New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow, a devout evangelical Christian, is slated to speak at the First Baptist Church of Dallas on April 28. It's hardly newsworthy that a celebrity of evangelical conviction might speak at a megachurch, but NBC Sports "Off the Bench" blogger Rick Chandler insists the visit is freighted with "a large helping of controversy" because the church's senior pastor, Dr. Robert Jeffress, is, according to Chandler, "virulently anti-gay and anti-Semitic."
But to back up his assertions, Chandler highlights claims Jeffress made that are either fundamentally doctrinal or political in nature. What's more, Chandler failed to point to any personal animus Jeffress has expressed toward either homosexuals or Jews, which should be incredibly easy to do if Jeffress really is "virulent" in his hatred of gays and Jews.
No, what Chandler did was cite this passage from the liberal Huffington Post:
In October 2011, Jeffress endorsed Texas Governor Rick Perry for president, then went on to claim that Islam, Mormonism and Judaism are heretical religions “from the pit of hell.”
On the eve of the presidential election in November 2012, Jeffress warned his Dallas congregation that President Barack Obama’s re-election would “lead to the rise of the Antichrist,” according to The Christian Post.
Jeffress also gained notoriety for his statements about the gay community. According to ThinkProgress, during the same speech where he endorsed Rick Perry in 2011, Jeffress told a crowd at the high-profile Values Voters Summit that gays should not be allowed in the military because “Seventy percent of the gay population” has AIDS.
Those statements, while controversial, do not prove a hatred of gays nor Jews. When one thinks of a "virulently anti-gay church," one might think of the Westboro Baptist Church cult, which pickets the funerals of soldiers and joyously preaches that "God Hates Fags." The message of Westboro is anti-gay in that it rejoices in the thought of God punishing sinners, rather than joyously proclaiming the freedom and mercy that Christians find in Christ from their sins and from God's just judgment.
As to Jeffress's 70 percent statistic regarding gays and AIDS, yes, that sounds highly dubious, and there's no doubt Jeffress's views on gays in the military are certainly controversial, but they are political and policy concerns, not anti-gay screeds. In Jeffress's mind, he's looking out for the best interests of the men and women in the U.S. military. He may be completely off the mark, of course, but even so, that doesn't mean he's "anti-gay."
As to the anti-Semitism charge, when you watch the video of the comments Jeffress made, he did NOT call Judaism a false religion from the pit of Hell, but rather said that Jesus -- as well as Peter and Paul, all Jews by birth -- preached that practicing Judaism cannot save, only faith in Him could.
Like every orthodox Christian, Jeffress believes that Jesus is the object and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy messianic prophesy. Like most Bible-believing Christians, Jeffress believes Jews who don't recognize Jesus as Lord are missing out on the very Messiah that the Old Testament scriptures proclaim. As a Christian minister, it would be dereliction of duty for Jeffress to not proclaim that all people -- Jew or Gentile -- need to repent of their sins and trust in Jesus. Could Jeffress do so by wording it in a way that is a little less jarring to secular audiences? Perhaps. Does the failure to do say make him anti-Semitic? No.
Chandler is entitled to his personal opinion about Jeffress and about Tebow, but exercise of restraint and charity with his value judgments is called for. Jeffress is certainly controversial and outspoken on religious and political matters, but to tag him anti-gay or an anti-Semite is unfair and unhelpful to the interests of any rational discussion about the religious beliefs that Jeffress holds.