Trump Hosts White House Dinner For Evangelical Supporters
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump hosted a big dinner party at the White House the other night. Even though guests described it as a state dinner with all the fanfare that goes with that, there were no heads of state in attendance. There were a lot of people who have become very important to the president, though, evangelical Christian leaders. Reverend Robert Jeffress was there. He is pastor of First Baptist Dallas. It's one of the largest Southern Baptist megachurches in the country.
ROBERT JEFFRESS: I suppose if there were a headline to come out of the evening, it would be this - "Evangelicals Remain Enthusiastically United Behind Trump." I didn't sense any diminishing of support there. In fact, it was really a half state dinner and a half campaign rally.
MARTIN: I spoke with Reverend Jeffress in our studio yesterday morning before reports surfaced about the comments President Trump made at that dinner. According to NBC News and The New York Times, Trump floated a harsh warning if Democrats win control of Congress in the midterms, saying, quote, "they will overturn everything we've done, and they'll do it quickly and violently." I spoke with Reverend Jeffress about why he supports President Trump and, specifically, how Christian leaders square the president's admission that he paid hush money to a porn star with their religious convictions.
JEFFRESS: Well, look. I think evangelicals understand there's a difference between supporting a president's policies and supporting individual behavior.
MARTIN: Although this is diametrically opposed to how evangelical Christians approached Bill Clinton. In that time, evangelicals said you cannot compartmentalize someone's morality.
JEFFRESS: Well, I guess because it came down to, in November of 2016, a binary choice. And I don't know in what moral universe anybody could argue that Hillary Clinton is more moral than Donald Trump.
MARTIN: Of course, Democrats and many other Republicans would argue different. I mean, when you talk about sleeping with a porn star, when you talk about paying hush money, when you talk about mistruths the president has stated time and again - these are things that evangelical Christians, in particular...
MARTIN: ...Find to be anathema.
JEFFRESS: And we could do a litany of Hillary Clinton's offenses, but that's really not the purpose of the program. The fact is the Gospel message is all of us have sinned. We've all fallen short of God's glory. We all are sinners. We all need a savior.
MARTIN: What policies do you like that President Trump has supported?
JEFFRESS: Without doubt, Donald Trump has been the most pro-life, pro-religious liberty, pro-conservative judiciary president of any president in history. And that includes either of the Bushes or Ronald Reagan. And that's why these evangelicals enthusiastically support him.
MARTIN: In the past, you have called Islam and the Mormon faith heresies - and I'm quoting now - "from the pit of hell." You have said Judaism and Hinduism lead people to hell. You have a unique position now as someone who has a close, personal friendship with the president, the ear of the president of the United States. Is it your goal to recast America as a Christian-led nation?
JEFFRESS: Well, first of all, you've given a (laughter) laundry list of some of my - they're only bent somewhat out of context. Look. The most historic claim of Christianity, the bedrock belief, is that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. So that is not a headline-making belief that Christians believe that faith in Christ is the only way to heaven. And as far as Mormonism, it is a theological cult. The Southern Baptist Convention has called it a cult and listed it that way. It's not a part of historic Christianity. Islam is a false religion. I do not back away from saying it is a false religion. Faith in Christ is the only way to be saved.
MARTIN: So clearly, a lot of people take issue with what you just said, especially Muslims and Mormons. But this is a country that was founded on religious liberty.
JEFFRESS: That's right.
MARTIN: So you still maintain that this should be a country that respects the rights of all those people.
JEFFRESS: Absolutely. And I see that in this president. I believe that President Trump, when he talks about religious liberty, he's not just talking about Christian religious liberty.
MARTIN: When you think about how this president has advanced an evangelical Christian agenda, what are the ways in which evangelical Christians have been treated - or do you believe they have been treated as a persecuted minority in this country?
JEFFRESS: Well, I think there are certainly ways in which they have been marginalized. And I mean, here's the question you have to ask yourself. I mean, why is it that, for the first 150 years of our nation's history, prayer in schools, reading the Bible, Nativity displays - all of those things were not only allowed but they were welcomed? But then suddenly, 70 years ago, the Supreme Court decides these things are unconstitutional. I ask liberals all the time, what changed suddenly?
MARTIN: It became more religiously diverse, the country.
JEFFRESS: What did - but did the Constitution change? No. The establishment clause of the First Amendment simply says Congress cannot establish a state religion. That's what it says. But somehow, that has been perverted and twisted into outlawing prayer and Bible-reading. That's what I'm talking about. That's the marginalization of Christianity. And I believe that's why evangelicals are rallying around this president who recognizes that marginalization.
MARTIN: The Reverend Robert Jeffress is pastor of First Baptist Dallas, one of the largest Southern Baptist megachurches in the country.
Reverend Jeffress, thank you so much for coming in.
JEFFRESS: Thanks for having me, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.