abortion. He also told students that decriminalizing “gay sex” was a sign of America’s collapse. He has said that Fifty Shades of Grey, which he calls Fifty Shades of Perversion, and marriage equality are signs that the end of the world is nigh. The pastor claims the advancement of LGBTQIA rights “will pave the way for that future world dictator, the Antichrist.” An infamous sermon he gave in 2008 was titled “Gay Is Not OK.”
He called Mitt Romney a cult member because of his affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and once warned that voting for Romney was the same as voting for Satan. Satan is also apparently responsible for the existence of the Roman Catholic Church.
Jeffress is a Southern Baptist at the megachurch First Baptist Church. His bio on the First Baptist Church’s website emphasizes a doomsday theology. He’s the author of a reported 23 books, including titles such as Countdown to the Apocalypse: Why Isis and Ebola Are Only the Beginning and Not All Roads Lead to Heaven.
D Magazine published a profile on the reverend in January 2012. The reporter, Michael Mooney, described the preacher as charismatic, kind, genuine and polite. Mooney seemed perplexed at the juxtaposition of disagreeing with Jeffress on “every major political and religious issue” while still “really, really” liking him. Jeffress believes that people who don’t believe what he does will burn for eternity, but he seems to have some kind of genuine desire to save them. He sees his role as someone who saves, not damns. When Jeffress began getting media attention for bigoted speech, he reportedly “found it difficult to contend with at first.”
Trump has been similarly described as having infuriatingly intolerant views while being a charismatic individual. Trump deployed religious rhetoric repeatedly in his inaugural address, even though he is not a religious person. His true values are tied up in capitalism, showmanship and his own ego.
A Newsweek article looked at what Trump’s inaugural guests tell us about his faith. The analysis explains that the choices were strategic. They were selected to either thank someone for political support, provide an “ethnic platform presence,” give lip service to non-Protestant faiths, or to “reflect … aspects of [Trump] himself.” That analysis lines up with descriptions of Trump by former and current employees who have said he is “this great loyalty freak.”
Trump is a capitalist to the core. That belief was reflected in the decision to include, for the first time in history, prosperity preachers in the swearing-in ceremony. Prosperity preachers are not normally part of the evangelical community; they tend to be born-again Christian televangelists. Trump’s cabinet picks and outspoken criticisms of everyone from journalists to world leaders are evidence that he rewards only those that praise him. Also on the roster for the private prayer service was Mark Burns, a pastor who has admitted to lying about having been in the Army Reserve and having a college degree.
But Jeffress is not a prosperity preacher and Trump is not a Baptist, so Jeffress’ presence at the inauguration likely represents another set of the new POTUS’s beliefs. Not every evangelical Christian who voted for Trump did so because they agree with his rhetoric; many claim they supported him because of the conservative policies he’s promised to implement. There can be no such explanation for Jeffress’ role in the inauguration, because the leader of a private prayer service is presumably chosen based on theological views and oratory skills. Jeffress’ rhetoric is inseparable from his preaching, they are one and the same.
Outspoken about politics, Jeffress was an avid Trump supporter during the campaign and is a contributor to Fox News. It seems likely that another reason this preacher was chosen to lead the private prayer service is because he has repeatedly stroked the ego of Donald Trump. He has repeatedly said Trump’s presidential victory was ordained by God. On January 3, he tweeted that he predicts Trump will “be the most faith-friendly president in our nation’s history.”
Just had tremendous visit w/President-elect @realDonaldTrump! I predict he'll be the most faith-friendly president in our nation's history.
— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) January 3, 2017
What we believe, what we say, and what we do are all strongly influenced by each other. In particular, Pew Research found a strong correlation between beliefs and actions amongst people who say they are Christian.
It’s misguided to say that beliefs directly determine outcomes, but beliefs about the self and fundamental understandings of how the world works do influence the choices we make. Our rhetoric, or what we say, can also influence behavior.
Claims that what Trump says is different than what he feels, and that what he says will be different than what he does are unfounded. Jeffress’ presence at the inauguration and his role on Trump’s evangelical advisory board are signs that Trump has no plan to take actions that are contrary to his most divisive and bigoted supporters.