Why did the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Dallas allow former President Donald Trump to speak at his church during their Christmas service?
There was, of course, underlying tension for a self-serving Trump using the holidays and a large gathering of his constituents to highjack the church service. Clearly his words challenged the church’s non-profit tax status (though Jeffress disagreed). According to an article in ChurchLeaders, Trump quickly departed from the scripts “beautiful words”, prepared for him. Instead he naturally spoke “from his heart” on the current state of America and what needs to be done to fix it (“adding his own comments about Afghanistan, inflation, and police reform“). Politics 101 in action.
Blowback toward Jeffress
Criticism on the event was not limited to Trump. Anyone who has observed our former president for any length of time would expect him to do exactly what he did if given an audience, any audience. So, Robert Jeffress was also questioned for allowing Trump to speak in his church during the Christmas season. Many assume it was self-serving on Jeffress part as well, helping cement their relationship to gain prestige in anticipation of Trump returning to the White House. That in fact may have been partly the case. Jeffress also used the opportunity to publicize his upcoming appearance on Fox News. However, to be balanced, I would offer a more positive rationale.
God’s Underlying Objective
Trump draws a huge crowd whenever he speaks. At the Dallas church the estimated attendance ranged from 4000 to 6000 depending on the news source. So, I would tend to give Jeffrees credit for considering putting Trump on the marquee as a way of atttracting unbelievers and carnal Christians into the service (and online) so he, Jeffress, could share the eternal gospel message. The article in ChurchLeaders states that Jeffress presented a sermon (“What If There Were No Christmas”) and closing prayer of salvation prior to inviting Trump to come up on stage.
The December 19th Christmas service at First Baptist Dallas was favorably reported on multiple conservative news outlets, with some progressive sources referring to its underlying merging of church and state.
As Biblical Christians, we need to view events in this world through the lens of evangelism (Matt. 28:19, 1 Cor. 9:19-23). God can take even our prideful works (a Trump speech) and use them for good (sharing the gospel).
Since writing this post I have been given valuable insight by a reader into areas that offer a more balanced perspective.
First, there is consideration of whether the positive impact of Jeffress ability to preach the gospel to those attracted to the church to hear Trump had a net positive impact when compared to the harm (resistance to the gospel) from those who see this as pandering to a political figure. I don’t know the answer to that but the question is certainly valid.
Second, in my defense of Jeffress I used Paul as an example of “being all things to all people in order to save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). I received a response to that illustration, questioning whether Paul would have used Trump in the way Jeffress did. Further, I was reminded that what is in the heart is more important than the behavior (works) of man. Again. a valid question that does raise the point that using the sin of pride and politics to attract an audience to share the truth may not be supportable. My response was that much of our behavior (both good and bad) can be traced back to the sin of pride. Regardless, the point above remains valid.