- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

It is not exactly a warm, fuzzy message of inclusion. This Texas pastor offers wimp-free Christianity.”God sends good people to hell,” “Every other religion is wrong” and “Homosexuality is a perversion” are just a few of the chapter titles in the Rev. Robert Jeffress’ new book, “Hell? Yes!”

Among other defenses of traditional faith, Mr. Jeffress argues that evolution is a scientifically unsupported myth, that God is ultimately responsible for all of the suffering in the world, that husbands are to be the leaders of their families, and that America is a Christian nation.

Many Christians today, he says, are wimps because of their lack of courage and conviction when it comes to their religious beliefs. He urges Christians to become a “velvet brick” — they should listen to their opponents, not just cut them off and slam them down. The goal is not to win the argument, he says, but to win the person.

“Christians have used truth to beat people over the head,” said Mr. Jeffress, senior pastor of the 9,000-member First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls. “We can find the balance by looking at Jesus Christ. He was always hard in his convictions, but soft in his approach. People are turned off [to Christianity] because of the offensiveness of other Christians, not because of Christianity itself. It’s not about winning the argument; it’s about winning the people.”

John Yeats, editor of the Baptist Messenger, praises Mr. Jeffress’ efforts.

“Ministers have been soft-pedaling the doctrine,” Mr. Yeats said. “Conservative ministers are less likely to do so, but even some of them have been soft-pedaling it. The thing I love about Mr. Jeffress’ book is that he doesn’t condemn, but engages the culture.

“His research is so thorough, and his response to the issues so fresh, that he engages his readers in an open dialogue. There are people who like to soft-pedal the absolutes of the Scriptures. Mr. Jeffress doesn’t do this. He is straight up. He doesn’t condemn anyone; he’s just telling the truth.”

Christianity is the one true religion, Mr. Jeffress says, which means that “every other religion is wrong.”

“There is nowhere in the Bible that advocates killing unbelievers as it does in the Koran,” he said. “This has never been a core teaching of Christianity, but for Islam it is. There is only one way to heaven, and that is through faith and Christianity.”

Mr. Jeffress argues that the separation of church and state is nothing but a fallacy.

“Nowhere in the Constitution can you find those words,” he said. “Sixty-seven percent of people think that it is written in the Constitution. This was actually taken from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to the Baptists of Danbury, Conn. America is a Christian nation. Christians need to start speaking out that … this is a Christian nation.”

In the book, he cites cases in school districts where proposals to teach creation as a valid theory have been dismissed. Mr. Jeffress doesn’t want to ban the teaching of evolution, just offer this alternative explanation.

“People argue that creation can’t be taught because it is based on religion,” Mr. Jeffress said. “Evolution is based on naturalism stating that nature is all that there is, this is just bad science. It is just as religious to claim that there isn’t a God as it is to claim that there is.

“Atheism is a crusade to remove any religious symbols from the public square. Groups like the [American Civil Liberties Union] and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State are on this mission. This is like the early stages of the Soviet Union. It’s a religious point of view, an atheistic point of view.”

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a popular author, said Mr. Jeffress’ approach turns people off to Christianity.

“Mr. Jeffress is doing his faith a profound disservice,” said Mr. Boteach. “To claim that there is only one way, that all others will go to hell, betrays Christianity.”

Mr. Boteach also disagrees with Mr. Jeffress’ claim that homosexuality is a perversion, calling this “reactionary nonsense which leads many to despise religion.”

“You can maintain your beliefs without being a homophobe,” he said. “Saying that homosexuality is a perversion is a misguided statement because it makes it sound like what most heterosexuals do in the bedroom is so much different.”

Speaking about Mr. Jeffress’ views in general, Mr. Boteach said, “It is outmoded Christianity that has been disregarded by most of its believers. America is a righteous and good country, the most righteous country on earth. We are good people.”

Don Parker, press secretary for the Interfaith Alliance, also disagrees with Mr. Jeffress.

“Obviously we don’t think everyone else is going to hell if they don’t believe what Dr. Jeffress believes,” Mr. Parker said. “The Interfaith Alliance believes in inclusion; all the great religions speak to the same great truth. It sounds like he is taking a divisive stand, trying to separate people on beliefs instead of bringing people together. We believe in cooperating, loving one another, and the good of all people. The Interfaith Alliance was founded to promote the healing of religion in public life.”

Mr. Parker also disagrees with Mr. Jeffress’ assertion that America is a Christian nation.

“To claim that America is a Christian nation is historically inaccurate,” Mr. Parker said. “There may be more Christians in America than of any other faith, but that does not mean we are a Christian nation. There was a treaty in 1797, the Treaty of Tripoli, brought to the Senate by John Adams, which declared America is not a Christian nation. It was passed with a unanimous vote of the Senate.”

Mr. Jeffress, who has authored 13 other books, made headlines a few years ago when he unsuccessfully tried to have two pro-homosexuality books, “Heather Has Two Mommies” and “Daddy’s Roommate,” removed from the children’s section of the Wichita Falls Public Library.

“God is a God of love,” Mr. Jeffress said. “He is trying to save as many people as possible. We not only know, but reflect the love of God.”

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