Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, welcomed Donald Trump to their service this past Sunday morning. The church’s website proclaimed: “The focus of the music and message this Sunday will be on the most important event in human history—the birth of Jesus Christ. President Trump is known for his love for Christmas and what it represents. We are thrilled to have him join us this Sunday morning.” Apparently Trump was in Dallas for a rally that afternoon with Bill O’Reilly, but Jeffress seized the opportunity to have him at First Baptist.
Readers of this blog know that I am not a fan of Donald Trump. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say now that I am not a fan of Robert Jeffress, either. To give you an idea why, consider the biography of Jeffress that appears on the First Baptist web site. It begins, “Dr. Robert Jeffress is Senior Pastor of the 14,000-member First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas and a Fox News Contributor. He is also an adjunct professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.” It then proceeds to tout his “more than 4,000 guest appearances on various radio and television programs” before listing some of the shows he has appeared on. After mentioning his radio program, TV program and books, it says, “Dr. Jeffress led the congregation in the completion of a $135 million re-creation of its downtown campus. The project is the largest in modern church history and serves as a “spiritual oasis” covering six blocks of downtown Dallas.” Presumably that means First Baptist’s modern church history because if it means modern church history in the broader, worldwide sense then it is an outright lie, but either way…brag much? Jeffress seems to fully embrace the notion of “celebrity pastor.”
Having said that, Jeffress does seem to teach biblical truth. I may not like his personality, his arrogance or his priorities, but I am unaware of any heresy he preaches.
Before preaching his sermon, Jeffress said that Trump’s remarks would be the “climax and conclusion of the service.” While Trump spoke of the biblical account of Christmas, in words he admitted were prepared for him by the church, he added references to Afghanistan, police reform, America first and his never-ending crusade to “make America great again.” He even managed to work in his irritation with the press that Melania Trump received for her selection of White House Christmas decorations while Trump was president. Trump then received a standing ovation that included some chanting “U.S.A.!”
Absurdly, the church’s executive pastor then took the stage and said, “While we were very honored to have the 45th president of the United States with us today, I must remind you that it is our longstanding policy as a church that we do not endorse or oppose any political candidate for public office or otherwise intervene or engage in any political campaign.”
Interestingly enough, the church’s website even contains a small-print disclaimer that appears on every page and reads, “First Baptist Church of Dallas does not endorse or oppose any candidate for political office. Instead, any information, videos, appearances, posts, etc. related to any political topic are provided for informational purposes only, and represent the personal views or opinions of the individual expressing them, but do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of First Baptist Church of Dallas.”
Trump made it clear that he was going well astray of the remarks that had been prepared for him, but since Jeffress has been an unabashed supporter of Trump all along there is no way he could truly have been surprised. After all, Donald Trump has never stuck to a script in his life and he is not going to pass up any opportunity to make something about him. I am not embellishing here, either; while introducing Trump, Jeffress called him one of his closest friends. He even said that Trump was “the most consequential president since Abraham Lincoln.” After the service Jeffress had the temerity to say that he did not think that Trump had said anything political and that the “full house” at First Baptist was evidence of Trump’s popularity.
Trump’s visit to First Baptist is certainly not the first time a political figure has attended a church service. That happens often and on both sides of the aisle. It is not the first time a political figure has been acknowledged at or given the opportunity to speak at a church service. Again, happens on both sides of the aisle. But a politician should never be the center of attention at a church service. Indeed, no human should ever be the center of attention.
It is incredibly sad that Robert Jeffress would preach a message that was, by all accounts, biblically accurate and invited unbelievers to salvation, yet call Trump’s remarks the climax. That absolutely sends the wrong message. Intended or not, Jeffress essentially declared that the account of Christ’s birth is nice, but Donald Trump is better. There is no greater climax than the birth of Jesus Christ in human form, coming to earth as a baby, knowing He would grow up to die on the cross for the sins of humanity. How tragic that minutes after that truth was proclaimed—and thankfully it was proclaimed—the congregation was chanting about human politics. A church service should never become a political rally. Chants of “U.S.A.!” in a worship service should sadden any true believer.
This morning, TIME announced that Simone Biles has been selected as its Athlete of the Year. It did not take long at all for the backlash against the choice to begin, particularly amongst the so-called conservative online press. The Western Journal headed its social media post with “’How can TIME choose her over much more deserving athletes?” and linked to a piece by Jack Davis published just an hour after TIME’s announcement was made. And this is how he began his comments:
The old adage was that “winners never quit and quitters never win.”
But in 2021, quitters can be named Athlete of the Year.
This is a ridiculous and, frankly, stupid statement to make. It completely disregards Biles’ own statements made shortly after she withdrew from the team competition in Tokyo that she was experiencing “the twisties,” If you’re anything like me, you had no idea what that was exactly when you first heard it. If you follow the Olympics then you probably know now, but just in case, here is a definition provided in a July 28 Washington Post article by Emily Giambalvo—”the twisties”
describes a frightening predicament. When gymnasts have the “twisties,” they lose control of their bodies as they spin through the air. Sometimes they twist when they hadn’t planned to. Other times they stop midway through as Biles did. And after experiencing the twisties once, it’s very difficult to forget. Instinct gets replaced by thought. Thought quickly leads to worry. Worry is difficult to escape.
The same article quotes Biles saying, “I had no idea where I was in the air. I could have hurt myself.”
Athletes are not machines that can perform on demand. I cannot imagine that anyone wanted her to dominate the Tokyo Olympics more than Simone Biles wanted it herself. The expectations were through the proverbial roof. I detest the term GOAT, but if there is one in the world of gymnastics, it is Simone Biles. As the commentators never tired of pointing out, Biles does skills that other gymnasts can only dream about doing; she has four skills named after her. That means that she performed those skills, previously unperformed by anyone else, at a major international competition. Prior to the Tokyo Olympics there was speculation that Biles might increase that number to five.
Biles has won 25 World medals in Olympics—19 of which were gold—and both of those numbers are the records for gymnastics. Biles was the first woman to win five World floor exercise titles, to win three World balance beam titles and to win five World all-around titles. Not the first to accomplish that combination, mind you, but the first to reach all three of those levels. She is a five-time U.S. floor exercise champion, five-time U.S. balance beam champion, six-time U.S. vault champion and seven-time U.S. all-around champion. She has seven Olympic medals, tying her with Shannon Miller for the most by an Olympic gymnast. This is not the resume of a quitter.
Why, then, such a negative reaction to TIME’s choice?
Well, back to Davis’s pitiful opinion piece, Biles withdrew from the team competition of the Olympics because “she was not sufficiently mentally focused on what she was doing and could have injured herself had she competed in her condition.” That’s a gross and, I dare say intentional, misrepresentation of the facts. While technically a true description of the twisties, the implication is clearly that Biles was slacking, not giving the competition the attention it demanded and her performance was suffering as a result.
Davis continued with, “Time [sic] explained that those old-fashioned views about athletes achieving excellence in their sports had nothing to do with its decision.” Again, the implication is that Biles has not achieved excellence. Might I direct you back two paragraphs for evidence of the absurdity of that suggestion. Was Biles the best athlete of 2021? Probably not. She certainly did not achieve the level of success expected of her in Tokyo. But it’s not like she was a slouch. She qualified for the Olympics, after all, and at the age of 24. Sixteen is considered to be the peak age for a gymnast. The Tokyo Olympics was the first time since 1968 that there were more non-teens than teens competing in gymnastics, and even in Tokyo the median age was 21 and the average age was 21 years 11 months. Even though every member of Team USA’s artistic gymnastics team in Tokyo was 18 or older for the first time since 1952, Biles was the oldest on the all-around team by three years. McKayla Skinner was on the USA squad as a specialist, and she is older than Biles by just over three months. The other specialist was Jade Carey, who was 21, and who ended up subbing for Biles in the all-around. But the other three original members of the team were 20 (Jordan Chiles) and 18 (Suni Lee and Grace McCallum). Biles returned to the Olympics for the individual balance beam competition and she took Bronze. The winners of Gold and Silver were Guan Chenchen (age 17) and Tang Xijing (age 18) respectively. So you’ll pardon me for calling the assertion that Biles did not achieve excellence nothing but hogwash.
Later, Davis wrote, “The article extolling her selection labeled those who believe dropping out of Olympic events partway through them is not the hallmark of a champion as ‘naysayers.’” Davis pointed this out derisively, but the statement is correct. Athletes cannot be demanded, or even expected, to be super-human. Many athletes—perhaps Simone Biles more than any—do things that the rest of us cannot even comprehend, much less imagine doing. But they are still mortal. They are still human. They still have bad days and struggles and doubts. And that does not even include the fact that doing Olympic-level gymnastics with the twisties is just plain dangerous.
Davis enjoyed pointing out that “many disputed Time’s selection.” Of course, none of the “many” that Davis quoted were gymnasts. As best I can tell, none of them is even an athlete. I am sure I am not the only one who thinks that Biles’ withdrawal from Olympic events—not her quitting—was not only justified but groundbreaking. Her teammate Suni Lee said, “What Simone did changed the way we view our well-being, 100%. It showed us that we are more than the sport, that we are human beings who also can have days that are hard. It really humanized us.” 1988 Olympian Missy Marlowe said the twisties is “like a nonserious stroke.” 1996 Olympian Dominique Moceanu, who was only 14 at the Atlanta Olympics, tweeted that Biles’ decision “demonstrates that we have a say in our own health—’a say’ I NEVER felt I had as an Olympian.” Dominique Dawes, who competed in three Olympics (1992, 1996, 2000) said that she quit during the 2000 prelims but was not allowed to do so. “[I]t was too much on me emotionally,” Dawes said. “However, I was not able to make that decision. It was very much a controlled atmosphere.” Nastia Liukin, who won the All-Around gold medal in 2008 and was a commentator at the Tokyo Olympics, said, “Thank you for creating a safer space for current and future athletes to unequivocally be themselves.” And 2012 Olympic gymnast Jordyn Wieber said “I never remember feeling like I ever got to make those decisions, even if I had wanted to,” continuing, “the gymnasts don’t have the voice, it’s up to the coaches. And I sometimes describe it as we’re just kind of like robots that do what we’re told.” Wieber, who is now the head gymnastics coach at the University of Arkansas, called Biles “a pioneer,” and Moceanu, who owns and coaches a gymnastics camp, said, “What she did was actually very brave and is a positive sign for the future of the sport.”
All of this would be sufficient to justify the selection of Biles as TIME’s Athlete of the Year for someone who feels such justification is necessary, but there is more. Biles was also one of four gymnasts who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September regarding the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Larry Nassar. While the other three gymnasts—Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Maggie Nichols—were all outstanding gymnasts, with Raisman and Maroney competing in the Olympics, only Biles is still actively competing. She had to testify just a month and a half after the Tokyo Olympics—an Olympics at which she was representing not just the United States, but also USA Gymnastics. Of that, Wieber commented, “I can take some guesses and imagine that it’s probably difficult to represent an organization like USA Gymnastics for her, an organization that has failed her so many times and failed a lot of us. I’m just making assumptions here, but I can imagine that it, it adds to the weight of what she carries with her every day of having to represent that organization.” No doubt Wieber is right, given what Biles said in her testimony:
I believe without a doubt that the circumstances that led to my abuse and allowed it to continue, are directly the result of the fact that the organizations created by Congress to oversee and protect me as an athlete – USA Gymnastics (USAG) and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) – failed to do their jobs.
Later, Biles said, “We suffered and continue to suffer because no one at the FBI, USAG or the USOPC did what was necessary to protect us. We have been failed, and we deserve answers.” As she also pointed out in her statement, Biles was the only athlete at the Tokyo Olympics who was abused by Larry Nassar.
Put the Senate committee testimony and the impact of the Nassar abuse and investigation together with everything else described here and Biles should be an obvious choice for Athlete of the Year, not a choice that is second guessed and mocked.
And yet, mockery and scorn is exactly what Biles is receiving. Not only did Davis write his absurd opinion piece, but The Western Journal published it. The Independent Journal Review then published it, too. So opposed are some to the Biles choice that one tweet that Davis chose to include suggested four other candidates for the recognition—only one of which is an American! It is true that TIME’s Person of the Year is not always an American, but it is, after all, an American magazine, so I think a Serbian tennis player, Australian swimmer and Russian tennis player should take a back seat in this discussion.
Far worse that Davis’s article, however, are the comments on the social media pages for The Western Journal and the Independent Journal Review. One charming individual, for example, said, “she’s a triple winner in the Victimhood Olympics – Female, Black and suffers from anxiety.” Several people commented that it was a “woke” decision. More than one called her a quitter, including one guy who said, “She quit on her teammates and America,” echoed by a lady who commented, “She let our country down and deserves no recognition!!” Not to be outdone, another lady said, “She is a failure and a crybaby who deserves nothing.” Someone named Joseph Casale probably topped them all, though, calling Biles the “coward of the year.”
One of the wonderful freedoms we enjoy in the United States is the freedom of speech, and that means that people have the freedom to say and write stupid things. That means internationally known companies and publications, like TIME, and a guy in front of a keyboard or pecking away at his phone like Jospeh Casale—or me. But I could not sit idly by and watch Biles’ recognition be trashed as some politically correct participation trophy. She deserves the recognition and I commend TIME for the choice. Should she ever (miraculously) see this post, I want Simone Biles to know that I do not think she let down her teammates or America…and I admire her courage.
Unless you have been living under the proverbial rock, you have heard and/or seen the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon!” The use of the phrase began with a NASCAR race on October 2 in Talladega. Driver Brandon Brown was being interviewed by a reporter who suggested that the crowd was chanting “Let’s Go, Brandon!” That was not at all what the crowd was saying, though; turns out the actual words were far less encouraging. In fact, they weren’t even polite. The crowd was actually saying, “F— Joe Biden!” I did not take long for “Let’s Go Brandon!” to catch on as a way of expressing dislike for President Biden.
The only good thing about it is that it does not contain the actual profanity the crowd was chanting, which, sadly, I have seen displayed numerous times in public, often on flags using the same design as pro-Trump banners but with the other words. It was not that long ago that publicly displaying the “f-word” would have been considered extreme and unacceptable. Now people are literally flying it from their front porches.
In an AP article, Colleen Long called “Let’s Go Brandon” the “G-rated substitute for its more vulgar three-word cousin.” The problem is that despite it G-rating, everyone now knows exactly what the phrase means. And precisely because it is, in and of itself, G-rated, people who would never utter what the NASCAR crowd was chanting or fly profanity from their porch are perfectly comfortable displaying and/or being seen with the child-friendly alternative. You can find it on flags, stickers, t-shirts…even “ugly sweaters.”
In the same AP article quoted above, Long pointed out that Republican Rep. Bill Posey of Florida ended a speech on the House floor with the phrase, South Carolina Republican Jeff Duncan wore a “Let’s Go Brandon” face mask at the Capitol, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas posed with a “Let’s Go Brandon” sign at a World Series game and the press secretary for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky retweeted a picture of a sign in Virginia bearing the phrase. Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert famously wore a dress with the phrase on the back to meet with former president Donald Trump. (The dress was also a dig at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Tax the Rich” dress worn to the Met Gala). When Boebert tweeted a picture of herself in the dress standing next to Donald Trump giving a thumbs up, she headlined it with “It’s not a phrase, it’s a movement! #LGB”
In late October a pilot for Southwest Airlines concluded his address to passengers with the phrase. Just a few days ago I saw someone wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase at a Christian school. Jim Innocenzi, a founding partner at Sandler-Innocenzi and a prominent figure in political advertising for the GOP called the phrase “hilarious” and said, “Unless you are living in a cave, you know what it means. But it’s done with a little bit of a class. And if you object and are taking it too seriously, go away.”
Well, I have news for Mr. Innocenzi: G-rated or not, that’s not okay. There is no way to say “f—” with class. Not even a little bit. To normalize such a profane insult toward any elected official, much less the President of the United States, is not appropriate or respectful. While it is true that we enjoy freedom of speech in the United States, and the ability to express our displeasure with and dislike of our elected officials should not be taken for granted or infringed, there is still something to be said for basic decency.
Just yesterday Amanda Prestigiacomo published an article on The Daily Wire in which Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame defended the use of the term. Rowe, according to Prestigiacomo, said that the phrase is “a refutation of not only the president, but of the media and the Left’s effort to change the meaning of language.” I am afraid Mr. Rowe is being too clever by half. While he is correct that much of the American public is growing tired of the mainstream media telling them “that what they’re seeing and what they’re hearing is not what they’re seeing and hearing,” he is bestowing upon “Let’s Go Brandon” far more intention and meaning that it really has. There is zero evidence that Kelli Stavast, the NBC Sports reporter who claimed in the interview with Brandon Brown that the crowd was chanting “Let’s Go Brandon!” did so with any intentionality. Bruce Haring, on Deadline, said that Stavast “is either hard of hearing, or a very, very quick thinker.” There were immediate claims that Stavast was gaslighting the public and that the media would do anything to protect Joe Biden. I suspect, however, that Stavast is not hard of hearing and that her misinterpretation of the chant was not quick thinking on her part. She was trying to conduct an interview. No doubt she had an earpiece in, was trying to hear Brown, and was trying to do all of this with a noisy crowd screaming to be heard on the live camera. Stavast certainly could not repeat what the crowd was actually chanting, and it is entirely plausible that she thought the crowd was showing support for Brown’s first victory. It strains credulity to think that Stavast was intentionally, as Rowe suggests, trying to tell the television audience that they were not hearing what they eventually realized they were hearing.
Later in the Daily Wire piece, Rowe is quoted as saying, “I don’t think people who yell it are necessarily enemies of the president. I think they’re enemies of being told that what they’re seeing and what they’re hearing isn’t real, that it’s somehow a figment of their imagination. People are sick of that.”
I am sure they are. But let’s not try to excuse a euphemistic means of saying “F— Joe Biden” by instilling in the phrase something that it is not. To do so is to do exactly what Rowe claims people are sick of—to claim that what people are saying is not what they are really saying. Stavast was in an of-the-moment situation with conditions that were not ideal. Rowe is speaking a couple of months after the fact, having had plenty of time to think through what he is saying. If anyone is gaslighting here, it is Rowe. He makes valid points that are worthy of attention. Unfortunately, he detracts from a valid and important discussion that needs to be had by claiming that those legitimate concerns are encapsulated in “Let’s Go Brandon.”
So, I have a better idea… Go away, Brandon. Please.