Evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress came under fire from civil rights groups last month after delivering a speech at the White House Hanukkah celebration because he had previously said that all Jews are destined for an afterlife in hell. Jeffress’s opinions about LGBTQ people are similarly distressing — but not, apparently, to President Trump. Jeffress recently joined the “Evangelicals for Trump” campaign group and regularly praises the president at events and in the media.
Jeffress is a top religious advisor to the president and a Fox News contributor. His extreme views and statements frequently make the rounds in right-wing media, where he has referenced the Bible to justify Trump’s brutal crackdown on immigrants and suggested that climate activist Greta Thunberg read the Book of Genesis, claiming that climate change is an “imaginary crisis” and God already promised not to flood the Earth again.
Jeffress has also promoted the dangerous and thoroughly discredited anti-LGBTQ practice known as “reparative” or “conversion therapy,” which falsely claims to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, and is described by survivors as a form of torture. Several states have banned or curtailed the hateful practice.
Media Matters for America, a group that tracks far-right pundits, reported Monday on a 2013 e-book authored by Jeffress that details the pastor’s attempt to save a gay teenager with suicidal ideation from the “clutches of the Enemy.” The book cites several discredited conversation therapy proponents, including a group that considers same-sex attraction to be a “pathological disorder.”
Trump is counting on conservative evangelical voters to win reelection, and his embrace of Jeffress and other rabid anti-LGBTQ pundits reflects a long list of anti-transgender and anti-LGBQ actions taken by his administration. His administration targeted the rights of transgender people in particular, likely because the religious right has become obsessed with attacking trans rights after losing a protected battle over same-sex marriage.
As Truthout has reported, Trump has surrounded himself with televangelists and positioned himself as a champion of “religious freedom” by attacking reproductive rights, appointing a long list of anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ judges, and holding rallies in mega-churches. Leaders of the right-wing Christian movement have rewarded him, telling their followers that Trump was “chosen” by God to save the country from secularism and moral decay.
Trump claimed he was a friend to the LGBTQ community on the 2016 campaign trail, and though these claims were always specious, the president’s current quest to rally evangelical voters has brought him even closer to evangelicals who spew hate speech. Jeffress, for example, has insisted that same-sex attraction is “filthy” and a “miserable lifestyle.” During the Obama administration, Jeffress told his followers that federal protections for LGBTQ people were “paving the way for the Antichrist.” He famously delivered a sermon titled “Gay is Not OK.” The list of the pastor’s anti-LGBTQ statements goes on.
In his 2013 e-book, a republished version of his 2004 book, Hell? Yes!, Jeffress recalls two parents from his ministry contacting him about their teenage daughter who recently came out as gay. Susan, a high school senior, agrees to meet with Jeffress, who could “hardly wait for the appointment.”
Jeffress describes Susan as “attractive and articulate” and asks her if she was molested as a child — repeating a harmful anti-LGBTQ trope that same-sex attraction is somehow the result of childhood trauma. He implores Susan to talk about her faith, and she says that she indeed accepts Jesus as her savior. Jeffress attempts to convince Susan that the Bible says being gay is wrong, but Susan confidently pushes back.
“How do you think God feels about your homosexual activity?” Jeffress asks.
“I understand now that God created me with these desires, desires that I have had since I was a little girl,” Susan replies after a moment of hesitation. “For years I have been miserable trying to deny those feelings and have seriously contemplated suicide. But now that I have accepted who I am, I am happier than I have ever been in my life!”