Reverend Robert Jeffress is pastor of a 13,000 member megachurch, First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. He claims to be Donald Trump’s “spiritual mentor.” On the evidence, Reverend Jeffress hasn’t had much luck at that, at least as far as the Ten Commandments are concerned. 1 It would be much more accurate, on the available evidence, to describe Jeffress as a “failed spiritual mentor” to Donald Trump.
In pursuit of those two missions – ministering to his 13,000 member flock and offering spiritual advice to Trump – Reverend Jeffress also works as a contributor to Fox News.
Come on now, you can’t be surprised. In that latter capacity, he appeared on Fox recently and announced that teaching children evolution causes mass shootings.
Now there is no shortage of theories on what causes mass shootings. President Trump has suggested that the glorification of violence in video games was at least partly to blame. Obviously, Trump and his spiritual mentor aren’t working from the same page of propaganda. Vice President Mike Pence said “It’s mental illness and hatred that pull the trigger, not the gun.” So Pence doesn’t agree with either Jeffress or Trump. Other Trump-supporting preachers blame the absence of school prayer, Barack Obama and secular humanism. No one in Trump’s circle seems to be willing to place any of the blame on the approximately 5 million to 10 million AR-15 style rifles that exist in the U.S. and seemed to have been used in the overwhelming instances of mass murder.
Which is odd, if you think about it. Canada has video games, teaches evolution in school, has no prayer in public schools and is pretty comfortable with what Jeffress called “secular humanism;” in fact, Canada has everything Trump’s circle blames. Except the assault rifles. And Canada’s mass shootings are a tiny, tiny fraction of those here in the Land of the Free. Ditto for Japan, Great Britain, all of the Scandanavian countries, France. It’s almost as if folks here in the Land of the Brave aren’t willing to recognize the real problem.
But that isn’t what WC wanted to write about. Let’s revisit Reverend Jeffress’s claim about evolution. While he blames evolution, he clearly doesn’t understand how evolution works and gives Christianity far too much credit as a moral authority. On Fox News, he said,
[O]ne thing we can do is to quit this devaluation of human life in our society that is seen by the glorification of violence in our culture, by the mass slaughter of a whole class of citizens — the unborn. By teaching our children that they’re nothing but an evolutionary accident instead of teaching our children that they are created by God, they are of value to God, and they are accountable to God for their actions.
Abortion causes mass murder? Teaching evolution caused the Las Vegas mass shooting? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Does Rev. Jeffress have any proof, any evidence at all, that Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, who murdered 58 and injured 851 people, was ever taught evolution?
Jeffress’s implied thesis is that only those who are taught a Christianist, literal interpretation of the Bible, are moral. He cites no evidence for that thesis. Among other things, that thesis would make Pat Roberson, the televangelist who sees every natural disaster as the wrath of God visited on humanity, more moral than, say, WC. Sorry. WC isn’t buying it.
Basically, people take or leave religious morality according to some internal moral compass they already have. They might even choose which church to go to, according to how well the teachings of that church match up with what they feel is right or wrong. Experimental evidence suggests that people’s opinion of what God thinks is right and wrong tracks what they believe is right and wrong, not the other way around. And the Bible itself is such a hodge-podge of contradictions that people can find whatever moral instruction they want in it. Certainly God himself/itself is an unpleasant person.
Nor does evolution require someone to be amoral, or an atheist or even unChristian. As just one example, the citizens of the Galapagos Islands, part of Ecuador, are intensely religious, have a vanishingly low crime rate, and treat their early visitor, Charles Darwin, as something approaching a saint.
Only the fundamentalist preachers treating the Bible literally, and specifically those who want to inflict those beliefs on stangers, have a problem with evolution. Like Reverend Jeffress.
So Rev. Jeffress is twice wrong. He’s wrong to suggest teaching evolution in public schools causes mass shootings. And he’s wrong to suggest you have to buy his brand of Christianity to be a moral human being.
And the point he doesn’t address – the ubiquity of weapons designed to kill lots of people very quickly? He’s wrong about that, too.
- In no particular order, the 1st (he worships money, not God), 3rd (golf isn’t holy), 6th (we’ve seen the cancelled checks), the 7th (it’s his business plan), 8th (most of his tweets), 9th (see 6th, above), and 10th (see 7th, above). If Rev. Jeffress is capable of embarrassment, he should be pretty embarrassed, with a 60% failure rate. ↩