Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, has flipped on the notion of Christian Nationalism. This past Saturday, Jeffress said that if being a “Christian Nationalist” means being anti-abortion, anti-transgender, and for a closed border, he was a Christian Nationalist. “If that’s Christian Nationalism, count me in,” the pastor laughed. “Because that’s what we have to do. And what’s so hypocritical about this is the left don’t mind at all imposing their values on our country through the election process. They don’t mind forcing their pro-abortion, pro-transgender, pro-open borders policy upon our nation.”
That’s not what he said on July 3 of this year when Jeffress told his congregation that he was not a Christian Nationalist. “I often get accused of being a Christian Nationalist,” he said. “I’m having reporters ask me all the time… and I answer with a resounding, ‘No, not in any sense.’”
Having read and watched his annual Fourth of July sermon, “America Is a Christian Nation,” several times, I confess to being shocked that Jeffress didn’t already know he was a Christian Nationalist. He may qualify as a founding father of the movement.
His latest revelation calls on his fellow conservatives to impose their values on the nation. Sounding more J. Frank Norris than George W. Truett, Jeffress enjoys smearing progressives with equal portions of religious arrogance and self-righteous certainty. A man with no time for metaphorical niceties, Jeffress serves his attacks rare and straight up with a side of anger. He has labeled the Democratic Party the “atheist party.” He has insisted that liberal seminary professors could not find God if their lives depended upon it. He has claimed that Democrats worship an Old Testament pagan God named Moloch, and somehow connected this to supporting abortion.
There are, of course, serious flaws in the reverend’s line of reasoning. It calls to mind a book written by history hobbyist David Barton called The Jefferson Lies. Even evangelical historians determined that this book was a collection of misinformation, fabrications, and lies. The lying was not done by Thomas Jefferson but by David Barton. Since Jeffress practically takes his material for preaching “America Is a Christian Nation” wholesale from Barton, it is a natural connection to call his arguments “The Jeffress Lies.”
Now, Jeffress wants to encase his lies into laws that impose conservative values and restrictions on all Americans. If you repeat “Christian Nationalism” and “America was founded as a Christian nation enough times on the right networks, you elevate the lies to truth status. And “political correctness,” “replacement theory,” “Lost Cause,” “civilizational self-confidence,” and “critical race theory” work in tandem with the Christian Nationalist movement making all it so white and so dangerous.
A new Pew Research poll indicates that “most Americans think the founders of America intended for the U.S. to be a ‘Christian nation,’ more than four-in-ten think the United States should be a Christian nation, and a third say the country is a Christian nation today.” The lie spreads.
The boredom that these constant iterations create among everyone who is not a Christian Nationalist leads to mental exhaustion. The impact of these endless lies, repeated in sermons, sound bites, books, television programs, and opinion pieces is that the lies are so huge people feel obligated to believe them. Meanwhile, liberal preachers are faithfully proclaiming the lectionary lessons each Sunday and the claims of Christian Nationalists go unrefuted in many pulpits.
Liberal pastors invite criticism with our devotion to diversity, gay rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, civil rights, and the social gospel, but it’s time to ignore the evangelical whining and face the brewing neo-fascist authoritarianism embedded in Jeffress’ insistence that conservative values be “imposed on America.” “Impose” – what a dirty word. Such language has no business among a people of democracy.
Not satisfied to accuse liberals of destroying the nation, Jeffress then plays the persecution card, pretending that people are picking on him. Jeffress cries out in defense of those “Americans who believe not only in the spiritual heritage of our nation but believe that we ought to use elections to help return our country to its Christian foundation.” If we believe in the spiritual heritage of our nation, we will not want to compromise the First Amendment to win elections to return America to its alleged Christian foundation.
Liberals fight to make sure democracy is the full participation of all human beings. Jeffress wants to regain the right to tell women what to do, to destroy gay marriage. One rhetorical scholar suggests that the essence of the matter is that the “former masters of shame” can’t tolerate being shamed. Jeffress wants to be treated equally in the marketplace of ideas even though his ideas are worn, old, immoral, and disgusting.
Jeffress’ biblical ethics have lost out to better understandings of scripture and a rejection of his fundamentalist worldview. But he is terrified of being a victim. To avoid the humiliation of being wrong, he resorts to humiliating liberals, by debunking their belief in God, by making fun of their spiritual capacity, by diminishing their status as Christians, by reducing them to enemies of the faith and as demons.
While Jeffress has not stemmed the rising tide of civic virtue, he has lost patience in the arena of rhetoric where persuasion is the necessary trope and not coercion. Persuasion takes more time and patience and involves people in mutual respect, give and take, compromise, and rational deliberation.
Jeffress reveals a disturbing trend. People accepting his claims are not interested in whether they are true or not. This points disturbingly in the direction of a slippery slope toward fascism combined with an emotional Christian populism. Perhaps Jeffress and his fellow Christian Nationalists see the argument about America’s Christian origins as a winner and they like it. Being able to pull this off and impose “Christian” values on the entire nation would be, for Jeffress, a sign of power. Among Jeffress and company, there is a kind of active despising of truth. Democracy can be, in this case, a sacrificial lamb if this is what it takes to impose conservative values on the nation.
I submit that “The Jeffress Lies” from the big-shot Dallas preacher requires not only prayer without ceasing but also arguments to the contrary in the same mode of time.
Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. The pastor of 7 Southern Baptist churches over the course of 20 years, he pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton, Ohio – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years. He is currently professor of homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary, and interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, New York. His sixth book – The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump – is now out from Wipf and Stock (Cascades).