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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Trump's problematic pastor stirs controversy in Jerusalem 

Robert Jeffress has in past called Islam a 'false religion' 

Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas speaks as he introduces President Donald Trump during the Celebrate Freedom event at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. Carolyn Kaster / AP 
Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas speaks as he introduces President Donald Trump during the Celebrate Freedom event at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. Carolyn Kaster / AP 

The Christian minister tasked with blessing the inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem has a troubling history of controversial comments.

Robert Jeffress was among the dignitaries present at Monday's embassy opening ceremony, alongside White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.

The Southern Baptist preacher was, until recently, unknown beyond the confines of his hometown of Dallas. But his unapologetic support of President Donald Trump over the past two years has brought him out of the shadows and into the light. Though not without controversy.

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The right-wing pastor has in past called Islam a "false religion", threatened Jews with hell and likened homosexuality to a "perversion".

“Historic Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that salvation is through faith in Christ alone," Mr Jeffres tweeted in defence of his previous comments. "The fact that I, along with tens of millions of evangelical Christians around the world, continue to espouse that belief, is neither bigoted nor newsworthy."

Historic Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that salvation is through faith in Christ alone. The fact that I, along with tens of millions of evangelical Christians around the world, continue to espouse that belief, is neither bigoted nor newsworthy.

But on Monday Israel seemingly overlooked Mr Jeffress' anti-Semitism and belief that "you can't be saved by being a Jew", in return for America's full-fledged support.

Mr Jeffress, the head of a 13,000-member church, is one of President Trump's most avid and outspoken supporters in America's conservative Christendom. His presence in Jerusalem signalled the Trump administration's renewed appeal to the conservative Christian community - a large portion of Mr Trump's support base.

The preacher campaigned with President Trump in 2016 and his influence was key to Mr Trump winning an overwhelming majority of the evangelical vote. Last October, the president called the controversial pastor a "wonderful man."

The White House on Monday sought to distance itself from the man, with spokesman Raj Shah saying he did not know who had invited Mr Jeffress to give an embassy blessing.

"I haven't seen those remarks, but obviously those aren't remarks that the president agrees with," said Mr Shah.