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Listening In - A conversation with Robert Jeffress - S11.E7


WORLD Radio - Listening In - A conversation with Robert Jeffress - S11.E7

Being a pastor and political activist

Photo credit: christianpost.com

WS: Dr. Jeffress thanks for joining me on the podcast. I, you know the last time I think thelast time I saw you face to face was in Donald Trump's conference room in New York City, you had organized a group of evangelical leaders to meet Donald Trump and Steve Bannon and Ivanka Trump actually came in the room. I remember Eric Metaxas was there and a number of other Christian leaders that you had kind of pulled together. This was before the presidential election, I think it's fair to say that you are probably the maybe with the exception of Paula White, you are the best known evangelical supporter of Donald Trump. And you know, Jerry Falwell, Jr. Might also if it, you know, might give you a run for the money. How does that? How does that characterization fit you today, now that we're like, I guess, five years or six years after that meeting?

RJ: Well, President Trump continues to be a great friend. I don't regret for one second supporting him. I think he accomplished everything he said he was going to accomplish. And I really believe Warren, that had he not been elected, I think Roe v. Wade would still be the law of the land right now. It would be safe and in no danger of being struck down. So I think, you know, when he said he was going to appoint conservative judges and justices to the courts, he certainly fulfilled that promise. So I think it was a good thing to do. That meeting you were talking about? It was interesting. I didn't actually organize it. The Trump campaign organized it. And Jared, and the group asked me if I would come in and moderate it.

WS: I got you.

RJ: But it was an interesting meeting, as I remember it. Yeah. It was a very interesting data. Yeah, I assumed that you had organized it because you and Donald Trump were sitting side by side at the head of the table. So I figured there had to be one of you. You know, what I remember about that Warren is, you know, people were talking and voicing their doubts. Mr. Crump at that time kept leaning over to me said, I'm going to be so great for you evangelicals. I'm just going to be great. And it turned out to be great. But yeah, it was a funny day.

WS: Well, I appreciate what you just said about, you know, Roe v. Wade is on and I certainly did, you know, we want to talk about your book 80 minutes with Jesus. But but, you know, I would be committing journalistic malpractice if I didn't ask you at least a little bit about this. And you know, and I'll take your point and don't want to re litigate all of the about, you know, what we would or wouldn't have happened if Donald Trump would not have been president, but I am curious about what you think the pastor's role should be in the political process. I mean, you say you don't regret having, you know, supported Donald Trump, which I can take that at face value. But, you know, also, I don't think there's any doubt, and I think even you would agree with me that, you know, you're known as Trump's guy at this point in the public square, maybe not in your local church, maybe, you know, maybe not with the people that know your past. But if you ask, you know, the average person, semi-aware person on the street, who Robert Jeffress is, and he's gonna say, Oh, he's that pastor that supported Donald Trump. Does that concern you in any way, shape or form as someone who I know, or at least I would guess, wants to be known as someone who supports the gospel? And yet, you're first probably first known as someone who supports Donald Trump - any qualms or anxiety about that?

RJ: You know, Warren, I can't control that. My question. I was kind of thrust into that in 2016. It wasn't my initiative. What happened was, one night I was on TV, you know, making the case for why Christians should support Donald Trump and President Trump tells a story, sometimes with variations, but it's pretty much the same story. He says that he and Melania were watching TV one night and saw me on there, and so he reached out to me and I came up to Trump Tower, we became friends. And so it wasn't really my choosing that put me in that position.

But back to your point. I mean, I think it's what I talked about in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus, one of the things he talks about is the reason God left us here on Earth. And one of those metaphors he uses is salt. You know, we are to be preservatives. It's not that we're going to prevent the collapse of America. There's no mandate to go out and save America, because we can't save America. But we can save Americans from the coming judgment of God by introducing them to faith in Jesus Christ. But I believe we're to be preservatives, we don't prevent the decay, we delay the decay, we push back against evil.

And, Warren, I think you'd be in agreement that, you know, votes do matter. When we elect leaders, leaders develop policies, policies develop the spiritual and moral direction of a country. So I think Christians shouldn't be isolationists. I don't think we're supposed to stay in the salt shaker and stay in our 'holy huddles'. I think at the same time, Jesus said, we're not to become like society, we become worthless salt to be thrown out. But we're to try to influence society. And that was my motivation and getting involved in 2016. It's to try to have some kind of influence spiritual influence in the moral and spiritual direction of the country.

WS: Well, yeah, and just to be clear, you said, "Warren, I think you would agree" - let me just say emphatically, I do absolutely agree with you, Pastor Jeffress about, you know, the need for Christians to be involved in the public square. You know, God is sovereign over all we are his stewards here on Earth. So we should be involved in all aspects of life as well. You know, I do, though, you know, wonder, in terms of our political advocacy, though, where we would draw the line, and I want to just ask you, where you would draw the line? I mean, you know, is there a point where no matter how much you might agree with a politician's policies, that his moral character, and or what he might represent in the minds of people who you and I want to influence with the gospel, would say, You know what, I agree with this guy, but I just can't be on his team. Clearly, whatever Donald Trump did did not cross that line for you. Where's that line for you? What would have been too much?

RJ: Well, that's a great question. And of course, in the general election, it was a binary choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton. And I'm not sure what in what moral universe somebody could argue that Hillary Clinton was more moral than Donald Trump. And then people say, Yeah, but what about the primaries, you had all of these, you know, conservative Christians, and I got, pummeled by the right wing for not supporting some of the Christian candidates. And my reason for it was sheer, pure political calculation. I didn't think any of them could win and a general election. And so I made the decision that look, given all of the situation, if we want somebody who's going to stand for life and stand for freedom of religion, the best choice is going to be Donald Trump. And so that was a calculation. People said, How did you know that God gave you a word that he was going to be president? And no, I don't believe in that. I don't believe those kinds of prophecies. It wasn't a prophetic revelation. It was a political calculation.

WS: Wow. So when you see that sort of the division and the animosity in this country today, does it concern you that the cost though, and let's just stipulate for the record that, you know, Donald, especially on the judiciary, the judges and the justices that Donald Trump absolutely delivered on, you know what he said he was going to deliver. But do you fear that four years of Donald Trump might come at a cost of 40 years of conservative and Christian - and I'm picking that number out of the air Pastor Jeffress, I mean, I don't know how many years - but 40 years of conservative values and Christian values being banished to the wilderness because of the division and animosity that was created by him and by his presidency. Any anxiety or concerns about that at all?

RJ: No, not really. Warren, I've often said, I don't believe Donald Trump caused the division in our country. I think he exposed the division in our country. I mean, I think, you know, idealistically, we were already alienated. But I think what had happened was conservatives were used to rolling over in the public square, they were just used to saying, "Well, I guess that's the way it is." And I think Donald Trump or do you think it's a good thing or a bad thing? I think he energized conservatives to stand up and say, No, we're not going to take this. We're going to fight. And I think that's what happened. I don't think he was the cause of political division. I think he exposed the political division. But I'd see that as continuing. I don't think it's going to be healed. I don't think there's any great 'kumbaya moment' coming for America. But I don't think that's the Christians major concern. I think our concern is, how do we share the truth of Jesus Christ in this world in which is becoming a increasingly obvious politics has no answer for.

WS: Well, yeah, that was actually going to be one of my questions was ultimately, would you agree with me that politics is not the answer that salvation doesn't fly in on Air Force One?

RJ: Absolutely. I mean, our, I guess we can I attribute that quote to Cal Thomas or somebody else. But the whoever said it was right, the kingdom of God is not going to come riding in on Air Force One. And I agree with that wholeheartedly. And you're gonna think this is funny, Warren, and a lot of your audience will, I'm really not that political. I am not that interested. I got involved through a unique set of circumstances and a friendship with a man I can still consider a friend but I'm really not that political. Yes, I spoke out against Mormonism with Mitt Romney. But I was more interested in exposing a cult than I was and who got elected president. What I mean by that, I'm not a Republican. I don't identify with the Republican Party. I disagree with the Republican Party on some things, like health care and other issues. So I don't want to identify as a Republican or a Democrat, I think both parties are politically and morally and spiritually bankrupt.

WS: Yeah. Well, I do want to talk about your book. I'm gonna get there real quickly. But just one final question before on this, how did your local church you are first and foremost a pastor, you stand up in a pulpit. I mean, most Sundays in your local church with in front of people, you know, who know you? How did your political activism hit your local congregation? And did that relationship change in any way because of your national platform. At the beginning all of this when I realized I was going to be involved with Donald Trump?

RJ: I said to my congregation, I explained to them at the end of the service that I was making a personal choice to endorse Donald Trump. But I said, you know, our mission here as a church is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so I'm going to make a deal with you. And the deal is this. When I step into the pulpit, I'm going to leave my politic politics outside the door of the church. And if you'll do the same, when you come into this church, leave your politics outside. When we come together, we will talk about the only leader that matters, and that's Jesus Christ. And I got a standing ovation from our people, and never caused a problem. And you know, what's interesting, Warren is throughout these last six years, we've had reporter after reporter come into our church. One popular magazine sent a reporter here five different times. They were of a progressive mindset, but they wrote an article after five times of undercover visit, saying, we thought we were going to come here MAGA rally. But we never heard the pastor mentioned Donald Trump for politics one time. And that's what people were surprised by. That is not our all-consuming passion. We're here about the gospel.

WS: Yeah, yeah. Well, I said, I promised we would talk about your book, Pastor Jeffress. And let's so let's go from the ridiculous to the sublime now. And your your book, 80 minutes with Jesus those 18 minutes, you're referring to our, the Jesus Sermon on the Mount.

RJ: That's right, I had the idea, Warren, what if Jesus were to come back and to give a TED talk? You know, TED talks are very popular right now. They're supposed to be transcendent of culture. They're supposed to be engaging of practical interest by an expert, and they can't be any longer than 18 minutes in length. And I thought, well, what would Jesus TED Talk be, and then it hit me it would be the Sermon on the Mount. He talked about the things that matter most to us in life. And so, you know, if you're not familiar with TED talks, just think about sitting down with Jesus for coffee for 18 minutes, what do you think Jesus would talk to you about? And so I go through the Sermon on the Mount, picking out those 10 or so topics that Jesus addresses. And you know, his teaching is revolutionary on those topics about, you know, your sex life, about money, about anxiety, about involvement in society, and so forth. So that was the basis for the books and I think his teaching is needed now more than ever.

WS: Well, let me ask why this topic and why now. And by that I mean this, the Sermon on the Mount, I mean, it's like, you know, one of 'Jesus' Greatest Hits', if I could put it that way. You're not the first pastor to have preached on the Sermon on the Mount. You're not the first pastor to have written about it. Why did you want to take your swing at the bat here and why now?

RJ: Well, one reasons is real practically is I've never done it before. I have preached for over 40 years. I preached one sermon one time on the Sermon on the Mount, and I really avoided it and I, you know, I think I had a misunderstanding on the Sermon on the Mount. You know, some people think that Warren is a checklist to get into heaven and do these things and you'll get to heaven. Well, we know we're saved by grace and not by work. So we don't look at it that way evangelicals. But I went to our seminary where I was basically taught the Sermon on the Mountain has no relevance for today. It is for the millennial kingdom, it is where it's when Jesus sits on the throne in Jerusalem, and it's how the world will be one day, but it has no application today. And I've come to understand that's just not really the case. It is a constitution for Christians to live by. It's not for nations to live by, but it's for individual Christians. And it's for the here and now and not the hereafter. So that's why I took my swing at the bat, as you say at it. And again, I think just the decadence and the darkening of our culture makes these words extremely relevant for us right now.

WS: You come back to two ideas over and over again, in the book that I want you to say a little bit more about. One is hope. And one is worry that in some ways you say that the sermon on the mount is a recipe for hope, and I'm putting words in your mouth. So you please, please correct me. But in some ways, the sermon on the mount is a recipe for hope and an antidote against worry. Can you say more about those ideas?

RJ: Well, in early opening the prelude of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about hope, you know, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. And that's the great hope of a Christian that something better awaits us. There is no promise in the Bible as the prosperity gospel preachers would have you think, there's no promise of exemption from problems in the world, problems are guaranteed, Jesus said, In this world, you will have tribulation. But the Sermon on the Mount says there is something better that is coming, that ought to captivate your thoughts and, and so this sermon is one of hope. And I say I use as the thesis for the whole book, Warren, that those who follow the teachings of Jesus can experience genuine joy in this life, and unending happiness in the next life. And joy is not giddiness, there is no promise that we're going to be giddy all of the time. But joy is that calm assurance that God is in control of what's happening, and that He's going to use it for a purpose.

And, and the second part of that message is what you talk about anxiety. Matthew six, Jesus talks a lot about anxiety. You know, you can't worry your way to hell, you can't worry your way too well. Worry is one of the most least productive activities Christians engage in today.

WS: Yeah. So Dr. Jeffress, I want you to say more about your book if you want to, but I want to enlarge our conversation a little bit to ask you, especially from where you said, You've had you know, this dalliance, shall we say with that, and national and global celebrityhood, you've been, you know, called on to speak for the evangelical church and for evangelicals writ large. What do you think is the state of evangelicalism today? And did that inform in any way shape or form you wanting to write this book about the Sermon on the Mount right now?

RJ: Yes, it did. I mean, I'm very concerned about the state of evangelicalism, I think it has been infiltrated by a number of false teachers. And I think we are off message and off of mission in many ways. But again, you know, my concern is to make sure the First Baptist Church of Dallas is on message and on mission. I cannot cure the ills, and I don't feel like I have the ability to cure what's wrong in evangelicalism. My purpose is to be known as a preacher and teacher of God's truth and do what I can slight Tip O'Neill used to say, 'All politics is local,' and so is all spirituality. It starts with me personally as a pastor than it comes with my congregation. And I hope this book will be an encouragement for people to get both on message and on mission.

WS: Well, speaking of on message and on mission, would you consider your foray into politics off mission? Are you doing things to get back on mission today? Or would you consider you know what you did just a part of being on mission?

RJ: I would consider it a part of being on mission. You know, when Jesus talks about being salt and light and Matthew 5:13-16, it's not one or the other. You know, salt is pushing back against evil trying to prevent the premature collapse of society so that we have longer to share the gospel. That's one thing. But light is reflecting the light of Jesus, sharing the message of salvation; the only way we're going to transform America is to transform the hearts of Americans, and only Jesus Christ can do that. And, Warren, I tell people it's not one or the other. Jesus didn't say, "You be the salt of the earth, but you, if you're uncomfortable doing that, be the light of the world." Christians have to learn to multitask, we have to learn to do more than one thing at a time. So I think it's on mission to say we're to do both. But I would say, as far as how much effort I spend in one and the other, 99% of my time is spent preaching the gospel, sharing God's Word with people, not political involvement, I get bored very quickly with political involvement.

WS: Pastor Jeffress, whenever I have someone like you on the program, I'd like to ask this question kind of in closing. And that is, you know, first of all, let me just stipulate for the record, I hope you have many, many more years ahead of you. But I think that, you know, you and I are both of an age where we probably have more years behind us than in front of us right now. And to maybe start thinking about our legacy, or you know, what things we want to get done before our time here is over. And I'd like for you to reflect on those two questions out loud, just for a moment, if you would, I mean, you know, what you want to be remembered for, based on, you know, sort of sort of the arc and the scope of your life up until now? And what do you want to get done in the time that you've got left?

RJ: Well, I think about it often, my parents died very young, my mom was 54 and died of colon cancer. My dad was 64. So I always live with that realization that time could be very short for me, I'm 67, having outlived both my parents right now. But what I want to be known as more than anything is a faithful proclaimer of God's word. That's what I want more than anything. And I don't want political involvement to be a part, at least not the first paragraph of my obituary. I want it to be that he won people to faith in Christ. And I think, you know, it's a trite adage, but I think it's true, that only what's done for Christ will last, and I think we need to realize that it's only what we do for Christ that won't be burned up as wood, hay and stubble.

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