DALLAS (Christian Examiner) – A Dallas LGBT advocacy group is calling for city leaders to repudiate First Baptist Dallas and its pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress after he claimed that businesses boycotting states because of transgender "bathroom laws" are a threat to religious liberty – a greater threat, he said, than the Islamic State (ISIS).
Jeffress, a frequent FOX News contributor and staunch critic of radical Islam, said many business leaders are afraid of the LGBT movement and believe if transgender bathroom laws, such as HB2 in North Carolina, are passed, they will lose money. The same is true of religious liberty laws that protect business owners who do not wish to participate in same-sex weddings and other gay-themed events.
"It all comes down to money," Jeffress said on Washington Watch with Tony Perkins May 16. "I've said often the greatest threat to freedom of religion in America is not ISIS, it's the chamber of commerce. I mean, it's the businesses that say to our representatives, 'Oh, don't pass laws like that. Don't pass these religious freedom laws because people will interpret that as anti-gay and we'll lose business.'"
Jeffress was on the show to discuss the Obama administration's recent "guidance" to school districts nationwide that they must, under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, based on their gender identity at the time.
Several states, such as Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina, have rejected the guidelines, which came with the imprimatur of a mandate from the Department of Education and Department of Justice.
Jeffress' comments immediately came under fire from the leaders of Dallas's new LGBT Resource Center, which opened days before.
Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for the center, told Dallas FOX affiliate KDFW that Jeffress was playing a "dangerous game" and the church had a history of making "inflammatory statements."
In particular, McDonnell and the members of the LGBT center want the city to severe ties with the church which announced only last month a special initiative to provide counseling services free of charge to Dallas police officers struggling with the pressures of their jobs.
McDonnell also said that the relationship between the church and city could be perceived as anti-gay on the part of police.
"When you're an officer, when you are an employee of the city, you have to serve everyone," McDonnell said.
The center also issued a statement on its Facebook page calling Jeffress' statement on pro-gay businesses "fanciful" and undeserving of a response. But they did respond.
"Resource Center is calling on the City of Dallas and the Dallas Police Department to reassess its relationship with First Baptist Church of Dallas in light of recent statements made by church leadership comparing business supporters of the transgender community with a terrorist organization," the statement said.
"Dallas Police, as does the city of Dallas, has a responsibility to be an open and inclusive organization that serves all people as reflected in the city's internal and external nondiscrimination statements. The Center believes the city of Dallas should make decisions and take actions that are consistent with those values. The partnership with First Baptist Church of Dallas fails that test."
Jeffress told KDFW he stands by the comparison, but said the comments were not anti-gay or homophobic.
"Well, it gets people's attention to realize that the greatest threat to religious liberty in our country comes internally, not externally," Jeffress said. "I believe these businesses are a greater threat to religious liberty in America than ISIS. That's all I said."
During his sermon May 15, Jeffress spoke on the current transgender debate in the U.S. He said the confusion over gender identity is easily cleared up by an examination of God's word, and specifically the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:4. There, Jesus said, God made human beings as male and female only.
"Gender identity confusion is an emotional disorder that should be treated professionally and compassionately," Jeffress said in the sermon. "Gender identity confusion should not be exploited by social activists like those in the Obama administration that want to deny the God-given distinction between the sexes. This is a rebellion against God's plan."
Jeffress also said the Christian approach should never include ridicule or hatred.
"We ought to treat them lovingly, and the most loving thing we can do for someone suffering from gender identity confusion is to assure them their gender is not a mistake," he said. "It's a part of a perfect, loving plan of God for their lives."