A theological studies director is criticizing Fox News contributor and pastor Robert Jeffress for spreading anti-Muslim “hate speech” that's “abusing God's Word and violating its teaching.”
During a November 15 sermon at First Baptist Church in Dallas, Jeffress told his congregation that the Paris terrorists were “acting according to the teaching of Islam,” and said “it is time” to call out Islam as “a false religion ... inspired by Satan himself”:
JEFFRESS: I believe it is time for us to lay aside political correctness and identify the belief system that is responsible for these horrific acts. And that is the evil, evil religion of radical Islam. That is the belief system that inspired this tragedy. And make no mistake about it. Islam is just not another way to approach God. Islam is a false religion and it is inspired by Satan himself, who Jesus said came to steal, kill, and destroy. And this weekend we saw the fruit of Satan's destruction in the acts of these terrorists. It is impossible to separate what these eight suicide bombers did from their faith, their religion that inspired them to do this. These terrorists were not acting in opposition to the teaching of Islam. They were acting according to the teaching of Islam.
Dr. Robert A Hunt, the director of Global Theological Education at Southern Methodist University, hit back at Jeffress for spreading anti-Muslim “fear and anxiety” through “hate speech.” In a November 22 post headlined, “The Darkness in the Heart of Dallas,” Hunt wrote that Jeffress “rather selectively quotes Jesus” and is “abusing God's Word” and railing “against Islam out of ignorance and fear” (emphasis in original):
My city, Dallas, wants to be something. It wants to be an international hub of commerce. It wants to be a cosmopolitan center for the cultivation and appreciation of the arts. It wants to be a place whose citizens or all races thrive, whose families are safe from violence, and whose children excel.
And this cannot happen yet. Because in the heart Dallas, in one of its biggest churches, pastors like Robert Jeffress (and others like him across the city) systematically attack the foundations of a diverse society by attacking its foundation of tolerance and respect for religious minorities.
Except this isn't really what is happening. What is happening at the heart of our city is that Christians are anxious and afraid and striking out blindly at what they believe threatens them. Jeffress and his people are grasping at every straw, even abusing God's Word and violating its teaching to justify their fear and anxiety and try to make sense of the world they live in.
When what they actually need is what we all need: the peace of Christ, and to get to know their neighbors so that they can love and respect them as children of God.
If Dallas is going to be the city it wants to be then Jeffress and his fellow pastors who rail against Islam out of ignorance and fear need to engage Muslims in dialogue and learn about the religion from its followers. Only then will they be able to show the kind of leadership our city so desperately needs.
Hunt wrote a November 24 follow-up post explaining why Jeffress' anti-Islam statements are hate speech, and concluding that there “cannot exist a civil society without civil dialogue among people of different religions”:
Statements about religion are not opinions about something incidental to the identity of a group or individual. They are statements about the core of who that person is. All opinions have the potential to wound the feelings of another. You can hurt my feelings just by telling me that I'm fat, or bald and these things don't even touch my core identity. But what if you insult something that is essential to my identity like my ethnicity. That would be racism wouldn't it? That would be hateful. The same would be true if you insulted my nation, or my mother. Saying negative things about a person's religion are in the same category as disparaging his or her race, or parentage, or nationality. They are hateful, and are perceived as hateful, and cannot be defended against the charge of hate speech.
There cannot exist a civil society without civil dialogue among people of different religions. And there can be no civil dialogue when people of any religion denigrate the most closely held personal beliefs and values of their neighbors. Call Jeffress' words what you want, they undermine the social fabric of the city of Dallas and more broadly our state and nation. As do, I note, the words of numerous politicians both in office and aspiring to office. Hate speech is rapidly becoming the coin of the realm, and it is daily undermining the currency of reason, respect, and love.]
Jeffress is no stranger to incendiary remarks against those who don't follow his religious beliefs. He has called Catholicism a “cult-like, pagan religion,” Mormonism a “cult” from the “pit of hell,” and claimed followers of Judaism and Hinduism religions will be led to “an eternity of separation from God in Hell.” Jeffress' fiery remarks have been rebuked by Republicans like Mitt Romney and Fox News contributor Karl Rove.
Despite his hate speech, Fox News employs Jeffress and hosts him for regular on-air appearances.