Robert Jeffress and Catholicism: What does he really think?

Robert Jeffres is not afraid of courting controversy.

The conservative evangelical pastor who has become one of Donald Trump's most outspoken supporters is the man who said the Bible gave Trump moral authority to bomb North Korea and 'take out King Jong-Un'.

The Dallas First Baptist Church pastor said 'God is not an open borders sort of guy' as his defence for Trump's Muslim ban and rushed to the President's side after he refused to single out white supremacists for blame after pro-Nazi protesters killed one woman in Charlottesville.

YouTube: First Baptist DallasRobert Jeffress interviewed Fox News' Sean Hannity during his Sunday worship service at First Baptist Dallas

Now the megachurch leader has interviewed Fox News host Sean Hannity at his Sunday worship service. They discussed politics, Hannity's faith, and a Christian film Hannity is promoting Let There be Light.

But aside from the tensions around inviting a conservative political commentator into a church service, which was heavily criticised by many including other conservative Christians, is the tensions around Hannity's Christianity.

Sean Hannity is a Catholic. And Catholicism is one of many topics on which Jeffress has voiced his extensive opinions.

In 2011 Jeffress described Catholicism as a Babylonian mystery religion 'that spread like a cult around the entire world' and 'infected the early Church' and 'corrupted' it.

He described it as a 'cult-like, pagan religion' and showing 'the genuis of Satan'.

He said: 'Today the Roman Catholic Church is the result of that corruption. Much of what you see in the Catholic Church today doesn't come from God's word. It comes from this cult-like pagan religion.

'You say, "Well now pastor how can you say such a thing? That is such an indictment of the Catholic Church." After all, the Catholic Church talks about God and the Bible and Jesus and the blood of Christ and salvation. Isn't that the genius of Satan?'

Jeffress insists his comments have been taken out of context but you can listen to an extract from the sermon and it is far from a few isolated remarks.

But none of this ire was evident in Jeffress' interview with Hannity on Sunday and afterwards he issued a statement clarifying his views on Catholicism and saying he considered Hannity a 'fellow Christian'.

In a revealing and much more balanced analysis, he told RNS: 'There will be millions of Catholics in heaven who have put their faith in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. There will also be millions of Baptists in hell who have not put their faith in Christ.'

Viewing the institutional Catholic Church as a 'cult' is not, surprisingly, an uncommon view for evangelicals such as Jeffress. Aside from the political differences, the theological differences over authority, church order and biblical interpretation are vast. So it is not surprising that Jeffress branded the Roman Catholic Church a 'cult-like, pagan religion' and 'the genuis of Satan'.

But his latest clarifying statement is revealing. 

While he may not have much time for the broader Catholic Church, Jeffress is clear he still respects individual Catholics. It is, he says, about someone's individual faith in Christ rather than the denomination they belong to. Even Baptists, he says, could miss out on paradise. 

And that, really, is not an uncontroversial evangelical view. 

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