Politics

Robert Jeffress Goes All In on “Civil War”

The evangelical pastor and Trump loyalist has had quite a week.

Donald Trump and the Rev. Robert Jeffress in Washington on July 1, 2017.
Donald Trump and the Rev. Robert Jeffress in Washington on July 1, 2017.
Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images

Trump loyalist the Rev. Robert Jeffress, the head pastor of 13,000-member First Baptist Dallas, is on something of a tear. Over the last few days, he has warned of a potential civil war, accused Democrats of worshipping the pagan god Moloch, and said his critics either can’t read or “are too stupid to understand what we’re saying.”

The extended riff began during a Sunday interview on Fox & Friends, when Jeffress mocked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call to be somber and “prayerful“ in the approach to impeachment. He also warned that if Democrats remove Donald Trump from office, it would lead to “a Civil War–like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”

The Civil War comments took off when Trump repeated them on Sunday evening, threading them into a four-tweet warning against impeachment. The specter of a president obliquely predicting violence in response to an investigation caused predictable consternation in Washington. But Jeffress, for his part, has only doubled down. The next day, in an interview with Todd Starnes on Fox’s Todd Starnes Show, he said he had chosen his words carefully, and was neither predicting nor advocating for a new civil war. (It’s worth noting that he prefaced his Fox & Friends comments by saying, “I do want to make this prediction this morning.”) On Monday evening an anchor on the Christian Broadcasting Network, an outlet whose reporting is often friendly to Trump, asked Jeffress to expand on his Civil War comments. Was it really a good idea to compare a constitutional legal inquiry to four years of sustained bloodshed? “It was a perfect idea,” Jeffress replied. Critics of the statement, Jeffress said, either can’t read or are “too stupid” to understand what he meant.

Jeffress suggested in all of the interviews that his statements reflect the passions of his evangelical audience. First Baptist Dallas, which Jeffress has headed since 2007, is one of the oldest and most prominent Southern Baptist congregations in the country. He told Fox & Friends that he had “literally spoken to thousands and thousands of evangelical Christians” over the last week and has never seen them angrier than they are over the impeachment inquiry, which he described as an attempt to “overturn the 2016 election and negate the votes of millions of evangelicals in the process.” Starnes and Jeffress both recently returned from a patriotism-flavored gospel music conference in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, which organizers said would be attended by 40,000 people. Starnes’ own recent book, Culture Jihad: How to Stop the Left from Killing a Nation, depicts the U.S. Capitol in flames; promotional copy warns that “America is on the verge of another Civil War.” Starnes will be speaking about his book at Jeffress’ Dallas church this weekend.

But even Starnes seemed surprised—if happily so—when Jeffress riffed that Democrats worship “the pagan god of the Old Testament, Moloch, who allowed for child sacrifice.” The specific charge of paganism was new, though the reference to abortion wasn’t: A few years ago, the pastor told an audience at Liberty University that the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, could be read as retribution for the sin of abortion, just as God punished Israel for worshipping Moloch. Over the years, Jeffress has called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a cult, the Catholic Church a tool of Satan, and “Never Trump” Christians “spineless morons.”

Despite Jeffress’ warning of unprecedented evangelical anger, Trump’s other evangelical advisers have been largely quiet about the impeachment inquiry, perhaps waiting to see if Republican support for the inquiry continues to tick upward. Texas pastor the Rev. Jack Graham tweeted vaguely about an attack from “leftists socialists.” Evangelist and nonprofit head the Rev. Franklin Graham (no relation to Jack) tweeted his cautious support for Jeffress on Tuesday. “Dr. @RobertJeffress warned on @FoxNews that impeachment could ‘cause a civil war-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal,’” Graham wrote. “I don’t know about that, but I can tell you this could lead to conflict that nobody wants if they continue down this road.” He went on to warn that “the socialist Democrats” aim to take Americans’ guns and “impeach your president,” and asked his followers to “pray that God would change the hearts of Democratic leaders in Washington & that they would see the dangerous road that we’re on.” (Graham is scheduled to speak in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Tuesday evening as part of his rolling “Decision America” tour, which blends conservative politics and evangelism.)

Jeffress, for his part, doesn’t seem to have yet settled on whether a Civil War–like conflict is best avoided or faced head-on. When the CBN anchor asked him about the role of Christians in a time of such deep tension, Jeffress pivoted to an embrace of division. “We ought to do whatever we can to bring healing, but not at the expense of truth,” he said. “Truth always divides people.” By “truth” he meant not the findings of a fair investigation into the president’s potentially illegal behavior, but the “truth” that Trump is “the most pro-life, pro–religious liberty, pro-Israel, pro–conservative judiciary president in history.”