What Happened to “Silent Night?”

Here is what you can expect this Christmas at Robert Jeffress‘s First Baptist Church in Dallas:

Looks like the Little Drummer Boy’s Par-rum-pa-pum-pum¬†has transformed into a “spectacular percussion performance.”¬† Muscular Christianity at its best (worst?).

Sleep in heavenly peace….

The Court Evangelicalism of Robert Jeffress: A Guide

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Stephen Young of the Dallas Observer has assembled some of court evangelical Robert Jeffress greatest hits.   Here is a taste:

First Baptist Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress deserves some credit.¬†Motivations, politics and decency aside, he picked the right horse way back in the summer of 2015 when he decided to back then-candidate¬†Donald Trump’s nascent presidential campaign.

For his trouble ‚ÄĒ Jeffress frequently worked “Make America Great Again” into invocations and Trump rallies and shows up to lay hands on the president whenever the news calls for that sort of thing ‚ÄĒ the pastor has achieved a kind of celebrity. He’s on Fox News almost weekly and gets exponentially more news attention than he did in the good old days, back when he was accusing¬†President Barack Obama of paving the way for the Antichrist or proclaiming that the Catholic Church was an example of the genius of Satan.

Jeffress has also carved out a niche as the president’s personal¬†excuse Rolodex.

This week, as the water in which the president’s political future sits begins to simmer, if not boil, Jeffress has been back in action. Monday, he attended a special dinner for Trump’s evangelical supporters at the White House before making the rounds again on Trump’s behalf.

Starting with two examples from this week, here are Jeffress’ best, or worst, excuses for the president:

1. Jeffress explains why evangelical¬†support for Trump isn’t wavering, despite Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen admitting in federal court that Trump was aware of and helped direct payments before the 2016 election to two women with whom he had affairs.

‚ÄúWell, it‚Äôs really not that hard to figure out when you realize he is the most pro-life, pro-religious liberty, pro-conservative judiciary in history, and that includes either Bush or Ronald Reagan. I think that is why evangelicals remain committed to this president and they are not going to turn away from him soon,‚ÄĚ Jeffress told¬†Fox News¬†Monday night after the meeting. “We have to understand these are still allegations against the president, so I‚Äôm not going to judge the president on these things. But even if they were true, some of these allegations, I mean, obviously, we don‚Äôt support extramarital affairs, we don‚Äôt support hush-money payments, but what we do support are these president‚Äôs excellent policies.”¬†

Read the rest here.

And here is an even more extensive list of Jeffress’s greatest hits.¬† Just scroll down.

Or you can find our take on Jeffress in this book:

Believe Me 3d

Churches and the Legacy of Racism: A Tale of Two Congregations

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St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, VA

Back in June, I wrote a post about the 150th anniversary of the founding of First Baptist Church in Dallas, the congregation led by court evangelical Robert Jeffress.¬† In that post I referenced Tobin Grant’s 2016 Religion News Service piece on the long history of racial segregation at First Baptist. Daniel Silliman’s piece at Religion Dispatches is also worth a look.

Here is the 150th anniversary video that the congregation has been promoting:

A few comments:

  1.  The narrative revolves around three authoritarian clergymen:  George Truett, W.A. Criswell, and Robert Jeffress.
  2. It says nothing about the fact that the Southern Baptist Church was formed because southern Baptists defended slavery and white supremacy.
  3. It says nothing about Truett’s and Criswell’s commitment to racial segregation and Jim Crow.
  4. It does include an image of Robert Jeffress with Donald Trump.¬† Let’s remember that Jeffress defended Trump¬†last year after the POTUS equated white supremacists and those protesting against white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Rather than taking a hard look at its past, First Baptist-Dallas has whitewashed it.

I thought about this June 2018 post a couple of weeks ago when I had the privilege of teaching the Adult Faith Formation class at St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond, Virginia.¬† St. Paul’s occupies and amazing building in the heart of Richmond.¬† It is located across the street from the Virginia State Capitol and adjacent to the Virginia Supreme Court.¬† The church was founded in 1844.

During the Civil War, when Richmond served as the Confederate capital, both Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis worshiped at St. Paul’s.¬† ¬†After the war, the church used its windows to tell the story of the Lost Cause.¬† It is often described as the “Cathedral of the Confederacy.”

But unlike First Baptist-Dallas, St. Paul’s decided to come to grips with its racist past.¬† In 2015, the church began its “History and Reconciliation Initiative” (HRI) with the goal of tracing and acknowledging the racial history of the congregation in order to “repair, restore, and seek reconciliation with God each other and the broader community.”¬† I encourage you to visit the HRI website to read more about the way St. Paul’s is trying to come to grips with the darker sides of its past.

Public historian Christopher Graham, who co-chairs the HRI when he is not curating an exhibit at The American Civil War Museum, invited me to Richmond to speak.  He is doing some amazing work at the intersection of public history and religion.

When I think about St. Paul’s, I am reminded of Jurgen Moltmann’s call to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.”¬† It is also refreshing to see the words “repair” and “restore” used in conjunction with the word “reconciliation” instead of “Christian America.”

Southern Baptists, and American evangelicals¬†more broadly, may immediately conclude that they have little in common theologically with St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond and can thus dismiss the congregation’s history-related efforts as just another social justice project propagated by theological liberals.¬† But this would be a shame.¬† They can learn a lot from this congregation about how to take a deep and honest look into the mirror of the past.