As Donald Trump continues to snatch up votes and delegates, he’s also grabbing a lot of endorsements. Kim Jong-un’s best friend forever, Dennis Rodman, has endorsed Trump, as have a whole crop of totally normal celebrities. Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes endorsed Trump, along with Tila Tequila, Azealia Banks, Kid Rock, and many more including celebrities have gone in for the mogul, including a possibly kidnapped Governor Chris Christie. But one particularly intriguing point of approval comes from a pastor of one of Dallas’s biggest megachurches, Robert Jeffress.
The pastor of First Baptist Dallashas all but explicitly endorsed Donald Trump. On Fox News, he talked about a two hour meeting he and multiple evangelical leaders had with the mogul. At the start of the segment, he reiterated that he wasn’t there to support Trump, then went on to emphatically praise him for a few minutes before neatly bookending his stump by saying that he asked Trump what he can disclose from the meeting. Jeffress said The Donald was okay with all the talking points being revealed, but asked if Jeffress could add that he’s “for Trump.” Thick and hearty laughter, an acoustic distillation of a wink and nudge, followed.
Late last month, Trump held a rally in Fort Worth that had all of the hallmarks of what we can probably consider a traditional Trump stump—name dropping, pandering, and talk of winning. It also featured an opening prayer and impassioned speech from Jeffress. “I can tell you from personal experience that if Donald Trump is elected president of the United States we who are evangelical Christians are going to have a true friend in the White House,” Jeffress said, “God bless, Donald Trump!”
During Trump’s speech, the mogul said he’ll seek to end federal restrictions that prohibit tax-exempt organizations, like churches, from endorsing politicians so he could create “the strongest Christian lobby.” This is all quite interesting, because as it stands churches aren’t allowed to endorse political candidates even though the Internal Revenue Services doesn’t seem to give a damn anyway. And Jeffress isn’t technically breaking any laws even if he stops tip-toeing and says the obvious. So long as a pastor doesn’t say he represents his church, and doesn’t use church related expenses in relation to electioneering, he or she’s in the clear.
Over the weekend a similar situation popped up when it was rumored that Joel Osteen, senior pastor at Houston’s Lakewood Church, had endorsed the candidate. That was taken out of context, it turns out. Osteen had called Trump a “good man” and offered other praise in an interview in October. He did not, however, endorse the candidate, and as the Houston Chronicle points out, it would be illegal for the church to do so and maintain it’s tax-exempt status. The church issued a statement to clarify the rumors:
Contrary to the misinformation making the rounds on social media, Pastor Joel Osteen has not endorsed any candidate for President of the United States
These kind of “endorsements,” particularly in Jeffress’s case, have faced some blowback in the Christian community. For one, it’s quite hypocritical to say you aren’t endorsing a candidate while you go ahead and actively endorse a candidate. Saying you aren’t doing something, while you’re literally doing something, doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Jeffress has said that the “Bible has a word for people” who vehemently oppose Trump: fools. This is in direct conflict with Jeffress telling the Christian Post that “every Christian has the right to choose a candidate he thinks is best. But no Christian has the right to make his preference a litmus test for somebody else’s Christianity or spirituality.”
All things considered, Trump and Jeffress were perhaps made for one another. Jeffress has ordained himself in controversy for things such as Islam is a religion that promotes pedophilia. He’s basically called every religion that isn’t his own a cult. He even once called Catholicism a “Babylonian mystery religion” that represents the “genius of Satan.” Outside of attacking other religions, Jeffress gave a two part “Gay Is Not OK” sermon. During it, he said that what “[homosexuals] do is filthy” and that it’s their “filthy behavior that explains why they are so much more prone to disease.” The things that Jeffress says are extreme to the point of being funny until they aren’t, because you realize people hang on these words and loyally support him. Sounds a lot like Trump.