1st Baptist courts anti-gay pastor, book ban advocate

Posted on 09 Aug 2007 at 8:57pm
By David Webb Staff Writer

Committee names Wichita Falls pastor known for railing against homosexuality as top candidate for senior pastor



During his 15 years as pastor of a Wichita Falls church, the Rev. Robert Jeffress took two gay family books from the city library and destroyed them. He urged voters to run City Council members out of office who refused to back his censorship of the books.

A controversial pastor who attempted to force the Wichita Falls Public Library to remove “Daddy’s Roommate” and “Heather Has Two Mommies” from the library’s shelves in 1998 is on track to become the next senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas.

The Rev. Robert Jeffress, 51, who has been the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls for 15 years, was unanimously recommended by the Dallas church’s search committee. He will preach a sermon at the church on Sunday, Aug. 12, and the congregation will vote on his appointment immediately afterwards.

The First Baptist Church of Dallas, which has about 10,000 members, is recognized as the most influential church in the Southern Baptist Congregation.

Jeffress, who is the author of 15 books, directs “Pathway to Victory,” an international television ministry of the Wichita Falls church, which has about 9,000 members. His televised sermons have included, “Homosexuality is a Perversion, Parts 1 and 2.”

Jeffress is widely known in the city for his fervent anti-gay theology, said the Rev. Lea Brown, pastor of the Wichita Falls Metropolitan Community Church.

“In Christian love I wish him the best,” Brown said. “It is my great hope that First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls choose his successor as someone who will have more compassion to their fellow human beings of all sexual orientations.”

Brown said she was surprised that First Baptist Church of Dallas would choose a pastor with Jeffress’ reputation, given Dallas’ growing atmosphere of tolerance. The city came close to electing an openly gay mayor this year, she noted.

“I’m sure he will have his work cut out for him there if he sticks with his current theology, which I’m sure he will,” Brown said.

The public relations office of the First Baptist Church of Dallas did not respond to an e-mail request for information about the search committee’s decision to choose Jeffress.

Jefffress attracted widespread attention in May of 1998 when he checked all copies of the two children’s books about gay families out of the Wichita Falls library and refused to return them because of their “homosexual message.” The pastor said he wanted to keep the books out of the hands of his congregation and other residents of the city.

Jeffress destroyed the books and reimbursed the library $54 for their cost. The library’s administrator replaced the books but moved them from the young children’s book section, for ages 3 through sixth grade, to the youth section for ages 9 through 13.

In response Jeffress and his followers petitioned the Wichita Falls City Council to ban the books from the library. The council resisted, and Jeffress urged Wichita Falls residents to vote the council members, whom in a sermon he called “infidels who would deny God and his Word,” out of office.

Jeffress, who grew up in the Dallas area and attended the First Baptist Church of Dallas, defended his efforts to ban the books as a public service. He compared it to protecting children from tobacco advertising, saying that homosexuality “is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people every year from AIDS.”

“The Bible does not stutter on this issue,” Jeffress said at the time. “It says homosexuality is an abomination to God and, as Christians, we can not afford to condone what God has condemned.”

Under continued pressure from Jeffress and his followers, the council passed an ordinance in February of 1999 that allowed a group of library patrons numbering at least 300 to petition for books they found objectionable to be removed from the children’s area and placed in the adult section.

Critics of the ordinance noted that 300 people were being allowed to decide what was in the best interest of the city’s 100,000 residents.

More than 500 residents signed such a petition immediately after the ordinance’s passage, and the books were transferred to the adult section in July of 1999.

Library administrators noted the controversy had heightened interest in the two books, resulting in a long waiting list for both of them. The books were first bought in 1997 but seldom checked out until Jeffress and his followers brought so much attention to them.

Shortly after the books were moved to the adult section, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 14 Wichita Falls residents against the city of Wichita Falls, its city manager and its library director. A temporary injunction was ordered by U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer.

In a 44-page ruling on Sept. 19, 2000, Buchmeyer struck down the city’s library ordinance as unconstitutional.

Jeffress criticized both the ACLU’s lawsuit and Buchmeyer’s decision as predictable, according to the Baptist Press.

“In my personal opinion, the ACLU has never met a piece of pornography they wouldn’t like to defend,” said Jeffress, who denied that censorship had ever been his motive.

An online search of the Wichita Falls Public Library’s catalog this week revealed both books are available in the juvenile section.

A spokeswoman for Jeffress’ Wichita Falls church office said he was unavailable for an interview and would have no comments for the media until after his Aug. 12 sermon at the Dallas church. A copy of the e-mail sent to First Baptist Church of Dallas was faxed to his office.

The pastor was quoted in the Wichita Falls Times Record News as saying he would be happy to stay in Wichita Falls, but it was out of his hands. “God is the one who decides what pastors go to what churches,” Jeffress said.

The pastor told The Dallas Morning News that he was “both honored and humbled at the prospect of being able to serve and give back to a church that has given so much to me through the years.”

The 138-year-old Dallas church has been without a pastor since February of 2006 when its former senior pastor resigned to take a position at a Florida church. The church’s search committee spent 18 months and studied 100 pastors before settling on Jeffress.

E-mail webb@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 10, 2007

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