Controversial pro-Trump pastor Robert Jeffress, whom Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney called a “religious bigot” on Twitter, delivered a prayer on Monday at the dedication ceremony of the new United States Embassy in Jerusalem.
“I believe, Father, I speak for every one of us when I say we thank you every day that you have given us a president who boldly stands on the right side of history, but more importantly stands on the right side of you, God, when it comes to Israel,” Jeffress said in a blessing.
Jeffress, the pastor of Dallas First Baptist Church and a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory council, has a history of making controversial remarks about religion, policy and sexuality.
In the past, he’s said that President Barack Obama’s policies are “paving the way for the Antichrist,” and that Islam “is a religion that promotes pedophilia.”
The White House invited Jeffress to participate in the opening of the embassy after it was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an invitation that was met with widespread criticism.
“Robert Jeffress says 'you can’t be saved by being a Jew,' and 'Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.' He’s said the same about Islam,” Romney, a Mormon, wrote on Twitter over the weekend. “Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.”
Jeffress responded swiftly to Romney, tweeting, “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.”
The relocation of the embassy marks a nearly three decade departure from U.S. foreign policy and has been largely regarded by evangelical Christians as a major victory for the Trump administration.
“We are thankful to President Trump for making good on a promise that his predecessors chose to ignore,” evangelical Penny Nancy, the president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, wrote in a Fox News op-ed.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner led the U.S. delegation for the embassy opening, which included Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Ahead of the opening, at least 40 Palestinians were killed during protests that erupted on the border of Israel and Gaza. Kushner addressed the recent violence in his opening remarks, saying "those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution."
"The United States is prepared to support a peace agreement in every way that we can," Kushner said. "We believe that it is possible for both sides to gain more than they give so that all people can live in peace, safe from danger, free from fear, and able to pursue their dreams."