Ken Shepherd spends a Feb. 15 NewsBusters post -- in perhaps the blog's most dubious endeavor since arguing that Matt Lauer was expressing sympathy for Palestinians by wearing a checkered scarf -- pretending that an anti-gay pastor really isn't anti-gay or as hateful as his critics have said.
Shepherd is upset that NBC sportswriter Rick Chandler described the Dallas church of Rev. Robert Jeffress, where NFL player Tim Tebow will be speaking in April, "virulently anti-gay and anti-Semitic." Shepherd's retort: "But to back up his assertions, Chandler highlights claims Jeffress made that are either fundamentally doctrinal or political in nature. What's more, Chandler failed to point to any personal animus Jeffress has expressed toward either homosexuals or Jews, which should be incredibly easy to do if Jeffress really is 'virulent' in his hatred of gays and Jews."
Shepherd noted the evidence Chandler cited -- which includes denouncing Islam, Mormonism and Judaism as heretical religions “from the pit of hell" and claiming that “Seventy percent of the gay population” has AIDS -- then parses what Jeffress supposedly actually meant:
Those statements, while controversial, do not prove a hatred of gays nor Jews. When one thinks of a "virulently anti-gay church," one might think of the Westboro Baptist Church cult, which pickets the funerals of soldiers and joyously preaches that "God Hates Fags." The message of Westboro is anti-gay in that it rejoices in the thought of God punishing sinners, rather than joyously proclaiming the freedom and mercy that Christians find in Christ from their sins and from God's just judgment.
As to Jeffress's 70 percent statistic regarding gays and AIDS, yes, that sounds highly dubious, and there's no doubt Jeffress's views on gays in the military are certainly controversial, but they are political and policy concerns, not anti-gay screeds. In Jeffress's mind, he's looking out for the best interests of the men and women in the U.S. military. He may be completely off the mark, of course, but even so, that doesn't mean he's "anti-gay."
Chandler is entitled to his personal opinion about Jeffress and about Tebow, but exercise of restraint and charity with his value judgments is called for. Jeffress is certainly controversial and outspoken on religious and political matters, but to tag him anti-gay or an anti-Semite is unfair and unhelpful to the interests of any rational discussion about the religious beliefs that Jeffress holds.
Shorter Shepherd: For Jeffress, hating gays is just business, not personal.
Shepherd appears strangely incurious about any other possibly offensive things Jeffress might have said, like calling Catholicism representative of "the genius of Satan."
If Shepherd really is unsure that Jeffress truly is anti-gay beyond his religious beliefs -- but how can Shepherd claim that Jeffress' "religious beliefs" are separate from his personal beliefs when he has built an entire megachurch around spreading those beliefs? -- perhaps Right Wing Watch can offer him some clarity:
He has described gays and lesbians as “perverse,” “miserable” and “abnormal” people who engage in an “unnatural” and “filthy practice” that will lead to the “implosion of our country.” Jeffress argues that the gay community employs Chinese “brainwashing techniques” in order to have homosexuality “crammed down our throats.”
We're unclear as to how that can possibly described as merely Jeffress' "religious beliefs."
Shepherd does seem to be conceding that Jeffress hates Mormons, which is somewhat of a surprise given that NewsBusters and the Media Research Center have studiously avoided acknowledging that Jeffress said ugly things about Mormons, except to complain that other media outlets reported what he said.
This isn't the first time Shepherd has run to the defense of Jeffress. In a 2007 post, Shepherd whined that an "anti-Mitt Romney sermon" by Jeffress was reported in a newsapaper "a full 18 days" after the remarks were made, laughably insisting that any controversy in evangelical circles about Romney's religion "might be rather dormant" and blaming the media for "pushing a storyline to influence the presidential election."