Updated at 12:20 p.m. with Jeffress comments.
WASHINGTON — One of President Donald Trump’s top evangelical Christian allies, Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, has broken ranks with the president’s refusal to concede defeat, calling Democrat Joe Biden the president-elect and offering advice on how fellow Trump supporters should embrace the development.
Biden’s victory is a “bitter pill to swallow,” Jeffress wrote in an online column published by Fox News, where he is a frequent commentator. “It’s always easier to submit and to pray for someone when he was our preferred candidate. But the rubber really meets the road when the person who takes office is not the one we supported. Here is our chance to show that Christians are not hypocrites.”
Jeffress’ stance might itself be a bitter pill for the president, who has insisted that he will win this election once fraud and cheating are exposed.
The senior pastor at First Baptist Dallas, one of Texas’ biggest megachurches, was one of Trump’s earliest and most visible conservative Christian supporters in the 2016 campaign.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Jeffress emphasized that “I am not in any way calling this election,” though he acknowledged that Biden’s victory is “the most likely outcome.”
After the Associated Press and TV networks called Pennsylvania and the election for Biden on Saturday morning, Fox News asked him to write about how Christians should respond to a President Biden. The column started with that premise but wasn’t meant to assert that he agrees it’s over, Jeffress said, though the column has carried a more declarative headline for three days:
Pastor Robert Jeffress: Biden is president-elect — how should Christians respond? Below that, it asks: What is God doing in this outcome? Why would He allow this to happen?
“I did not choose the headline. That was Fox’s headline,” Jeffress said.
Still, he does not embrace Trump’s claims that the election has been stolen, and that fraud and cheating on a scale big enough to tilt the outcome has occurred.
“I don’t pretend to be an election expert,” he said by phone. “I trust that if there is that kind of fraud that it would be uncovered.”
Jeffress has been a frequent visitor to the White House. He was a VIP guest when the United States opened its embassy in Jerusalem, and a fierce defender of Trump during impeachment, warning that Democrats would spark a “Civil War-like fracture” if they took that step.
Trump called him “a terrific guy, a terrific man” on Good Friday, when he announced that he’d watch the Easter Service that Jeffress would lead in Dallas, with church attendance ill-advised at that point in the pandemic.
Evidence of fraud and cheating has not surfaced, though that has not stopped Trump and his campaign from alleging that the election has been stolen.
On Wednesday morning, for instance, the Trump campaign was still issuing pleas for donations that included the claim: “We cannot let the Democrats STEAL this election.”
Elections officials in every state have explicitly rejected the assertion, calling this a smooth if unusual election due to the pandemic and widespread use of mail ballots.
Trump trails Biden by more than 5 million votes, and the Democrat has secured a convincing victory margin in the Electoral College.
“I understand – looking at it, it appears that he won,” Jeffress said by phone on Wednesday, adding that “I’ve said publicly –I’ve said on Fox News – that I think the only way for us to have unity in our country is not only to respect the right of people to vote in an election, but the right to contest an election and President Trump has every right to contest this election.”
“It’s ‘if he becomes president’ and we won’t know that till I suppose December 14 when the Electoral College meets,” he said.
In his column, Jeffress cited admonitions from the Apostle Paul to submit to lawful civil authority, as in in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, when he called for prayer “for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions.”
“Paul didn’t give us any wiggle room — his command applies all the same, whether the emperor was the faith-friendly Constantine or the evil emperor Nero,” he wrote, adding, “If President Biden succeeds, we all succeed. May God bless Joe Biden, and may God bless the United States of America.”
As I said on Lou Dobbs show Friday: “The only way to unify our country is to protect not only the right to vote but the right to contest an election. President @realDonaldTrump has EVERY right to contest this election.”
— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) November 9, 2020
None of that means Jeffress is without qualms about a Biden administration.
In spite of his promise to work with “all Americans,” Biden has already announced planned attacks on faith groups by overturning President @realDonaldTrump‘s executive orders on religious liberty and protection of unborn. So much for “unity.”
— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) November 11, 2020
On Wednesday he criticized Biden for vowing to roll back Trump executive orders on abortion and religious liberty.
He hasn’t spoken with Trump since Election Day, though Vice President Mike Pence called him two days later “just to check in.”
“At that point, the Vice President was very clear that it wasn’t over in their mind, yet there were still recounts to be done. He and was optimistic,” Jeffress said.
Evangelical conservatives rallied to Trump over his policies and his promise, which he has fulfilled to a degree few imagined, to tilt the federal courts to the right. With the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett last month, he has named one third of the 9-member Supreme Court.
So disappointment on the right is natural.
“I think most people are well intentioned,” Jeffress said. “They want the best for our country. And I think Christians want to hope for the best with the new president, but frankly I think Joe Biden is making the wrong moves up front, if he really does want to work with all Americans. I mean to immediately attack religious liberty issues and protection of the unborn. I just don’t think that’s the kind of thing you do if you truly are interested in working with groups who may not believe like you do.”