- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 26, 2021

DALLASRobert Jeffress, the senior pastor of First Baptist Church here, had an unexpected assessment of President Biden, who on Jan. 20 succeeded Donald Trump, the president Mr. Jeffress avidly supported for four years.

“Well, I think we have to be fair and say that Joe Biden has kept every campaign promise he’s made,” said Mr. Jeffress, sitting 6 feet opposite a questioner because of COVID-19 protocols. “He has quickly transformed America from the most pro-life [nation under] President Donald Trump to becoming the most pro-abortion president in history. He is doing everything he can to cram the radical LGBTQ agenda down the throats of the American people.”

Mr. Jeffress, 65, said Mr. Biden “is hellbent on doing what his mentor, Barack Obama, promised to do, and that is to transform America.”

He also said society is changing apart from politics. “I don’t think God wants us to put our head in the sand and be unaware of the culture and how it’s changing. We need to be aware of what’s happening. And the truth is our culture is becoming more and more ungodly with each passing day.”

Even if the president he favored is now a resident of Mar-a-Lago and not the White House, Mr. Jeffress’ words continue to reach a wide audience. His “Pathway to Victory” television program is, for the 11th month in a row, the most viewed show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Five thousand people come into the church‘s Criswell Center on Sunday mornings to hear Mr. Jeffress preach in front of an array of video screens the length of a football field. The pastor also is featured regularly on Fox News television programming.

He might not hold fellow Southern Baptist Rick Warren’s title of “America’s Preacher,” but Mr. Jeffress has an impressive following.

Unlike some evangelicals who maintain that the election was stolen from Mr. Trump and that their man will somehow be “restored” to office, Mr. Jeffress said neither he nor his congregation disputed the results.

“I don’t think that the majority of our members buy into the conspiracy theories and that 5 million votes were stolen along with the election,” he said.

Mr. Jeffress said his congregants attribute Mr. Trump’s election loss to more earthly reasons. “I think they would attribute the loss in November to any number of factors, including perhaps the increasingly progressive nature of our culture right now,” he said. “And I think also, frankly, the way Republicans handled the pandemic and being on the wrong side of the stimulus issue.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major issue for First Baptist Dallas, as the church styles itself. The church was one of the last to close, on March 15, 2020, because of city regulations, Mr. Jeffress said. It was also one of the first to reopen, about three months later, on June 7.

The episode had consequences.

“We lost good members through death,” Mr. Jeffress said. That was one reason the usually gregarious pastor insisted on an “elbow bump” when greeting a visitor, who also was asked to document his vaccination status to meet unmasked. The 6-foot-long table separation remained.

Such precautions ripple throughout the church. First Baptist Dallas advises social distancing, provides plenty of hand sanitizer dispensers and gives masks to those who don’t have any. The church hosted a COVID-19 vaccination clinic even though some in the evangelical world reject the jabs.

“We had the vaccine clinic here a few weeks ago, partnering with the city of Dallas to do that,” Mr. Jeffress said. “I was in the news when it first came out around December saying I thought the vaccines were an early Christmas gift from God. I think it’s really unfortunate that some people politicized this vaccine.”

Although he decries some evangelicals’ “anti-science” views that have led to anti-vaccination positions, Mr. Jeffress rejects the argument that Christians should flee the cities for rural areas and form communities separate from an increasingly secular system.

“Jesus taught in Matthew, chapter 5, that Christians are not to isolate themselves from the culture, nor are we to identify with the culture. We’re to influence the culture,” he said. That’s what he meant when he said, ‘You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.’ Salt couldn’t prevent the decay of meat, but it could delay the decay of meat. In order to have that preserving influence, it had to penetrate the meat and couldn’t stay in the salt shaker. It’s the same way for Christians. If we’re going to push back against evil, even if it’s just temporarily until the Lord returns, we have to be involved in the culture.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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