President-elect Donald Trump began his day today, the day he officially becomes the President of the United States, listening to a pastor with a long history of inflammatory remarks about Muslims, Mormons, Catholics and gays. This is just a continuation of the rhetoric of the past election cycle that has insulted, demonized, and threatened many women, immigrants of all statuses, those with diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, and many more.
Trump and his family continued the modern Inauguration Day ritual with this morning’s worship service at St. John’s Episcopal Church, the presidents’ church across the street from the White House. Rev. Robert Jeffress, who leads the Texas megachurch First Baptist Church in Dallas, delivered the sermon he titled “When God Chooses a Leader.” During this sermon he shared the Old Testament story of Nehemiah, a builder chosen by God to restore Israel and to “build a giant wall around Jerusalem to protect the citizens.”
Jeffress has been criticized for a number of remarks he’s made, both from the pulpit and in interviews on television and radio. To many Americans, he may be best known for his frequent condemnations of Mormonism as a “cult” during the 2012 presidential campaign. The pastor urged Christians not to vote for Mitt Romney, a Mormon, during the Republican primary. He later supported Romney over President Barack Obama.
Jeffress has also called Mormonism and Islam heresies “from the pit of hell.” In recent years, he has frequently denounced Islam, calling it an “evil religion” that “promotes pedophilia” because the Prophet Muhammed married a 9-year-old girl. (Many modern Muslim scholars disagree about her age.) The pastor has also called Islam a “false religion” that is “inspired by Satan.”
In addition, Jeffress has said that Muslims, Mormons and Hindus “worship a false god.” He also suggested that the Catholic church was led astray by Satan, accused Obama of “paving the way” for the Antichrist and spread false statistics about the prevalence of HIV among gays, who he said live a “miserable” and “filthy” lifestyle.
The pastor vigorously campaigned for Trump during the final months of the presidential election, even introducing him at several campaign rallies. He also is a member of Trump’s faith advisory council, which includes James Dobson and Jerry Falwell Jr. “I love this guy!” Trump has said of Jeffress.
Trump continues to surround himself with racists and those who spew religious hatred. These actions to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, filters down into everyone, and it gives permission for other people to do the same thing. As Meryl Streep said, “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”