Robert Jeffress and the Spirit and Definition of Love

At the beginning of January, Tony blogged about an article on D Magazine featuring Dr. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas. Jeffress famously displayed both keen political judgment and naked religious prejudice when he endorsed the “Christian” candidate Rick Perry over the “non-Christian” candidate Mitt Romney.

The article also caught the eye of Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson, Senior Pastor of the Cathedral of Hope of the United Church of Christ, perhaps the world’s largest predominantly LGBT congregation. In a letter to the editor of D Magazine, Hudson writes,

Unlike your writer, I don’t want to hate Robert Jeffress. On the contrary, I realize that his arrival at First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, has ushered in a revival. A person who leads a church like that can’t be all bad.

The revival of any Christian church is a good thing. It means that people are hearing the Christian message and being transformed by the love of God. Overall, the recent developments at First Baptist Church of Dallas would appear to be great news for the greater body of Christ in the Dallas area.

So what’s wrong with Dr. Jeffress, aside from the fact that he prematurely backed the least prepared not-Romney candidate in the Republican primary? Apparently Dr. Hudson objected to a quote in the article from Dr. Jeffress’ sermon, “Gay is not OK,” where Jeffress claimed homosexuals engage in “filthy” and “degrading” behavior, and that members of the LGBTQ community are destined for hell.

Here is Dr. Hudson’s response:

I’m reminded of the quote by the writer Anne Lamott: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

How can a minister of the Good News of Jesus Christ who clearly is enjoying success through loving his neighbor as himself condemn a group of people who happen to love people of the same gender? How is this not a violation of Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors, including our gay neighbors?

And what about the logic of Dr. Jeffress when he claims that he is saying these things “out of love”? As I read scripture and try to be a faithful Christian following in the way of Jesus, I cannot understand how calling someone or some group “filthy” is an act of love. By what definition of love is Dr. Jeffress operating?

Dr. Jeffress is a smart, well-educated man. Surely he is a better Biblical scholar than he is letting on. (Although someone who hasn’t “grown in wisdom and in stature” since he was five-years-old may not be). He knows that the Levitical Code is a vast set of ancient laws that no one today actually adheres to (eating shellfish? Wearing clothing of mixed fibers?) and that to lift one or two verses from that code is the height of proof-texting.

He knows that none of the four Gospels, which tell the story of Jesus and relate his teachings, even mention homosexuality. He also knows that the letters of Paul, found in the New Testament, do not condemn a whole people who happen to be same-gender-loving people, but actually condemns a very particular abusive behavior that was prevalent during the time of Paul’s ministry.

I serve a church filled with people who understand the true pain of verbal abuse and marginalization by people like Dr. Jeffress; they—we—understand the emotional and spiritual pain these kinds of actions cause. Dr. Jeffress clearly lacks the first-hand knowledge of some of his Christian neighbors and is speaking from a position of fear and insecurity. He clearly doesn’t know his loving neighbors at Cathedral of Hope, a congregation of the United Church of Christ.

We aim to correct that.

She ends her letter with perhaps the worst kind of attack that Dr. Jeffress could face: an invitation to worship with her congregation. And she has the nerve to issue that invitation “in the spirit and definition of love” found in 1 Corinthians 13:1-4: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

How despicable.

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  • I am fortunate to be an active member of Cathedral of Hope Mid-Cities, a parish church of Cathedral of Hope Dallas. It’s a joy to be part of a congregation where gay or straight is not an issue at all. We come from many different church backgrounds & traditions–and we understand that our doctrinal concepts are individual and personal. That has made it even richer and more fascinating as we share our thoughts & experiences with one another. Our common bond is that we all seek to be followers of Jesus–regardless of our personal theology positions him. We follow him because his message and his personhood reflects God to us and we long to be part of his mission of reconciliation on this earth. Thank you for sharing Rev. Jo Hudson’s response to Dr. Jeffress. I can only say, Amen.

  • Matt Edwards

    I loved the article about Jeffress in D Magazine! I used to be a member of FBCD and in some ways I got burned by it. I also had some assumptions about who Robert Jeffress was based on the circumstances of his hiring and the sound bites I had heard from him. But the D Magazine article revealed him in a new light.

    After reading the article, there is no doubt in my mind that Jeffress would take Dr. Hudson up on his offer and that the people of Cathedral of Hope would really like him despite his theological convictions agains the lifestyles of some of its members. It seems like he was even a hit with Bill Maher and Penn Jillett.

    Dr. Hudson’s response does raise some questions, though. His comments on Jeffress’s theology are condescending. It’s as if anyone who disagrees with Hudson either doesn’t understand the Bible or has some alterior motive in believing what they do. That posture is not helpful for dialogue.

    Is there any lifestyle that God would call “filthy”? If so, how do you speak of that lifestyle in love?

  • Matt Edwards


    Sorry Dr. Hudson