He also insisted President Donald Trump “is not a racist.”
One of President Donald Trump’s most vocal religious advisers waded into the NFL protest controversy this morning, saying those who kneel during the national anthem in a silent protest against racism should “thank God” they aren’t “shot in the head” as he believes they would be for protesting in North Korea.
Texas pastor Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist who heads up First Baptist Church in Dallas, made the comments during a Fox & Friends segment Monday morning. After claiming the widespread protests over the weekend disrespected “our country” and “our leaders,” he attempted to link the controversy to North Korea.
“I think what these players are doing is absolutely wrong,” Jeffress said. “These players ought to be thanking God that they live in a country where they’re not only free to earn millions of dollars every year, but they’re also free from the worry of being shot in the head for taking a knee like they would be if they were in North Korea.”
Jeffress’ exact point was not immediately clear, and was not repeated by pastor and former NFL player Michel Faulkner, his fellow guest on the show. By citing North Korea’s history of human rights abuses—which include ruthlessly punishing political dissent—to condemn Americans exercising their constitutional right to protest, Jeffress appeared to undermine his own argument. Jeffress did not return ThinkProgress’ requests for clarification.
“These players ought to be thanking God that they live in a country where they’re not only free to earn millions of dollars every year, but they’re also free from the worry of being shot in the head for taking a knee like they would be if they were in North Korea.”
The pastor also sought to contrast the NFL protests with a football coach who was allegedly fired for praying and a conservative Christian couple in Oregon who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple, saying “they didn’t respond [to frustration in society] by calling then-president Barack Obama a ‘bum.’”
Here, too, Jeffress’ point was difficult to discern. He appeared to be referencing LeBron James’ tweet criticizing the president for rescinding a White House invitation to Stephen Curry and the rest of Gold State Warriors basketball team, somewhat of a separate controversy that played out this past weekend. But while the Oregon bakers, who are now the subject of a Supreme Court case, have not referred to Obama as a “bum,” Jeffress did not mention his own staunch criticism of the former president: he once wrote that Obama’s support for same-sex marriage was “paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist.”
Despite his uneven arguments, the pastor was unequivocal in his support for Donald Trump. Jeffress, whose choir once sang a hymn-like tune entitled “Make America Great Again”, insisted the president was right to criticize the NFL players who demonstrated. And while NFL star Colin Kaepernick has made clear that his original kneeling protest is rooted in a critique of racial injustice, Jeffress repeated Trump’s claim that the controversy “has nothing to do with race.”