Progressive Christians are calling out Texas pastor Robert Jeffress for his prediction that America will face a “Civil War-like fracture” if President Donald Trump is impeached.
Jeffress said in an interview Sunday on “Fox & Friends” that evangelical Christians across the country are “angry” about Democrat-led impeachment proceedings.
“I do want to make this prediction this morning: If the Democrats are successful in removing the president from office, I’m afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal,” said Jeffress, pastor of a Southern Baptist megachurch in Dallas and a longtime supporter of Trump.
The House last week began an impeachment inquiry following a whistleblower’s allegations that Trump abused his office by urging the president of Ukraine to open an investigation whose targets would include Trump’s potential rival in the 2020 election, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Trump posted Jeffress’ comments to his own Twitter feed on Sunday evening.
Jim Wallis, founder of the progressive Christian magazine Sojourners, said he considered Jeffress’ reference to the Civil War to be irresponsible. And by retweeting that statement, Wallis said Trump is giving his supporters “permission” to feel upset.
“Trump since entering political life has evoked, capitalized on, and fanned America’s worst demons — demons like racism, xenophobia, and misogyny,” Wallis, who identifies as evangelical, told HuffPost. “It’s hard to say how much anger was already there in his white evangelical supporters, who have felt for decades like their pride of place in American society and culture is being eroded or actively under assault, and how much anger is new and the result of Trump’s incitement.”
Either way, Wallis said he believes the “threat of evangelical anger is real.”
On Monday, Jeffress told HuffPost he stands by his statement. He insisted that he wasn’t “advocating or even predicting an actual Civil War.” He said he was asserting that the impeachment push against Trump would have “devastating, long-lasting effects on our country.”
“The only reason I invoked the Civil War is it represented the greatest fracture in the spirit of our nation that we’ve experienced before and those effects continue 160 years later. So I do think that it was an accurate analogy to describe the division in our country,” Jeffress said. “I’m not predicting there’s going to be riots in the streets; I certainly wouldn’t advocate that, but I think the fracture of our nation’s spirit is something that could be almost as devastating.”
Asked if he thinks Trump’s rhetoric ― concerning immigration or race, for example ― has been the source of some of that fracturing, Jeffress said, “No, I really don’t.”
“I know President Trump, I’ve known him for four years, I’ve never seen one scintilla of evidence of racism in him, personally,” the pastor said.
Jeffress’ Civil War reference was criticized by progressive Christians on Twitter, some of whom also decried the fierce loyalty that white evangelicals like the pastor have shown toward Trump.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, a Baptist minister in Durham, North Carolina, told HuffPost that he thinks white evangelicals’ continued support for the president reflects the religious group’s desires to cling onto political power. On Twitter, Wilson-Hartgrove noted that the late Southern Baptist evangelist Billy Graham defended President Richard Nixon as the Watergate scandal unfolded ― and that Graham ultimately regretted that stance.
Wilson-Hartgrove said that theology grounded in white supremacy ― which he described as “slaveholder religion” ― has a tendency to use the Bible to silence moral critique, justify the marginalization of minorities, and support efforts to keep white Christians in power. He said he sees evidence of this mentality in the Biblical language Trump’s Christian allies, like Jeffress, use to defend the president.
″[Jeffress] is saying God put Donald Trump in this position to serve God’s interests and if you criticize Donald Trump, you’re criticizing God,” Wilson-Hartgrove said. “That’s precisely the reading of the Bible slaveholders depended on to say that when abolitionists challenged slavery, they were really challenging God’s order.”
Asked how he’d respond to the critique that he’s supporting Trump because of how the president privileges the concerns of white Christians, Jeffress said he hasn’t experienced a racial divide over Trump at his own church in Dallas.
“Our own church, First Baptist Dallas, is a very diverse church,” he said. “Minority members of our church who support President Trump do so because they realize and believe he is the most pro-life, pro-religious liberty, pro-Israel president we’ve had in history.”
Wallis said many of the progressive Christians he’s been in touch with believe that the whistleblower’s complaints against Trump are so egregious that “the cost of not moving forward with an impeachment inquiry would be even higher.”
Wilson-Hartgrove said he sees the impeachment inquiry as an issue of “public justice.”
“Standing up for democracy is an important part of the common good,” he said. “Those who are using faith to defend these abuses of power and injustice are in fact not only being disingenuous, they are betraying the faith that we share.”