Growing Chorus of Voices Asking Dallas Police to Speak Up About Relationship with First Baptist Church

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings says he was "deeply hurt" by recent anti-LGBT comments by First Baptist Church Pastor Robert Jeffress.

Rawlings acknowledged the growing chorus of voices that are asking Dallas Police Chief David Brown to say something.

"I think that what they want is for the relationship to be clarified, and that’s what is going to be done," Rawlings said, adding that he has full confidence that Brown will do what's best for both "his officers, and for the citizens of Dallas."

Several political groups and community organizations say the city needs to clarify its new-found partnership with the church following a pro-police support rally last month.

At that "Back the Blue" event in April, Jeffress said he was proud to enter into a "partnership" with Dallas police and help support the officers' well-being however he could.

The partnership is clearly informal, but Jeffress said he would offer free counseling and support services for DPD officers and their families. He also said he would let officer's children attend bible camps and go on church excursions for free.

Rawlings was also in attendance at the "Back the Blue" event and offered up a prayer that DPD officers serve the city in peace and safety.

Over the last few weeks, the police department hasn't clarified the nature of the "partnership" or the offer of free counseling and events, perhaps because there's been little need to.

But a few days ago in a radio interview, Jeffress made a rough comparison between laws protecting LGBT rights and ISIS.

"The greatest threat to freedom of religion in America is not ISIS," Jeffress said, saying the greatest threat are the "chambers of commerce" who don't pass or vocally support religious freedom laws because of the concern that detractors will "interpret religious freedom as being anti-gay, and we'll lose business."

The chorus of groups saying Brown needs to speak up has grown steadily since.

The LGBT-support organization Resource Center asked DPD to "reassess" its partnership with First Baptist, and it's been trying for days, unsuccessfully, to set up an in-person interview with Brown.

The grassroots group "Take Back Oak Lawn" said in a statement that it is making a "formal request that the Dallas Police Department clarify their relationship with First Baptist Dallas."

The Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and the Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats issued a joint statement late Thursday evening, saying in part:

"We ask [DPD] to sever any formal ties it may have with the church…The LGBT community has serious concerns about officers receiving counseling from a church whose leader uses such language, especially as our community continues to grapple with on-going attacks in the Oak Lawn area that have yet to lead to any arrests.”

Cece Cox, the Executive Director of the Resource Center, spoke with NBC5 Friday.

"DPD and First Baptist Church are in an unholy alliance of partnering with an institution that’s on record as being against the LGBT community," she said. "The city and the police department, as part of the city, made a bad choice."

The police department on Friday told NBC 5 it "respectfully declines" to comment at all about the issue.

Cox said she's been in close contact with the Dallas Police Department's Media Relations Unit this week, and is working to schedule a meeting with Brown and others.

"It would be great if he would have a conversation with us now, with someone from the LGBT community, about why this doesn’t sit well with us," she said. "We have this decision with the partnership, on top of 18 unsolved assaults in Oak Lawn since September. What’s going on?"

NBC 5 asked Rawlings about that comment Friday morning.

"Do you think the nature of this partnership, however informal, should be re-examined?” asked NBC 5 reporter Jeff Smith.

"Well, I think Chief Brown will really make that decision, and do what’s best for his police officers and the city," the Mayor said. "Those statements that were made hurt me deeply for Dallas. That’s not how Dallas is."

NBC 5 reached out to the Dallas Police Association and Fraternal Order of Police, but they didn't comment today.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown said on May 28, “As Chief, one of my greatest worries is the physical and emotional well-being of officers as they put their lives on the line every day to protect the citizens of Dallas. We encourage and support all of our officers who seek out services offered to maintain their physical, emotional, and spiritual health regardless of their religious affiliation.”

Jeffress' brother is a long-time officer in the Dallas Police Department, and he has spoken out forcefully about the need to support and encourage the morale of police officers.

Jeffress is out of town right now, helping minister to 1,000 new preachers at a conference in Germany. He'll be back next week.

But another pastor, Executive Pastor Ben Lovvorn, agreed to speak with NBC 5.

He said he doesn't understand what's so controversial about offering to send officer's kids to church camps for free. He argued it's a genuine and sincere show of support for police.

"We haven’t asked that the Dallas Police Department or the city of Dallas necessarily support First Baptist Dallas, but we certainly support the Dallas Police Department," Lovvorn said.

"There’s no formal tie to sever here. We, as a church, have offered our ministers to individual Dallas Police officers because we recognize that they have needs, and we want to minister them."

It's a point even Rawlings seemed to acknowledge, the church is trying to show its support for officers the best way it can, especially those officers suffering from low-morale or in need of spiritual counseling.

"This is a tricky thing. You know, there are a lot of restaurants that give a free hamburger to police officers," he said. "Sometimes those restaurants might then do things that are wacky, too. So, I think Chief Brown will look at this issue and do what’s best."

Cox doesn't think it's an appropriate analogy, saying the longer the police department remains silent about Jeffress' anti-LGBT views, the more it is seen as a support of those viewpoints.

"I'm sure First Baptist probably offered free counseling in a gracious way," she said. "But the city and DPD are choosing to go to an institution that speaks out against the LGBT community."

First Baptist Church says it welcomes LGBT community members to pray with them.

"Jesus Christ had a message of hope, and a message of love, and that is the message of First Baptist Dallas. Whether you are talking about individual Dallas police officers, or members of the LGBT community," Lovvorn said. "We’re open to ministering to everybody."

The Resource Center says it's trying to stay "optimistic" that Brown understands their concerns.

Cox said this issue is not going away.

"We have made a request. We’ve been told I’ll have an answer next week. If I don’t have an answer next week, then I’ll have another story next week," she said.

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