DALLAS - The United States officially opened its new embassy in Jerusalem on Monday with a controversial Dallas pastor playing a key role in the morning’s events.
President Donald Trump decided last year to move the new U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “the right thing to do.”
The move went against decades of foreign policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It has put the U.S. at odds with most of the international community and sparked deadly protests. Palestinians believe East Jerusalem should be part of their future capital.
First Baptist Church of Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress was in Jerusalem and gave the opening prayer.
“We want to thank God for the tremendous leadership of our great President Donald J. Trump. Without President Trump’s determination, resolve and courage, we would not be here today,” Jeffress said. “I believe, Father, I speak for every one of us when we say we thank you every day that you have given us a president who boldly stand on the right side of history, but importantly the right side of you, oh God.”
There was some harsh criticism about Jeffress taking part in Monday’s embassy opening from former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who is now running for a Senate seat in Utah. He called Jeffress a "religious bigot."
"Robert Jeffress says 'you can't be saved by being a Jew,' and 'Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.' He said the same about Islam,” Romney said in a tweet. “Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.”
Pastor Jeffress is a strong supporter of both President Trump and the current Israeli government. He responded to Romney’s remarks with his own tweet, saying, "Historic Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that salvation is through faith in Christ alone.”
Jeffress goes on to say the fact that he and tens of millions of other Christians around the world continue to espouse that belief is neither bigoted nor newsworthy.
The presence of Jeffress and San Antonio Pastor John Hagee may be a message to evangelicals that the president is keeping a campaign promise.
“There’s going to be for those that are kind of more aligned with President Trump and his way of thinking is that we're going to continue to stand along and be strong allies with Israel,” said Dr. Nick Pitts, head of the Institute for Global Studies at Dallas Baptist University.
Pitts says many in the international community and those who don’t stand with Trump believe moving the embassy only adds to the conflict.
For some, according to one Brookings Institute fellow, he says this is simply just pouring gasoline onto an already burning fire,” he said.
The prominent role of Jeffress underlines the significance of the Jerusalem event as an appeal to Christian conservatives, part of President Trump's base of supporters.
Netanyahu said President Trump has made history by recognizing history. What happens now will decide what history records.