An Open Letter to Reverend Robert Jeffress:
This morning, again I preached from one of the many passages where religious leaders try to trick Jesus with his words. (John 10: 22-30…It was the suggested “Lectionary” text for this Sunday, in my Methodist tradition…)
Time and time again, as you are undoubtedly aware, this theme recurs in the Gospels of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Time and time again, Jesus Christ heals, teaches, and preaches. And time and time again, the religious leaders of his day try to trick him by his own words. They try to trick him into saying something they can use against him.
Moments after I finished preaching, I read today’s Dallas Morning News op-ed by my dear friend Imam Omar Suleiman in which he details some of the vitriol that has come his way during the past few days, following a prayer he delivered before the US House of Representatives.
Among the many vitriolic words that have been spoken about him by politicians and pundits on the right, he named you specifically. So, I looked up the video clip, and saw that indeed my Brother Omar was correct: You have denigrated this man of peace, love and faith. You have attempted to twist his words against him, in ways that do not at all reflect who he is in our Dallas community.
Finally, my dear Christian brother, you have cherry-picked his words in PRECISELY the same way that the Gospel Pharisees seek to do to our blessed Lord and Savior!!
Can you not see, dear Brother Jeffress, that YOU have become a Pharisee of our time?
Can you not see, dear Brother Jeffress, that leaders like YOU are the reason that so many young people leave our faith, never to return?
When will you see the harm that you are not only causing, not to people of a man of peace like Omar Suleiman, but also to the very witness of our Christian faith in today’s world?!
YOU, and judgmental preachers like you, are the modern Gospel Pharisees of our world.
Here is the final, and most damning truth…
You, myself and Omar Suleiman live in the same town. You cannot *possibly* have missed his presence at countless rallies for justice, standing up for the rights of the poor and the oppressed, standing alongside Christian pastors like myself.
I’m sure you must have seen his deeply comforting and pastoral presence after the police shooting two years ago…comforting police officers and the public…speaking at rallies at Thanksgiving Square and nationally televised rallies. I’m sure you’ve seen him standing arm and arm with Rabbis and other Jewish leaders.
I mention this because it makes it all the MORE damning that you try to twist his words for a national television audience beyond the town where we know his true witness for justice, peace, and faith.
In the lectionary reading from today, Jesus does not answer the religious leaders directly when they ask him who he is. He does not do so because he knows that, like you, they are not interested in actual dialogue and conversation…but they are instead interested in “gotcha theology.”
So, Jesus does not answer them directly.
But! Our Lord and Savior does say this deeply important thing:
“The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me…”
Jesus invites those who seek to catch him in his words —those who seek to play “gotcha theology” with him— to understand that his ACTIONS testify more powerfully to who he is than an answer to some trick question they pose.
I would suggest the same is true for Imam Suleiman.
His record of supporting people of all faiths, including Christians, is well known. In fact, I’m attaching one of my all-time favorite pictures of a ministry-event that I have ever been a part of. I love it so that it hangs on the wall here in my study, mere feet from where I type these words.
It’s a picture of many Dallas’ faith leaders that, in one feel swoop, destroys the demeaning insinuations you made about Omar. It’s many of us, marching arm in arm, in the “MegaMarch” for immigrant rights a few years back. In this picture, you will see Imam Suleiman marching arm in arm with Jews, Christians, Men, Women, People of Color, Gay and Straight.
The powerful diversity of Dallas’ faith leaders show up for one another, and for all of Dallas’ people. We know Omar as our brother in action and justice.
The final, pitiful truth is, you do too. You can’t possibly NOT know it, it seems to me. Which is what makes your words disgusting in two ways.
First, that you would do the same thing to ANYONE that the Gospel Pharisees did to Our Lord.
Secondly, that you would do it, knowing full well that your words must be a lie.
If you can tear yourself away from your gig as a Gospel Pharisee on national TV, maybe you can join us all at the next march.
We’ll save you a seat.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Eric Folkerth