Although Pastor Robert Jeffress believes that Benjamin Netanyahu is going to hell, the evangelical leader is thankful for the prime minister’s “courageous leadership” of Israel.
Jeffress, a Southern Baptist preacher, delivered the opening prayer during a ceremony celebrating the U.S. embassy opening in Jerusalem on Monday. Despite his prominent slot at the event, Jeffress had previously expressed that Jews can’t be saved and called Islam a “false religion.”
But Jeffress wasn’t the only controversial religious leader to speak at the event. Pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, delivered the benediction. He once called Hitler “a hunter” sent by God.
World leaders warned President Donald Trump that his decision in December to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would only inflame tensions in the region and jeopardize the prospect of peace between Israel and Palestine. As expected, protests turned deadly on Monday as Israeli border guards killed dozens of Palestinians and injured thousands more throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks. The day marked the deadliest in the conflict since the 2014 Gaza war.
Jeffress’ and Hagee’s history of anti-Semitic comments only added to the escalating tensions. In a 2010 lecture, Jeffress said that “God sends good people to Hell,” including Jews and Muslims.
“God sends good people to Hell. Not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism — not only do they lead people away from God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell,” Jeffress said.
Former presidential contender Mitt Romney, who’s running for U.S. Senate in Utah, condemned Jeffress’ past remarks, including that Jews “can’t be saved,” on Twitter Sunday. Romney, who’s Mormon, also said that Jeffress has proclaimed his religion a “heresy from the pit of hell.”
Jeffress responded by defending his beliefs that only Christians receive religious salvation.
Hagee also ran into accusations of anti-Semitism during the 2008 election after he endorsed John McCain for president. McCain ultimately rejected Hagee’s endorsement when old audio from one of Hagee’s sermons went public. In the sermon, Hagee seems to indicate that Adolf Hitler may have been aiding to fulfill God’s prophecy of the Jews’ return to Israel.
"God says in Jeremiah 16: 'Behold, I will bring them the Jewish people again unto their land that I gave to their fathers. ... Behold, I will send for many fishers, and after will I send for many hunters,'" Hagee said, according to a transcript of the sermon obtained by CNN. "'And they the hunters shall hunt them.' That would be the Jews. ... Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone who comes with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter."
Hagee dismissed the controversy surrounding these remarks, saying they “grossly misrepresented” his actual positions.
During their remarks on Monday, however, both Jeffress and Hagee both took a markedly different tone.
“Israel has blessed this world by pointing us to you, the one true god, through the message of her prophets, the Scriptures, and the messiah,” Jeffress said at the ceremony. “We come before you today for your providential and powerful protection of this nation from all who seek to destroy her.”
“We thank you for the state of Israel, the lone torch of freedom in the Middle East,” Hagee said. “Let every Islamic terrorist hear this message: Israel lives.”
Cover image: United States President Donald J. Trump and Pastor Robert Jeffress participate in the Celebrate Freedom Rally at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on July 1, 2017. (Olivier Douliery/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)