Yesterday, court evangelical Robert Jeffress talked to Fox News Radio about his Freedom Sunday service. (The interview is only about four minutes long).
A few points:
- Note Jeffress’s smugness.
- Jeffress claims that the phrase “America is a Christian nation” was used many times, by many political leaders, in American history. He is right. I spent the first four chapters of my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? writing about all the ways people understood America to be a Christian nation.
- As I wrote at this blog yesterday, Jeffress has no clue about how to use the past responsibly. He wants to go back to the 18th or 19th century when most Americans were Christians and pretend that we are still living in those times. His understanding of the relationship between Christianity and government is frozen in time. He fails to understand that American culture has changed over time. Again, if you want the proper context for many of the Supreme Court decisions and founding fathers he cited in his sermon on Sunday, get a hold of a copy of my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?
- Another example of his failure to understand change over time relates to the historic images from the history of First Baptist Dallas shown at “Freedom Sunday.” I did not get a very good look, but I am guessing that the images were the same ones I wrote about in this post. First Baptist-Dallas was a segregationist congregation under its former pastor W.A. Criswell. I imagine that Jeffress would say that the congregation has changed over time and now rejects segregation. (Criswell, later in his life, changed his mind on this issue). But if Jeffress treated the history of segregation at First Baptist in the same way that he handled the history he talked about in his “Christian America” sermon on Sunday, he would have to also preach a sermon titled “First Baptist Church of Dallas is a Segregationist Congregation.” He could quote Criswell and many of the founding documents in his sermon to try to convince you that First Baptist is a segregated church. But in the end, his assertion would be wrong because First Baptist-Dallas is not a segregationist congregation. It was at one time, but it has changed over time. Jeffress wants to take us back to a time when the United States was mostly Christian, but I am guessing he does not want to take us back to a time when his own church was upholding Jim Crow.
- And in perhaps the most egregious part of Jeffress’s interview with Fox Radio he says: “In one of the interesting articles I read yesterday, a liberal was talking about this and he said, ‘you know, we probably have to concede that Jeffress has a historical point to make. That the early courts and founders did say “America is a Christian nation,” but they also embraced slavery. And we repudiated that and we ought to repudiate this.’ You know that shows the perversion of the liberal mind to equate obeying God, and making God the center of our life, with slavery.” Actually, this is not a product of the liberal mind, but a product of the historical mind. Why? Because it was evangelical Christians–those who claimed that they were “obeying God” and making “God the center of our life” who were the foremost defenders and supporters of slavery. They were slaveholders because they believed they were “obeying God” and making God the center of their lives. For someone who preaches sermons about the American past, one would think Jeffress would realize this. I wonder if Jeffress, as pastor of one of the largest Southern Baptist congregations in the country, is aware that the Southern Baptist church was founded because it defended the institution of slavery.
I am not sure what was worse–watching Jeffress’s historical incompetence from the pulpit of First Baptist-Dallas or watching thousands of people in the pews cheering him on and waving their American flags.