Because of pastor’s stands against many different groups, LGBT leaders find his offer disturbing
The Rev. Robert Jeffress recently announced that First Baptist Church would offer free counseling to Dallas police officers. Dallas Police Chief David Brown and former Mayor Tom Leppert, who joined the church when he decided to run for the U.S. Senate, were on hand for the announcement, which has met with skepticism by many in the LGBT community.
Chief Brown will be honored at the 10:50 a.m. service at First Baptist Church on Sunday, April 17.
The announcement comes at a time when Brown is embroiled in controversy, with four police groups having called for him to be replaced.
Brown’s supporters point to the lowest crime rate the city has seen in years despite cuts to the department, while detractors call his leadership style vindictive.
Jeffress decided to step into the fray by placing his church on the side of the chief.
In addition to offering counseling services to officers, the congregation will fund scholarships for children of Dallas officers to attend camp — presumably the church’s own camp — and the church will offer a weekly Sunday school service for officers.
John McKee wrote to Dallas Voice to say, “I’m shocked that this isn’t getting more attention. The Dallas Police are starting an official counseling partnership with FBC which has famously engaged in anti-LGBT/anti-Muslim hate speech.”
Jeffress has said the Church of Latter-day Saints and Islam are “from the pit of hell” and, in other statements, claimed Jews and gays are destined to end up in hell. The Catholic Church, he has said, is a “counterfeit religion” representing “the genius of Satan.”
In his book, Outrageous Truth, Jeffress sums up his beliefs: “Every other religion is wrong.”
Directing police officers — who must serve everyone in the city, no matter what their religion or sexual orientation — to counseling at Jeffress’ church is a disturbing idea for quite a few people.
Because of a general distrust of Jeffress, Resource Center Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell wonders if this is a trojan horse to launch a challenge to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.
“It’s disturbing in the sense that Pastor Jeffress has shown himself not to be inclusive of many folks,” McDonnell said. “In law enforcement, you don’t get to pick and choose.”
McDonnell said Resource Center has a partnership with SMU for its counseling services that will be expanding once the agency moves into its new building next month. They will be rolling out new substance abuse counseling then as well.
“If an officer or an officer’s family is interested in taking advantage of our counseling services, we welcome them,” McDonnell said.
The Rev. Neil Cazares-Thomas, senior pastor of Cathedral of Hope, struck a somewhat conciliatory tone. He commended the chief for working with places of worship and didn’t condemn Jeffress for offering services available at his church to the police department. Instead, he took it as a challenge to other congregations across the city to also support the Dallas Police Department.
“We’re looking forward to offering counseling to those who may not feel comfortable at First Baptist Church,” Cazares-Thomas said. “In this congregation, we have many police officers and some who seek out counseling.”
He expressed hope the chief was not aligning with one church or one denomination, but was reaching out to places of worship across the city and extended an invitation to Brown to worship at Cathedral of Hope sometime in the near future.
But Cazarez-Thomas did say he understands Jeffress’ offer wasn’t all that benign and acknowledged that he is worried about Brown’s response to the invitation.
“We have heard some officers were being pressured to be there [at First Baptist] on Sunday,” he said. “We hope officers who choose not to attend won’t be shunned because they weren’t there.”
Dallas Voice contacted Dallas Police Department for comment for this story. A public information officer said the request had been forwarded directly to Chief Brown, but Dallas Voice had received no response as of press deadline.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2016.