I know I have spent a lot of time today (probably too much time) writing about Robert Jeffress, but I could not pass-up Ruth Graham’s piece at Slate: “Salt and Light.” This is one of the best journalistic overviews of Jeffress’s career and ministry that I have seen. (And I am not just saying that because I am quoted in it! 🙂 ). Here is a taste:
Over the course of two weeks in December and January, I attended three Sunday morning church services at First Baptist. (There are three services every Sunday.) I was drawn by Jeffress’ skyrocketing national profile but also by his unique cultural position as a pastor. Few of the most prominent Christians who support Trump—Fea calls them “court evangelicals”—are pastors of their own churches. Jerry Falwell Jr. is the president of a college founded by his own father. Franklin Graham, who also borrows credibility from his father, runs an international aid organization. (Billy Graham, a longtime member of First Baptist Dallas, was only briefly a pastor of a church; neither were many of the previous generation of religious right leaders, including Trump supporter James Dobson.) Of the pastors on Trump’s evangelical advisory board, few have both the high profile and institutional standing that Jeffress does. Paula White, for example, heads an independent nondenominational congregation with few outside institutional ties.
Jeffress is different. He is the head of 13,000-member church, one of the oldest and most prominent congregations in the country’s largest Protestant denominations. First Baptist Dallas will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year. Jeffress’ job there is to preach the Gospel every week, to guide the spiritual lives of his flock, and represent Christianity to the wider world. The church’s official materials call Jeffress “a bold leader in a decaying culture.” But what exactly does it mean, I wondered, to be a full-time pro-Trump pundit and a full-time pastor at the same time?
Read the entire piece here.