Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Dallas Church Choir speaks as he introduces President Donald Trump during the Celebrate Freedom event at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, Saturday, July 1, 2017. 
Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

Trump taps right-wing pastor for US embassy event in Jerusalem

There was already considerable controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Palestinians have long opposed the move, and the American president’s willingness to ignore their concerns have made peace talks that much more difficult.

Complicating matters, there will be an event in Jerusalem today to mark the opening of the new U.S. facility, and the opening prayer at the ceremony will be delivered by a right-wing Texas pastor with an ugly rhetorical record. In some circles, this isn’t going over well.

Former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney lashed out at the decision to have a controversial evangelical leader give a blessing at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem Monday, calling him a “religious bigot.”

The Senate candidate from Utah criticized the inclusion of the Rev. Robert Jeffress – the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas who is also an adviser to President Donald Trump.

There are two key angles to the story. The first is that Jeffress appears to support the relocation of the embassy as part of a fulfillment of a Biblical prophecy. For the White House to extend an invitation to the right-wing pastor, providing him with a prominent role in today’s ceremony, signals at least tacit support for this theological vision.

The second is that Romney is hardly Jeffress’ only critic.

Trump may have forged close ties to the radical pastor – the president included Jeffress in his inaugural festivities, used Twitter to promote Jeffress’ book, and welcomed him into the Oval Office – but it’s a difficult relationship to defend.

As regular readers may recall, Jeffress first rose to national political prominence during the 2012 presidential campaign, when he partnered with then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) candidacy and had some unkind words for rival Mitt Romney. Specifically, Jeffress targeted Romney’s faith, saying the Republican was “a member of a cult.”

A controversy soon followed, and much of the country learned of Jeffress’ record of over-the-top extremism on issues throughout the so-called “culture war,” with the Texan having lashed out at everyone from gays to Mormons to Muslims to Catholics (he’s described Roman Catholicism as a “cult-like pagan religion,” which represents “the genius of Satan.”)

Of particular relevance today, he’s also said “you can’t be saved by being a Jew.” As recently as three years ago, Jeffress even insisted that Christians in the United States are persecuted in ways comparable to Germany’s treatment of Jews before the Holocaust.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) once said to associate with Robert Jeffress was “beneath the office of president of the United States.”

Trump, however, doesn’t seem to care.