Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings defends visit to anti-gay First Baptist Church

Dallas-mayor elect Mike Rawlings and his family were led in a prayer by the Rev. Steven C. Nash of Mount Tabor Baptist Church following his victory speech on Saturday. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and his family bow their heads in prayer at his Election Night victory party in 2011. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings says he chose to attend a service at the anti-gay First Baptist Church of Dallas on Sunday because he believes in tolerance.

Rawlings joined Texas Gov. Rick Perry and others at the service to dedicate First Baptist’s new $130 million facility downtown. Robert Jeffress, First Baptist’s senior pastor, is well known for his extreme anti-gay views and has called homosexuality “unnatural,” “filthy,” “perverse” and “abnormal.”

Rawlings, whose support for the LGBT community has been tepid since he took office in 2011, told Instant Tea on Monday afternoon that he does not agree with Jeffress’ teachings about homosexuality.

“I’ve prided myself on really being a tolerant person of people who don’t live the same way that I live, or think the same way I think, and that’s one of the factors of me being there yesterday,” Rawlings said. “We’re in a different place. I’m a Christ-driven human being but do not read Christian dogma the same way they do. … I think we’ve got to reach out and have dialogue with people we’re not in the same place with, and that’s one of the reasons I was there.”

Rawlings added that his wife grew up going to First Baptist and said the church is an important part of the city. Unlike Gov. Perry, Rawlings did not speak at the service. The mayor, who is a member of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, said he sat next to City Councilman Sheffie Kadane, who is a member of First Baptist.

Rawlings acknowledged that although he believes in tolerance, he probably wouldn’t meet with Kim Jong-un or Adolf Hitler. However, he said he would attend a service at a mosque even though Islam is misogynistic.

“Tolerance should be our No. 1 focus on this, and we should tolerate people that have different points of view than we have,” Rawlings said. “And if we don’t do that, we are speaking, I think, in a hypocritical fashion.”

Asked whether we should tolerate intolerance, Rawlings said: “I’m not here as mayor to judge people. I’m here to bring the city together, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

—  John Wright

Gov. Perry, Mayor Rawlings visit anti-gay First Baptist Church of Dallas

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry, right, greets pastor Robert Jeffress as he exits the stage at First Baptist Church of Dallas on Sunday. (Via WFAA-TV)

The bigoted views of Robert Jeffress may be too extreme for the likes of evangelical NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who canceled a scheduled appearance at Jeffress’ First Baptist Church of Dallas last month.

But Jeffress’ views, as it turns out, are not too extreme for Texas Gov. Rick Perry — and they’re not even too extreme for Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings.

Both Perry and Rawlings attended a dedication of First Baptist’s $130 million expansion project on Sunday, with Perry delivering a speech that amounted to a sermon in which he appeared to reference homosexuality while using coded language.

“I do believe it is right, under the purview of Scripture, for the church to judge certain behaviors,” Perry said. “But that is totally different from judging fellow sinners. … We must love all.

“We cannot condemn certain lifestyles while turning a blind eye to sins that, in God’s eye, are just as grievous,” he added. “We must love all… welcome all … and be a model for Christ.”

WFAA says Perry’s comments “reflect a shift from previously-stated beliefs,” referring to his anti-gay record, but I wouldn’t go that far. If anything, it was an attempt by Perry to put some space between himself and the extremism of Jeffress — who has called homosexuality “unnatural,” “filthy,” “perverse” and “abnormal” — as he prepares to run for president again in 2016. Unfortunately for Perry, it’s more than a little hypocritical to stand at a place like First Baptist — led by one of the most hateful anti-gay preachers in the world — and talk about God’s love.

As for Rawlings, we’ve reached out to his chief of staff, Paula Blackmon, for a comment on his decision to attend the event. Blackmon did not immediately respond, but we’ll update if she does.

Let’s just hope Rawlings isn’t going down the same road as his predecessor, Tom Leppert, who became a member of First Baptist in an effort to pander to conservative Republican Primary voters as he prepared to run for U.S. Senate. How’d that work out for you, Tom?

Watch Perry’s remarks at First Baptist below.

—  John Wright

QUICK TAKE: Tim Tebow and Robert Jeffress were made for each other

Robert Jeffress

Robert Jeffress

NFL quarterback Tim Tebow has agreed to speak at First Baptist Church of Dallas in April.

First Baptist, of course, is led by virulently anti-gay pastor Robert Jeffress, whose “Why Gay is Not OK” sermon in 2008 sparked LGBT protests outside the church. Indeed, Jeffress’ homophobic credentials are too long to list here, but several media outlets reporting on Tebow’s appearance have picked up this passage from one of Jeffress’ sermons last July:

“There are a disproportionate amount of assaults against children by homosexuals than by heterosexuals, you can’t deny that,” Jeffress said.  “And the reason is very clear: Homosexuality is perverse, it represents a degradation of a person’s mind and if a person will sink that low and there are no restraints from God’s law, then there is no telling to whatever sins he will commit as well.”

Tebow, meanwhile, has become well known for revolting public displays of his Christian faith but thus far has steered clear of addressing the subject of homosexuality. However, his decision to speak at a church led by Jeffress speaks volumes.

It’s hardly surprising to see Tebow — the shame of my alma mater — seeking fame and fortune as a religious hoaxster, given that his football career is on the rocks. And it only seems fitting that he’s decided to pay a visit to Jeffress, because they both make our gaydar go off uncontrollably.

UPDATE: There’s now a petition calling for Tebow to cancel his appearance at First Baptist. Sign it by going here.

—  John Wright

Tom Leppert convinces evangelical leaders he’s sufficiently ex-gay-friendly to represent Texas

I was baffled when I saw this headline in the DMN last week, because the story was over a year late. I now suspect the newspaper was just doing its part to help Leppert distance himself from his past.

In November 2009, after then-Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert enthusiastically joined the virulently anti-gay First Baptist Church of Dallas, I opined here on Instant Tea that the move was purely politically motivated because Leppert was planning to run for U.S. Senate. After calling Leppert’s decision to join First Baptist “a slap in the face to not only the LGBT community, but also to Hindus, Muslims and Mormons,” I wrote that it would be “good riddance for Dallas if he steps down to run” for Senate.

Not surprisingly, Leppert’s office, including openly gay chief of staff Chris Heinbaugh, didn’t take kindly to my comments, and let’s just say I ended up being called on the carpet. But to this day, I stand by those statements, and in retrospect, it would certainly appear as though they were dead on.

When he did finally step down as mayor to run for Senate, Leppert promptly sent out his infamous anti-gay tweet, before coming out against both same-sex marriage and civil unions on his campaign website. During his Senate run, Leppert has been attacked by the other GOP candidates for appearing at gay Pride twice while mayor, but now it looks like he’s managed to win over some of the folks you’d expect to be most critical of his decision to participate in such an “orgy” of “drunken revelries,” in the words of Lela Pittinger.

The Dallas Morning News reports today that a group of evangelical pastors, led by none other than First Baptist’s Robert Jeffress, has formally endorsed the former mayor. The group includes others such as David Dykes of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Randel Everett of First Baptist Church of Midland, etc. (On a side note, we’re sure the DMN’s main headline on its Metro page last Friday quoting Ed Oakley as saying Leppert had “abandoned gays” didn’t hurt his cause among the pastors. At first I was baffled by this headline because it was over a full year late, but now I consider it to be nothing more than a ceremonial political ex-gay cleansing by the city fathers, if you will.)

As I wrote last month, it’s sad to think that on paper at least, Leppert may be the least anti-gay of the four major GOP candidates for Senate. But I don’t care, I’ll still be glad when he comes in third May 29 behind Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former solicitor general Ted Cruz. And in the highly unlikely event that Leppert were to decide to never again run for public office, it would indeed be good riddance.

—  John Wright

The power of coming out

ABC News co-anchor Dan Koeffler set an example we all should follow if we want to reach the goal of equality

dan-kloeffler

Dan Koeffler

There’s probably never before been a safer — or more critical — time in American culture and politics for LGBT people to come out and acknowledge their identities.

This week when Dan Koeffler, an ABC News co-anchor on the World News Now show, acknowledged he was gay, in a reference to Star Trek actor Zach Quinto, Koeffler likely caused a lot of people to realize we might just pop up anywhere — even on TV at 3 a.m.

The television personality’s off-hand quip that he might drop his rule against dating actors in favor of Quinto, who recently came out in a New York Magazine interview, might serve as an good example for members of our community who have thus far opened the closet door only a little bit.

The television journalist’s declaration hopefully will inspire LGBT people who are tired of listening to Republican presidential candidates backed by evangelical stooges, condemn us and threaten to rollback our hard-won human rights gains.

If there was ever a moment for us to stand up against the likes of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was introduced recently at a campaign event by First Baptist Church of Dallas’ senior pastor Robert Jeffress, it is now. The thought of Jeffress — who has made a pastoral career out of trampling on the rights of LGBT people — having the ear of the next U.S. president ought to be enough to scare anyone into action.

If Jeffress would dare to publicly condemn the Mormon faith of Perry’s Republican political rival Mitt Romney in a weaselly attack before reporters after the event, what retributions against our community might he attempt to exact in exchange for helping deliver the evangelical vote to Perry in a presidential election?

We’re talking about an obsessed man who goes on TV to rail against anyone who doesn’t follow his religious philosophy, declaring that merely being a good person is not enough. Anyone one who doesn’t want to burn in hell must believe as Jeffress does, according to his sermons.

A friend of Perry’s who has known him for more than a half-century told me recently that the governor is more enlightened and tolerant than the LGBT community perceives him to be. But I don’t buy that — especially after he failed to condemn Jeffress’ outrageous remarks.

The message doesn’t get much better over in the camp of Herman Cain, who has vowed to veto the Employment Non-Discrimination Act if it were to pass Congress if he is elected to the presidency. There are other Republican candidates, such as Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachman, vying for the party’s presidential nomination that are just as scary. But they appear to be trailing so significantly in

David-Webb

David Webb The Rare Reporter

the polls that they aren’t a threat — at least for now.

Veteran LGBT activists have long known and shared their wisdom with us about the need for people to come out and stand united against hypocrisy and bigotry. And much has been accomplished as a result. There is strength in numbers, and to quote one of my favorite gay activists, William Waybourn of Washington D.C., “If everyone who is gay came out at once, the discrimination and bullying would stop immediately.”

That obviously won’t ever happen, but it does present a strong argument for the kind of mass, non-threatening demonstration that is the philosophy of the National Coming Out Day. The event has already passed this year, but there is nothing to say we couldn’t declare 2012 a coming out year in light of the importance of the national election.

Bullying is something everyone needs to remember and condemn, and it’s what Kloeffler said was on his mind when he came out on national television in the early morning television broadcast. He was referring to a gay teenager, 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer of Buffalo, N.Y., who had valiantly fought intolerance and violent anti-gay discrimination to the point of posting a YouTube video titled “It Gets Better,” only to finally succumb to suicide when he lost the will to endure more intolerance from his peers.

Although Koeffler was likely confident he would suffer no repercussions at work nor in the rest of his life by his admission, it was still a courageous move, apparently undertaken in an effort to help others in less comfortable situations. Too many people who could make a difference sit by idly and silently when opportunities arise to speak out against intolerance and discrimination. And Koeffler acknowledged he had been one of those for quite some time.

When it comes to anti-gay discrimination and bullying or any other class of prejudice, situations just don’t get any better without concerted resistance on the part of the oppressed. I know this because I have in the past tried to reason with evangelical Christians, including a close associate of Jeffress’, whom I have known most of my life.

Their reaction to my pleas for compassion as regards the plight of young LGBT people who are victims of anti-gay bullying and other issues involving discrimination was something along the lines of, “They deserve what they get.”

A typical response during the conversations was a flabbergasting, “We are so far apart on this,” which was based solely on what I consider to be misguided religious beliefs.

What I learned from trying to reason with the opponents of our quest for equal rights is that it was destined from the start to be a fruitless endeavor, and that our only hope in attracting allies is to appeal to the compassion of open-minded individuals who believe in fairness.

Even if that wasn’t Koeffler’s conscious objective in speaking out on the broadcast, I think his words probably reached a lot of people who are realizing our sheer numbers necessitate them giving more thought to our mission.
Maybe it’s a good time for others to follow Koeffler’s lead and see what kind of difference they might be able to make in spreading tolerance and fairness in their communities.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

First Baptist Church of Dallas’ Robert Jeffress joins long list of gay-hating Rick Perry supporters

Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas

The Rev. Robert Jeffress, the virulently anti-gay senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Dallas, has announced he’ll endorse Texas Gov. Rick Perry for president today during the Family Research Council’s Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C.

As Right Wing Watch notes, it isn’t terribly surprising that Jeffress would endorse Perry over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Not because Jeffress is from Perry’s home state, but because Romney is Mormon. In 2007, Jeffress declared that Romney is “not a Christian” and that, “Mormonism is a cult.”

Jeffress’ statement today may be slightly more subtle, but it isn’t hard to read between the lines:

“Some would argue that there are a number of other candidates who possess those attributes as well. However, once the smoke clears in several months, conservative Christians will have a choice to make. Do we want a candidate who is skilled in rhetoric, or one who is skilled in leadership? Do we want someone who is a conservative out of convenience, or one who is a conservative out of conviction? Do we want a candidate who is a good moral person, or one who is born-again follower of Jesus Christ? I believe that in Rick Perry we have a candidate who is a proven leader, a true conservative and a committed follower of Christ.”

Jeffress, of course, has a long history of anti-gay activism. When he was pastor at First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls in 1998, he tried to eliminate gay-themed books from the city’s public library. And after joining First Baptist in Dallas in 2008, he sparked protests with a controversial sermon advertised on the church’s marquee, “Why Gay is Not O.K.”

UPDATE: Jeffress today repeated his claim that Mormonism is a cult. He also said he thinks gays should be barred from serving openly in the military because “70 percent of the gay population has AIDS.”

“It’s a fact that it’s a gay disease so there’s a reasonable reason to exclude gays from the military,” he said.

Watch video of Jeffress’ comments from ThinkProgress below.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Robert Jeffress to blatantly exploit 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks

Are We Witnessing America’s Last Days? from First Dallas on Vimeo.

—  John Wright

A week after publishing 1st same-sex wedding ads, DMN profiles anti-gay bigot Robert Jeffress

Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas

Perhaps this represents the real price the LGBT community must pay in exchange for same-sex wedding announcements in our daily newspaper. One week after publishing its first gay wedding ads, The Dallas Morning News (subscription only) on Sunday came out with a glowing front-page profile of anti-gay bigot Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

The story, under the headline “Pastor hopes to restore glory to First Baptist Church,” reveals that Jeffress has increased resident membership by a whopping 5 percent during his first four years at First Baptist. But overall membership is still down by about 35 percent since the church was led by W.A. Criswell.

The story claims that when Jeffress was a 15-year-old member at First Baptist, Criswell told him, “Robert, I want you to learn every square inch of this place [First Baptist] because one day it’s all gonna be yours.”

OK, that’s just plain creepy. Did they go over every square inch of anything else?

And speaking of creepy, the story concludes with a passage about how Jeffress once dressed up as a bright-yellow, six-foot banana to go on Let’s Make A Deal. Gee, sexually repressed much?

Overall, the DMN story is way too positive given the extent of Jeffress’ incessant hate-mongering — and it really doesn’t belong on the front page to begin with (perhaps an inside religion page?). But there is some token balance, most notably this passage:

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Texas A&M Senate backs anti-gay measure; pastors come out for Leppert

How do the “Pastors for Leppert” feel about his appearances at gay Pride?

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1.  The Texas A&M Student Senate wants to cut funding in half for the school’s gay resource center, and divert the money to a “center for traditional and family values.” According to GLBT Aggies President Camden Breeding, the Student Senate voted Wednesday night to support a state budget amendment by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, that would require schools with LGBT resource centers to spend an equal amount on centers for traditional and family values. The measure approved by the Student Senate, which you can read here, opposes any increase in student fees to pay for the new “traditional and family values” center, but says existing revenue should be evenly divided between the two centers. The Student Senate also agreed to advocate on behalf of Christian’s amendment as it moves through the Legislature. Well, it’s no wonder that Texas A&M is consistently ranked among the nation’s most homophobic schools. And it seems as though the notion that young people are less bigoted than their parents doesn’t necessarily hold true in Texas.

2. A bill to prohibit transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex is yet to come up for a vote in the Texas Senate, but it could come up today, according to Daniel Williams at Legislative Queery. Williams also reports that State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, has agreed to remove enumerated categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, from Asher’s Law, a bill that would prohibit discrimination in Texas public schools.

3. Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert continues to veer sharply to the right as he seeks the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. A new website called Pastors for Leppert features endorsements from conservative religious leaders, including the virulently anti-gay Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert to announce resignation today

Mayor Tom Leppert appears in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade in 2007.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert is expected to announce his resignation at the close of today’s City Council meeting.

Leppert’s resignation has long been expected as he prepares to seek the Republican nomination for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s U.S. Senate seat in 2012. It’s really just been a question of when, and now we know: Leppert will step down four months short of the end of his term.

For a Republican in Texas, Leppert has been a relatively good mayor for the LGBT community. After defeating openly gay former City Councilman Ed Oakley to become mayor in 2007, Leppert reached out and appeared to understand the LGBT community’s importance in Dallas.

Leppert hired an openly gay chief of staff, former WFAA reporter Chris Heinbaugh, and became only the second mayor to appear at gay Pride, doing so in two of his four years in office. Leppert made a habit of showing up at GLBT Chamber events and also attended two of four Black Tie Dinners.

But in the latter part of his term Leppert clearly veered to the right in an effort to position himself for the Republican Senate primary — including joining the virulently anti-gay First Baptist Church of Dallas.

So, it’ll be interesting to see how Leppert treats LGBT issues in his Senate campaign. Being a moderate Republican won’t win him many votes in a statewide Republican primary, but at the same time it will be difficult to hide from his record in Dallas.

Leppert’s resignation means that Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway will temporarily become mayor until after the May elections. Although Caraway is a Democrat, he hasn’t been much of an advocate for the LGBT community.

—  John Wright