We continue Beyond Belief, our week-long series on faith in North Texas, by talking to Dr. Robert Jeffress.
He's the outspoken and controversial senior pastor of the 14,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas.
Jeffress delivered Donald Trump's pre-inauguration sermon and is a member of the president's Faith Advisory Council. We talked about the role of faith leaders in our current political climate and why he so often chooses to cross the line between politics and religion.
"A lot of people need to remember that the word 'politics' means to influence, and when people say, 'I don't think pastors or Christians ought to get involved in politics,' what they're saying is we shouldn't try to influence the culture in which we live. And yet Jesus said the opposite, said we are to be salt in this culture. Jesus didn't say isolate yourself from the culture. He said influence the culture. And one way we influence culture is by the people for whom we vote. When we vote we're helping to determine the moral and spiritual direction of our country," Jeffress said.
Last year, as the Trump campaign ramped up Jeffress even made a four-minute video titled "Why I'm involved in politics," and posted it to the First Baptist Dallas website.
"It was pastors who led the way for the abolition of slavery, and it was pastors who were at the forefront of the civil rights movement. What if pastors back then had said, 'I'm not getting involved?' We would not have a country today," Jeffress said in the video.
Jeffress was an early and vocal supporter of Trump, even though he has said he will never officially endorse a candidate.
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"I said to my church, 'I am going to get involved in this election because there are some key issues involved for Christians, but I promise you'll never hear a word about it from the pulpit on Sunday mornings.' And I kept that pledge. I never talked about any candidates from the pulpit. I never made any endorsements from the pulpit, and I think people appreciated that," Jeffress said.
And he got involved, introducing Trump at campaign stops.
In broadcast interviews he was asked at times to explain Trump's actions or even to explain his own support for the candidate.
Asked whether he thought he personally influenced the 2016 presidential election, Jeffress said, "I'll let other people determine that, but I hope that I was one voice that helped motivate people to get out and vote."
Jeffress has been criticized for some things he's said, including his comments on other religious practices.
"First of all, my job as a pastor is not to speak my opinion. It's to speak what the word of God says. And the Bible is very clear that there is only one way to God – and that's through faith in Jesus Christ. All other ways are fraudulent ways, and they mislead people and hurt people, so I'll never stop saying that. That doesn't mean I hate anyone. I don't hate anyone. The reason we share with people that Christ is the only way to be saved is not out of hatred, it's out of love and wanting to see as many people in Heaven as possible," Jeffress said.
He went on to say, "So I think it's wrong to characterize such views as hateful. They're not hateful at all. We don't hate LGBT people, either. We welcome them into our church. Anyone and everyone is welcome to come and attend First Baptist Dallas. But that doesn't stop us from saying that God designed sex to be between one man and one woman in a marriage relationship, and any sexual behavior outside of that is wrong and hurtful according to the word of God."
Jeffress says he maintains a relationship with President Trump and has been pleased with the Trump administration so far – especially the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
But is there anything Trump could do that might lose Jeffress's support?
"I think if he were to renege on a major promise, like a conservative judiciary, it would certainly cause me to rethink my support at that point in time. But I have no indication that he's going to do that," Jeffress said.
Still, Jeffress says people may be confused about what he really represents.
"I think people have the wrong idea of me – that I'm just so immersed in politics, that's all I think about and that's all I talk about. People who are members at First Baptist Dallas know that's not the case. Very rarely do I talk about controversial issues. I'm talking about what the Bible teaches about everyday life," he said.