DALLAS—First Baptist Church of Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress told a Dallas sports radio station on Thursday that he spoke with Tim Tebow on Wednesday night and was disappointed but respectful about the New York Jets quarterback’s decision to rescind an April speaking engagement at the historic church.
Jeffress also defended his beliefs against what he said were “false, blatant statements about me” and that his church’s message is one of hope, not condemnation, for anyone who trusts in Jesus as savior.
Jeffress told the morning show of 105.3 The Fan in Dallas-Fort Worth that Tebow told him “because of personal reasons and professional reasons, I need to steer clear of controversy right now but I would love to come back to your church at some time in the future.”
Jeffress said they “had a pleasant conversation on the phone” and had tweeted back and forth since then.
Tebow announced via Twitter on Thursday morning his decision to cancel his appearance at the church on April 28 during the church’s grand opening celebration for its new, $130 million campus in downtown Dallas but would “continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring Faith, Hope and Love to all those needing a brighter day.”
A media firestorm ensued after a New York Daily News headline called Tebow’s appearance a “hate date” and a CBSsports.com columnist compared Jeffress’ ministry to that of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., which protests military funerals and carries signs such as “God hates fags.” The Huffington Post went further, characterizing FBC Dallas in a headline as the “Virulently Anti-Gay, Anti-Semitic Church First Baptist Dallas.”
Jeffress has been nationally prominent in stating his biblical views regarding marriage, homosexuality and, during the president campaign last year, Mormonism.
After hearing Jeffress answer a series of questions about his beliefs, radio co-host Shan Shariff admitted to Jeffress, “I have a different opinion [about your beliefs] after speaking with you.” Jeffress responded that he has been misquoted and “mischaracterized in the press” and had “false, blatant statements attributed to me.”
Jeffress told the radio station that he had spoken the day before with a Jewish friend who was bewildered by charges that Jeffress or the church is anti-Semitic. The Jewish friend acknowledged, Jeffress said, that the New Testament is contrary to his own beliefs but that historic Christianity teaches exclusive salvation through Jesus.
Heaven and hell will include people from all walks of life—Baptists, Methodists, Catholics and others, he told the radio station. It is a personal decision to trust Jesus Christ for salvation that determines one’s eternal destiny and his message to homosexuals is one of hope in the gospel message, he said. First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., where Tebow is a member, teaches the same historic doctrines, Jeffress noted.
“The fact is, nobody goes to heaven in a group,” Jeffress told the station.
Asked if he thought being compared with Westboro Baptist Church would hurt his ministry, Jeffress said just because someone associates you with something doesn’t make it true.
Jeffress said “I detest” what Westboro does and “it has no basis in Scripture.”
Noting that God invented sex, Jeffress said he does not single out homosexuality among other sexual sins and that marriage between a man and woman is “God’s best” for sex. Furthermore, he said he would not be surprised if a genetic link were found for homosexual tendencies, but it would not change God’s standard because all people have a genetic tendency to sin.
“It’s not a hateful message; it’s a hopeful message that anybody can be saved regardless of their background if they simply trust in Jesus Christ,” Jeffress stated.
On Thursday morning, Tebow tweeted to his more than 2.1 million followers:
“While I was looking forward to sharing a message of hope and Christ’s unconditional love with the faithful members of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas in April, due to new information that has been brought to my attention, I have decided to cancel my upcoming appearance. I will continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring Faith, Hope and Love to all those needing a brighter day. Thank you for all of your love and support. God Bless!”
Tebow did not say what the “new information” was. Multiple news reports suggest the New York Jets are interested in “shopping” Tebow during the annual NFL Combine, which begins this weekend in Indianapolis and draws officials from every NFL team.
Quickly after Tebow’s tweet, Twitter lit up with comments.
Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano and a former Southern Baptist Convention president, tweeted, “It’s] very, very sad that Tim Tebow is bowing to the pressure of political correctness and cultural decay in canceling First Baptist Dallas.”
Jeffress said the celebration of the new campus would go on without Tebow. Those scheduled to speak include San Diego pastor David Jeremiah, Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, and Christian psychologist and author James Dobson.