WASHINGTON - One of the speakers at Monday’s ceremony marking the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem will be a Christian leader with a history of hateful comments against Muslims, Mormons, gay people and Jews.
Dallas-based Robert Jeffress, a Baptist pastor with a large following in Texas, told Fox News that he would be leading a prayer during the ceremony. Jeffress serves as an informal advisor to Trump on faith-based issues of U.S. President Donald Trump, and is also known for his support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
As Mother Jones reported, during a 2010 lecture, Jeffress claimed, "God sends good people to Hell. Not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism--not only do they lead people away from from God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell."
Jeffress once said that “the dark dirty secret of Islam" is that "it is a religion that promotes pedophilia,” and that Islam is “a heresy from the pit of hell.”
Mitt Romney, a former Republican presidential candidate, called on Monday to remove Jeffress from his participation in the embassy opening ceremony. Romney, one of the most prominent Mormon politicians in the United States, said Jeffress was a "religious fanatic" and accused him of incitement against religious minorities. "Such a person should not lead the service at the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem," added Romney, who is currently running for an open Senate seat from Utah despite his clear identification with the Republican Party. He is considered one of President Trump's critics in the party.
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At the same time, the Texas Baptist pastor hit back in response to criticism of his views on Muslims, Mormons, gay people and Jews.
Around 20 percent of Israeli citizens and around 40 percent of Jerusalem residents are Muslims, and the new embassy, according to U.S. officials, will also provide services to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
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Jeffress has also called homosexuality “a perversion,” saying gay people engage in “the most detestable acts you can imagine.”
The Mormons have also felt Jeffress’ wrath; he has called them a “cult” not truly part of Christianity. In one speech, after bashing Islam and Mormonism, Jeffress warned that all Jews will go to hell, saying that “you can’t be saved by being a Jew.”
In an interview on Fox News Monday morning, Jeffress both dismissed and defended his controversial remarks. "These were comments ripped out of context from years ago," he said. "Historic Christianity, for 2000 years, has taught that salvation is faith in Christ alone, and the fact that I, and millions of evangelical Christians still believe that, is not bigoted and not newsworthy."
“Jerusalem has been the object of the affection of both Jews and Christians down through history and the touchstone of prophecy,” Jeffress said at the time, “but most importantly, God gave Jerusalem — and the rest of the Holy Land — to the Jewish people.”
As he put it, “President Trump is a modern-day profile in courage, accomplishing what no other president has been willing to do.”
Allison Sommer Kaplan contributed to this report.