The Year in Robert Jeffress

Robert Jeffress, pastor at First Baptist Dallas, committed himself to Donald Trump and his presidency in 2016, positioning himself as the evangelical face of Trumpism. This year, for better and worse, Jeffress has reaped the consequences of that commitment, repeatedly finding himself at the center of the Trump universe because of his words, decisions or sheer proximity to the president. He has more access to the president and the White House than any other religious leader in the country.

As the first installment of America: The Trump Years winds down, let's take a look at all the fun Jeffress had in 2017.

Jeffress says Trump will be "the most faith-friendly president in our nation's history."
On Jan. 3, Jeffress touted his recent meeting with Trump on Twitter, predicting that Trump, President 2 Corinthians, would be more "faith-friendly" than Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, 93, who still teaches a weekly Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia.
Jeffress blesses the inauguration.
Traditionally, one of the final activities for a president-elect before being sworn in as leader of the free world is attending a special church service at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington the morning of the inauguration. This year, Jeffress had the honor of preaching at the private ceremony. Jeffress told Fox News that his sermon centered on Nehemiah, a Biblical figure who rebuilt Jerusalem during the fifth century B.C. with help from a wall he put up around the city.

"I'm going to use Nehemiah's story as an example of why God blesses leaders," Jeffress said, "and I want it to be a tremendous encouragement to our great new president and vice president."
With Trump out on a limb with North Korea, Jeffress climbs the tree and joins him.
After Trump made a series of provocative statements about North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un, Jeffress rushed to the president's aid in August, issuing a statement claiming that Trump had the spiritual authority to wage pre-pre-emptive war on North Korea.

“When it comes to how we should deal with evildoers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un," Jeffress said.

Trump invites Jeffress to the White House.
In May, Jeffress was among a select group of religious leaders invited to a dinner at the White House to celebrate Trump's "religious freedom" executive order, which called for the IRS to stop enforcing the Johnson Amendment, a piece of the tax code that bars tax-exempt religious institutions from making political endorsements or collecting money from candidates. Jeffress said getting rid of the amendment, which was never enforced, was a priority during the campaign and one of his reasons for supporting Trump.

At the dinner, Jeffress reaffirmed his fealty to Trump.

“Mr. President, we're going to be your most loyal friends,” he said. “We’re going to be your enthusiastic supporters. And we thank God every day that you're the president of the United States."  In the world according to Jeffress, NFL players should be grateful they aren't being shot in the head.
As Trump turned up the pressure in September on NFL players staging national anthem protests against inequality and police violence, Jeffress called the protesters ingrates.

"These players ought to be thanking God that they live in a country where they're not only free to earn millions of dollars every year, but they're also free from the worry of being shot in the head for taking the knee like they would be in North Korea," the pastor said to Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt. "And I think tens of millions of Americans agree with President Trump when he says they ought to be called out for this."

Trump pimps Jeffress' book as Jeffress gets in trouble (again) for tying the Catholic Church to a "Babylonian mystery religion" and the genius of Satan.
Less than an hour after Jeffress went on Fox News to defend Trump for what many perceived to be inappropriate comments from the president to the widow of Sgt. David T. Johnson, one of four special forces soldiers killed in Niger in October, Trump posted a tweet extolling the virtues of Jeffress' new book, A Place Called Heaven Jeffress' old tirade about the murky origins of Catholicism — or as it was called back then, Christianity —resurfaced, forcing Jeffress to go back on Fox and say his words were taken out of context. They weren't. The gist of Jeffress' comments, made in 2010 on his Pathway to Victory radio show: He believes that Catholicism is a counterfeit of genuine Christianity, descended from a Babylonian fish-worshiping cult. Its resemblance to the real article shows Satan's genius, Jeffress says. The pastor may not be anti-Catholic — which he vehemently claimed in the wake of the controversy — but that's not exactly a ringing endorsement of the faith practiced by 70 million Americans.

Jeffress gets in a Twitter fight with a U.S. senator.
For 15 minutes on Oct. 22, Jeffress turned over First Baptist's stage to Sean Hannity, quizzing the Fox News personality about Let There Be Light, a movie Hannity produced in which "the world's most famous atheist" sees the error of his ways after a near-death experience. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican and avowed never-Trumper, took issue that Jeffress brought politics into the sanctuary.  Fox News, Jeffress' frequent safe haven, accused Sasse of leading a "never-Trump mob" against the pastor. Jeffress told the senator to mind his own business on conservative commentator Todd Starnes' radio show.

“A U.S. senator attacking a pastor for what he’s doing in his own church — that is absolutely unprecedented that he would do such a thing,” Jeffress said.

Jeffress gives shelter to Alabama evangelicals who want to vote for Roy Moore.
After Jeffress told Earhardt and Steve Doocy of Fox and Friends that he and Jesus abhorred child abuse, he carefully noted that Roy Moore "vehemently denied" the dozens of sexual misconduct claims against him from more than "40 years ago." Better still for those Alabamians looking to justify a vote for an ephebophile, Jeffress said that Doug Jones, Moore's opponent and now senator-elect, supported the ultimate form of child abuse — abortion.  Who blessed the White House's Christmas reception? Robert Jeffress, of course.
Last week, Trump invited Jeffress to the White House again for a Christmas reception. At the party's close, Jeffress gave a benediction, thanking God and Trump that the "Christ" missing from Christmas during Barack Obama's presidency has returned. 
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young