Man oh man do I feel conflicted writing this post. Let me state, right up front, that I would be the first news-media critic to argue that mainstream press folks are too quick to take a single statement by a single, often obscure, conservative preacher and then turn it into a national story about how all Fundamentalist or even evangelical Christians think about a given topic. In fact, I once went so far as to argue, at Poynter.org, that it was time for journalists to pay less attention to the Rev. Pat Robertson for precisely this reason.
Still, I am very surprised that the following story received a little bit of ink in conservative Christian media -- The Christian Post, to be precise -- and then never broke out into the mainstream. While I fear what would have happened, in terms of warped coverage, when the story went viral, I still think that it was a significant story.
For starters, I am amazed that the story received no coverage, that I can find in this pay-wall age, at The Dallas Morning News. It is getting harder and harder to remember the days when that newspaper was a trailblazer in some forms of religion-news coverage.
So what's up?
Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, made remarks on Sunday before the election that should Obama win, his victory would lead to the reign of the Antichrist.
"I want you to hear me tonight, I am not saying that President Obama is the Antichrist, I am not saying that at all. One reason I know he's not the Antichrist is the Antichrist is going to have much higher poll numbers when he comes," said Jeffress. "President Obama is not the Antichrist. But what I am saying is this: the course he is choosing to lead our nation is paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist."
To some degree, this is simply a variation on the whole idea -- which national polls do support in many ways -- that America is slowly evolving into Europe. Then again, this is the United States, an intensely religion-haunted land in which many atheists continue to tell pollsters that they continue to pray, to Something or Somebody or perhaps Themselves.
I would have been interested to have known WHY Jeffress made this statement, doctrinally, other than the usual serious social issues linked to the sanctity of human life and the decline of marriage in our culture. When people make this kind of statement, it helps to carefully quote them on some of the specifics, to provide context (or perhaps further outrage).
The other point that needs to be made -- saith Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher -- is that the First Baptist Church of Dallas is not an obscure, out of the way pulpit. This is a once dominant, and still important, pulpit in one of America's two or three most important cities, in the world of conservative Christianity.
And, yes, we are talking about THAT preacher, the same Robert Jeffress who received so much attention when he worried out loud about Mitt Romney, as a Mormon, being the GOP nominee. Jeffress called Mormonism a "theological cult," which many reporters then shortened to "cult" -- period -- and all heckfire broke forth in the headline. Click here for a previous GetReligion post on the term that he used and the blunter term that reporters jumped on.
In the midst of all of that, Jeffress noted that he intended -- eventually -- to support Romney and to vote for him. This came to pass. Thus, The Christian Post quoted him as saying:
"I haven't changed my tune … In fact, I never said Christians should not vote for Mitt Romney. When I talked about his theology," said Jeffress in an interview with Fox News.
"I still maintain there are vast differences in theology between Mormons and Christians, but we do share many of the same values, like the sanctity of life and religious freedom."
So, in context, what was it that Jeffress said about Obama -- who is a liberal mainline Protestant -- and the future of our land? Even as I cringe, I must confess that I am surprised that reporters didn't find that a compelling question.