Robert Jeffress: What’s Not to Like? (A Lot, Actually)

Rev. Robert Jeffress and his floppy Bible (D Magazine/Elizabeth Lavin)

At D Magazine, Michael Mooney writes a long profile of Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas.  Jeffress has said that Muhammed was a terrorist, that Mitt Romney is not a Christian, and that Oprah is a tool of Satan.  In spite, of that Mooney finds reason to like him:

Before I met Robert Jeffress, I wanted to hate him. Jeffress is the conservative preacher who made national headlines in October, when he called Mormonism a cult. He’s the senior pastor at First Baptist Dallas, the oldest megachurch in America, and I am certainly not a Baptist. He endorsed Rick Perry for president, and I’m definitely no fan of Perry’s. As a matter of fact, Robert Jeffress and I probably disagree on every major political and religious issue. And yet, I really, really like him.

It would be easy to dislike him if he were a hypocrite or a bigot, if he were an insufferable megalomaniac or the kind of man who preaches out of hate and anger. But he’s none of those things. He’s actually delightful to be around. He’s not just polite; he earnestly cares about people. He may not believe in evolution, but he really does want to know how your day has been. He may oppose certain rights for gay people, but he genuinely desires for you to be merry on Christmas. If he talks with you, he’s attentive and giving. He’s curious about you and about the world.

However, in Mooney’s over-the-top puffery, he misses something pretty big.  Jeffress believes we’re in the Last Days.  America is crumbling, and Jesus is about to come back.  And yet…

It’s the reason Jeffress has his own radio show, his own television show, and why he’s about to publish his 18th book, Twilight’s Last Gleaming: How America’s Last Days Can Be Your Best Days. It’s the reason First Baptist Dallas recently decided to undertake one of the most expensive church construction projects in modern American history. At a cost of $128 million, the new campus will feature a glass skywalk, a giant cross-shaped fountain, and a sleek 3,000-seat sanctuary that will rival Madison Square Garden. Jeffress wants it to serve as a “spiritual oasis” in the middle of downtown.

I know what Jeffress and his ilk would say: It’s all going to burn anyway, so why not make it beautiful for God?  Mooney might have missed the obvious question, since he’s not a theologian.  That question can basically boiled down to this: WTF?!? There are all sorts of ways that Jeffress’s beliefs beg the questions.  But it seems that Mooney neglected to ask any of these.  And I don’t think anyone at FOX is going to ask Jeffress a tough question anytime soon.  (According to Mooney’s reporting, even Bill Maher was seduced by Jeffress’s niceness.)

You really should read the article all the way to the end.  It does paint an interesting portrait of one of America’s most powerful pastors, who also happens to be a simpleton.  You’ll also see and example of a journalist who was duped.

HT: Kenton Self

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  • Jim W

    Interesting how you call someone you disagree with a “simpleton”. Really the way to build community.
    I don’t agree with his use of the money, either. But, are you doing anything with your money? Only difference is scale.

    • Maybe he is a simpleton? The apparent lack of theological reflection in that building project (and, really, all of the other stuff Tony and the article mention) does seem to suggest so. If someone actually is a simpleton, then they are a simpleton, regardless of how it affects community building.

  • Dan Hauge

    I’m not sure being a ‘simpleton’ in and of itself is a reason to slam someone, but it seems the wider point is that as nice as he is on a personal level, his use of money and his ‘sincere’ views on Muslims and gay rights still cause harm to people (I suppose a cross shaped pool isn’t necessarily harming anyone, except aesthetically, but it’s a matter of where such resources could be used instead).

    He could be polished at the skill of making people feel welcome, or he could be genuinely kind on a personal level.( I saw the episode of Bill Maher that he was on, and Maher did seem a little bit disarmed by Jeffress’ niceness and normalness.) The bigger issue is how beliefs and use of power matter–we are all capable of doing serious harm to people in spite of our sincere best intentions.

  • Keith Rowley

    You may be right about him but your post was mean and did not need to be. Especially when you said the journalist was duped. What if Jeffress really IS a quite NICE person and really pleasant to be around? Then the journalist just did not care about what you care about. That does not mean he was duped.

    • Andromydous

      Well, then perhaps his “quite nice”ness should be put to work on not wasting $128m when some people can’t eat? or on not opposing the rights of others?

      Just saying.

  • Rick Bennett

    Im pretty sure Oprah is a tool of Satan.

  • Steven Jones

    Its always easy to cast stones when you have not walked in another mans shoes. This reporter actually spent time with Dr. Jeffress. He tiried to do a detailed HONEST and factual report instead of writing baseless personal attacks.

    Kudos to Mr. Mooney!

    • Jon H

      “Its always easy to cast stones when you have not walked in another mans shoes.”

      I doubt I could afford Jeffress’ shoes.

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  • Consumer Unit 5012

    $128 million, the new campus will feature a glass skywalk, a giant cross-shaped fountain, and a sleek 3,000-seat sanctuary that will rival Madison Square Garden.

    That’s a mighty big church.

    Think it will have anywhere to change money on the premises?

    • Jon H

      There’ll be a way to change your money into Jeffress’ money, I’m sure.

    • Chris

      I believe the modern counterpart to the moneychanger’s table would be an ATM. If there isn’t one on the premises, I’m quite certain that anyone on staff can tell you where the nearest one is.

  • Dani Levins-Kanoe

    Can you specify which religious or political beliefs someone needs to have to be “likeable”? I think the whole point of this article was to show that the writer and the pastor disagreed on everything (presumably that includes the building, the Bible, gays, Mormons…and yet finds him personable anyway. Isn’t that OK? If you read the story, the Mooney calls him out for a lot of whacky beliefs including the apocalypse and not changing his mind once since he was 5 years old. If he agreed with you more, THEN would it be ok to think of Jeffress as nice?

    • I knew this post would raise some questions. I’m glad that Jeffress is nice. Actually, I think that’s good for Christianity. However, someone with such a big platform as Jeffress should be asked in depth and complex questions about his entire belief system. If his theology doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, then he’s no better than Harold Camping (which Jeffress basically admits in the article). I think Jeffress’s beliefs are bad for Christianity, and his bad beliefs trump his niceness in my book.

    • Nicholas Kapur

      Of course Jeffress was “nice” to *Mooney*. Mooney isn’t poor, or gay, or transgender, or a woman, or an atheist (as best I can tell).

      Jeffress’ “niceness” is that of lending a cup of sugar to his straight white Christian neighbors who married safely before having two children whom they raised with appropriate gender roles, while stomping on the face of people like *me*. It’s a kind of niceness I have dedicated my life to eliminating.

      • BonnyAnne

        Hear hear. Jeffress is encouraging his church to spent $128 million dollars on what amounts to sheer vanity, when the money could be better spent on any number of worthy ventures. What’s the going rate for the treatment needed to save a child from death by rotavirus? 25 cents a dose or so?

        It doesn’t matter how nice Jeffress seems. He could be, on some level, the kindest, sweetest, most charming man imaginable. But his words and actions are poison, and the reporter went merrily along for the ride.

        • Dani Levins-Kanoe

          The reporter wrote a story in which Jeffress admits to being the same as Harold Camping. The theology discussion ends with “everything in the Bible is literally true or none of it is true.” There’s also something about Jeffress believing Christians will have to line up and the number of the beast. The strange part is how you keep calling it a “puff piece” and saying the reporter went merrily along. He said he is nice, and then systematically shows how is an idiot. I loved this story.

  • Keith Rowley

    We are a consumeristic culture the people of the church are as much or more to blame than those who just give them what they want.

    I was more concerned about the mean jan at the reporter saying he was duped just because he did not report on what Tony thinks is important.

  • hlgirl

    That makes me think of the old dating advice: “the man who’s nice to you but mean to your waiter is not a nice man.” Jeffress may be polite and well-mannered to a person’s face, but if he thinks gays don’t deserve civil rights, all Muslims are terrorists, and spending money on his own hubris is more important than living up to Jesus’ words, then he’s not actually a nice man. (Or in view of that last point, a very good Christian, for that matter.)

    Good on you for calling out lazy journalism.

  • It’s weird how Mooney can include this quote:

    “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.”

    And yet open with this line:

    It would be easy to dislike him if he were a hypocrite or a bigot, if he were an insufferable megalomaniac or the kind of man who preaches out of hate and anger.

    It’s like Mooney (and the editors) are all under some kind of trance.

  • Dani Levins-Kanoe

    The next line is Jeffress telling his flock to love their gay kids no matter what and never ever kick them out. What makes you all so convinced you can read this story and come to the conclusions about Jeffress not being a great guy, even if he is nice, but that everyone else is duped or it’s still somehow bad journalism?

  • Kenton

    Wow, Tony, I must have overlooked this post in my feed reader. Great comments, and thanks for the hat tip!

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