Left-leaning evangelical leader and founder of the progressive Christian magazine Sojourners, Jim Wallis, says he believes the “threat of evangelical anger” over the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump “is real,” following comments made by pastor Robert Jeffress.
On Monday, Jeffress explained earlier comments that a successful impeachment “will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”
“The only reason I invoked the Civil War is it represented the greatest fracture in the spirit of our nation that we’ve experienced before and those effects continue 160 years later. So I do think that it was an accurate analogy to describe the division in our country,” Jeffress told Huff Post Monday. “I’m not predicting there’s going to be riots in the streets; I certainly wouldn’t advocate that, but I think the fracture of our nation’s spirit is something that could be almost as devastating.”
On Sunday, Jeffress set off a firestorm of criticism after he lashed out at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of a formal impeachment inquiry into claims that the president asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on a telephone call in July to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden “for personal gain.” A transcript of that call can be read here.
When asked to comment on how evangelical voters were reacting to the news of the impeachment inquiry, Jeffress, who leads the 12,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, said “thousands” he has spoken to are angry.
“Look, I don’t pretend to speak for all evangelicals, but this week I have been traveling the country and I’ve literally spoken to thousands and thousands of evangelical Christians. I have never seen them more angry over any issue than this attempt to illegitimately remove this president from office, overturn the 2016 election and negate the votes of millions of evangelicals in the process,” Jeffress said in an interview on Fox News Sunday.
“And I do want to make this prediction this morning: If the Democrats are successful in removing the president from office, I’m afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal,” he added.
While Wallis believes the threat of evangelical anger over the impeachment process is real, he also told Huff Post that Jeffress’ reference to the Civil War was irresponsible, and when the president retweeted his comments he was giving his supporters “permission” to feel upset.
“Trump since entering political life has evoked, capitalized on, and fanned America’s worst demons — demons like racism, xenophobia, and misogyny,” Wallis said. “It’s hard to say how much anger was already there in his white evangelical supporters, who have felt for decades like their pride of place in American society and culture is being eroded or actively under assault, and how much anger is new and the result of Trump’s incitement.”
Many progressive faith institutions like the Union Seminary in New York City also joined some conservatives in condemning Jeffress’ statement.
“Robert Jeffress' threats of civil war to protect corrupt white supremacy represent disturbing abuse of spiritual authority. Pastors who use their words to shroud wickedness and preserve injustice spit on the God they profess to serve. This preaching is fundamentally anti-Christ,” tweeted the seminary that was criticized last week for holding a chapel service in which students confessed to plants.
When asked if he thinks Trump’s rhetoric on issues such as immigration or race, for example, has been the source of some of that fracturing, Jeffress replied, “No, I really don’t.”
“I know President Trump, I’ve known him for four years, I’ve never seen one scintilla of evidence of racism in him, personally,” he said.