About a week ago, Pastor Robert Jefress recently wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post which he repeats the same old arguments he's been making on television in attempt to justify his message of religious bigotry. I will respond to each of the points that he makes in his op-ed and show why each of his arguments fail:
The first argument Pastor Jefress makes is that Article VI of the Constitution permits private citizens to vote against someone on the basis of their religious affiliation:
First, discussion of a candidate’s faith is permissible. Over the past several days, talk show hosts have lectured me about Article VI of the Constitution, which prohibits religious tests for public office, as if considering a candidate’s faith is somehow unconstitutional, un-American or even illegal. How ludicrous. This is a not-so-subtle attempt to eliminate through intimidation religion as a suitable criterion by which to choose a candidate. The Constitution is referring to religious litmus tests imposed by government, not by individuals.
The Pastor is correct that the Constitution prohibits the government from imposing religious litmus tests and that the individuals are free to impose such tests at the ballot box. However, just because the Constitution doesn't prohibit someone from discriminating against a candidate because of that candidate's faith doesn't mean that it is appropriate to do so.
For example, prior to the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, the Constitution did not prohibit the practice of slavery. However, as we all know, just because the Constitution didn't outlaw slavery means that the practice of having slaves was acceptable.
Again, prior to the passage of the of the 14th Amendment in 1868, the Constitution was silent on passing laws that discriminated against people on the basis of their skin color. Additionally, the Constitution said nothing about denying black Americans the right to vote until 1870 when the 15th Amendment was added to the Constitution. Just because the Constitution was silent on racially discriminatory laws meant that the practice of having such laws is ok.
As result, even though the Pastor is correct in his reading and understanding of Article VI, he's absolutely wrong when he claims that it acceptable for private citizens to vote for a candidate on the basis of their religious membership because religious litmus tests applies only to the federal government. It is un-American and unacceptable to use religion as a criterion to decide who to vote in a local, state or national election.
Any attempt to justify this practice is religious bigotry.
Thus, even though Article VI of the Constitution prohibits a religious test for holding office, iff you claim to uphold the Constitution, you should eliminate that kind of thinking from your personal beliefs.
To support his contention that Christians should vote for a Christian over a "non-Christian" like Mitt Romney, he uses a quote from Supreme Court justice to defend his teaching of religious bigotry at the ballot box in his op-ed:
Interestingly, John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court and co-author of the Federalist Papers, thought a candidate’s religious beliefs should be a primary consideration in voting. Jay wrote, “It is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” According to Jay, preferring a Christian candidate is neither bigoted nor unconstitutional.
The first Chief Justice was an anti-Catholic bigot. For example, while he was Governor of New York, he advocated laws that discriminated against Catholics such as requiring them to take an oath of loyalty:
In New York, Jay argued unsuccessfully in the provincial convention for a prohibition against Catholics holding office. However, in February 1788, the New York legislature under Jay's guidance approved an act requiring officeholders to renounce all foreign authorities "in all matters ecclesiastical as well as civil," a law designed to discourage Catholics from holding public office, while not banning them outright.
Its also interesting to note the reason why John Jay and many others were bigoted towards Catholics and passed religiously bigoted laws was because they believed that Catholics were not Christians.
Once you understand John Jay's bigotry towards Catholics, you'll see that he was advocating that Christians could vote for a Christian as long as they were not Catholic. As a result, John Jay's idea of "Christian nation" was limited only to Protestants and that only Protestants should be allowed to run for political office.
If Pastor Jeffress wants to faithfully follow John Jay's belief, then by all means, let’s define Christianity as limited exclusively to the Episcopal Church and only allow Protestants to run for office.
Its worth noting that John Jay wasn't the only religiously bigoted Supreme Court Justice. Supreme Court Justice James C. McReynolds was well known for his hatred of Jews:
McReynolds was a racist and anti-Semite. There is no official photograph of the Supreme Court in 1924 because McReynolds refused to sit next to Justice Louis D. Brandeis, the first Jewish Justice, as required by the Court's seating protocol (which is based on seniority).
Given the views of Justices like Jay and McReynolds, it demonstrates that religious bigotry exist even in the Supreme Court. Thus, the fact that Pastor Robert Jeffress likes to quote John Jay doesn't help his argument at all. Especially, when he states that if "I'm a bigot, then John Jay is a bigot":
You can hear that quote starting at the 4:45 mark at the video above.
Quoting John Jay also doesn't erase people's suspicion that Robert Jefress is a religious bigot. Let us review the facts:
Pastor Robert Jeffress states in the 2008 film documentary, Article VI: Faith, Politics, America that not only could he not vote for a Mormon but he couldn't even be friends with one.
Moreover, Robert Jeffress has done an interview with American Family Association's Bryan Fischer who has stated that he believes that the 1st Amendment doesn't apply to Mormons. The fact that Pastor Robert Jeffress associates with someone who believe that the 1st Amendment doesn't apply to Mormons because they are not Christians is disturbing. So far, Pastor Robert Jeffress hasn't taken the initiative to distance himself from Bryan Fischer.
As a result, I'd like to know if Pastor Jeffress shares the idea that non-Christians are not protected by the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But since he hasn't repudiated these statements, it gives many people the impression he agrees with Bryan Fischer's bigoted views.
The second point that Pastor Robert Jeffress makes is that it is certainly permissible to discuss a candidate's faith because its relevant to deciding whether or not a person is qualified to be in office:
Second, discussion of a candidate’s faith is relevant. During a time of rising unemployment, falling home prices and massive deficits, it is easy to relegate religion as an irrelevant topic. Yet our religious beliefs define the very essence of who we are. Any candidate who claims his religion has no influence on his decisions is either a dishonest politician or a shallow follower of his faith.
Pastor Robert Jeffress is correct but not for the reason he advocates.
A candidate's religion does matter but only to the extent of how it affects a person's values. Two people who read the same scriptures and attend the same church can have different opinions and values. This example can be perfectly seen with Herman Cain who is strong conservative despite the fact that he goes to a liberal church:
The black church has long been a paradox. It is one of the most politically liberal but theologically conservative institutions in the black community. Cain’s house of worship embodies some of these contradictions.Antioch is a member of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., a denomination in which some churches do not ordain women. The denomination’s leadership publicly broke with King over his civil rights activism.But like many black Baptist churches, Antioch has developed a strong social justice component to its ministry over the years. It offers ministries for people suffering from drug addition and those infected with HIV/AIDS, and it has been a Sunday stopover for black politicians running for office.
That is why I've been arguing that a candidate's values is more important than than their theology. Every president who has ever occupied the White House has been a Christian. Some of them have been Republicans. Some of them have been Democrats. Yet, the impact these presidents have had our nation and the world was not because of their political party or their religious affiliation. It was their values.
Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, LBJ, Jimmy Carter, Clinton and Barak Obama were all Christian men. Some of these men were Republicans and most of them were Democrats. Yet, their progressive values has had a negative impact on our country politically, financially and militarily.
Interestingly enough, Pastor Robert Jeffress doesn't mention in his Washington Post op-ed that during the 2008 Presidential election, he believed that voting for a Mormon will affect's one's salvation in getting into Heaven:
"I believe we should always support a Christian over a non-Christian. The value of electing a Christian goes beyond public policies. ... Christians are uniquely favored by God, [while] Mormons, Hindus and Muslims worship a false god. The eternal consequences outweigh political ones. It is worse to legitimize a faith that would lead people to a separation from God."
In conclusion, Pastor Robert Jeffress' arguments in his Washington Post op-ed fail because he undermines his attempts to rationalize and justify his religious bigotry. Each and every argument he makes actually promotes religious bigotry if you take a hard look at the information behind the sources he uses in his arguments, the people he associates with and the statement he has made in the past and present.
And by the way, Pastor Robert Jeffress, if you are reading this, I'll be glad to debate you anytime and anywhere on whether or not Mormons are cults or whether Christians can vote for a Mormon.