Robert Jeffress and the Spirit and Definition of Love

Robert Jeffress and the Spirit and Definition of Love January 28, 2012

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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