Israeli embassy opens with prayer from American pastor who said ‘you can’t be saved by being a Jew’

Mitt Romney called Robert Jeffress a "religious bigot."

US President Donald Trump and Pastor Robert Jeffress participate in the Celebrate Freedom Rally at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on July 1, 2017 in Washington, DC.  (CREDIT: Olivier Douliery-Pool via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and Pastor Robert Jeffress participate in the Celebrate Freedom Rally at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on July 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: Olivier Douliery-Pool via Getty Images)

Trump administration officials attended the opening ceremony of the controversial new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on Monday — and invited several extreme Religious Right figures to play a major role in the events.

Giving the opening prayer in the world’s only Jewish nation, in a largely Muslim region, was a Dallas Southern Baptist preacher named Robert Jeffress. Another evangelical preacher, John Hagee, delivered the benediction.

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The selection did not sit well with previous Republican presidential nominee and current U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who called Jeffress a “religious bigot” who “should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy of Jerusalem.”

Jeffress, who serves on the White House’s Evangelical Advisory Board, is one of Donald Trump’s most prominent faith advisers. Jeffress delivered a sermon at a private church service just prior to Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. Jeffress also spoke before a Trump rally in September 2016, after which Trump said, “I love that guy!”

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Jeffress has a history of extremely far-right views. He has called Islam “false religion” which is “inspired by Satan himself.” According to Jeffress, “you can’t be saved by being a Jew.” He said President Obama is guilty of “paving the way” for the Antichrist. He has called gay people “miserable” and “filthy.” To Jeffress, Trump paying off an adult film star to stay quiet about an affair “doesn’t matter” because “evangelicals understand the concept of sin and forgiveness.” He’s said that protesting NFL players should “thank God” they haven’t been “shot in the head.” He has argued on Fox & Friends that the Bible gives Trump the “moral authority use whatever force necessary, including assassination or even war, to topple an evil dictator like Kim Jong-un.”

Jeffress is also a proponent of the evangelical concept of dispensationalism, which is the idea that Jews returning to Israel is part of God’s plan to bring about the events in the New Testament’s Book of Revelations, which describes the end of the world.

The other pastor in attendance on Monday, Rev. John Hagee, is similarly extreme.

The GOP nominee before Romney, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), denounced Hagee in 2008 after Hagee endorsed him for president. McCain’s rationale is particularly relevant to Trump’s decision to pick him to open the American embassy in Israel: He rejected Hagee’s endorsement because of a sermon Hagee gave in the late 1990s where he attempted to provide biblical support for the idea that Adolf Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews was part of God’s plan to push them to Israel.

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In the sermon, Hagee quoted from the Book of Jeremiah that “they the hunters should hunt them [the Jews] … from every mountain and from every hill and from out of the holes of the rocks.” He concluded: “If that doesn’t describe what Hitler did in the Holocaust, you can’t see that.”

McCain, in rejecting Hagee’s endorsement, said he found “these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible.” Hagee withdrew his endorsement, saying the critics were “grossly misrepresenting my position on issues most near and dear to my heart if it serves their political ambitions.”

The president, who sent a delegation led by Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (but including no Democrats) to the ceremony, played event promoter.

More than 100 American Jews protested in the streets of Washington, D.C. Monday morning, calling the embassy move the “Embassy of Occupation.” In Gaza, where thousands are protesting the embassy move on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence, one recent death toll hit 46, with 1,703 injuries. Trump spoke to the ceremony in Jerusalem via video and did not mention the protests, before tweeting, “Big day for Israel! Congratulations!”