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Ed Stetzer: The Church and Donald Trump: We Need Christ at the Center of Our Services, Not Democrats, Republicans or Any Other Politician

Church and Donald Trump
Donald Trump addresses the First Baptist Church Dallas congregation. Screen grab: WFAA-TV

The First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, was for many years one of the most prominent churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. It was brought to prominence in the 20th century under legendary pastors George Truett and W.A. Criswell, whose two pastorates spanned 97 years. The church still carries much weight, especially among older and more traditional Southern Baptists. 

First Baptist Church and Donald Trump

The current pastor, Robert Jeffress, regularly leans into political partisanship. He has frequently appeared on Fox News speaking about politics and evangelicals, in recent years spending his time and energy to defend Donald Trump during his campaign and presidency. This week, Jeffress welcomed the former president to address the congregation after his sermon and give a brief Christmas message. 

During the introduction, Jeffress described himself a “close friend” of the former president and stated that President Trump “is the most pro-life, pro-religious liberty, pro-Israel president in the history of the United States of America.” He added Trump was “a great friend to all Christians.” After his introduction, President Trump was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation.

In prepared remarks, Trump spoke about the Christmas season, although at times he departed from his script to speak politically about problems in the nation. At one point he remarked, “Our country needs a savior right now, and we have a savior — that’s not me, that’s someone much higher up.” 

I contemplated on whether to write about this event. For those of you who read me, you know I’ve expressed concerns about Trump’s engagement of evangelicals. Truthfully, I didn’t have a big issue with most of what the former President said. 

Who is the Center?

But then again, it was a corporate worship gathering where Jesus should have been the central focus. And that is my issue. What transpired between Pastor Jeffress, FBC Dallas’ congregation, and Trump on a Sunday morning exemplifies where some evangelicals and some evangelical churches have deviated from the primary focus and primary mission of Christ’s church. 

Now, I get that Democrats do this as well—and it is also a mistake. That’s why I have been publicly critical there in those situations, most recently when Vice President Harris blatantly politicked in Virginia churches. They are both wrong, yet I am an evangelical and this is a President, so it is worth our attention as well.

Samuel Perry, in his Time article entitled, “How Trump Stole Christmas—And Why Evangelicals Rally to Their Savior,” summarized the service:

Jesus was celebrated, yes. But the entire Christmas service was built around Trump’s advent: lines wrapped around the building starting 3 hours before the event; security screening for everyone in the main sanctuary; Trump’s smiling face on every program. The former President was introduced or acknowledged four separate times during the service, each one to thunderous applause.

As is often said, “When you mix politics and religion, you get politics.”

Don’t Let Politics Become Idolatry

I should immediately caution that I believe strongly that patriotism and political engagement are vital components of a healthy democracy. I love my country and I love seeing people—regardless of age, party, or culture—get involved in the political process. However, these good things began to transform into idols when we instill in them our hope and faith.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and leads the Stetzer ChurchLeaders podcast. Ed is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.