As coronavirus cases in Texas surge, Vice President Mike Pence spoke on Sunday at an indoor service at a Dallas megachurch run by Pastor Robert Jeffress, who has a well-documented history of making racist and homophobic remarks.
Jeffress once claimed that gay people “molest children,” called gay people “filthy” and wrote that “homosexuality is a perversion.”
Gov. Greg Abbott, Housing Secretary Ben Carson, and Sen. John Cornyn, and joined the vice president at First Baptist Dallas for an event dubbed Celebrate Freedom Sunday.
Thank you @VP @Mike_Pence for a powerful, inspiring message at First Baptist Dallas today that all Americans need to hear! Millions of Christians are grateful for you and for our tremendous President @realDonaldTrump! pic.twitter.com/h05lrZmN0a
— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) June 28, 2020
Pastor Jeffress, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump who has acted as his informal faith advisor, called the event “our annual patriotic service” in which his church celebrates “God’s unique blessings on our country.”
Have a good time this morning at First Baptist Dallas Church. The wonderful Pastor @robertjeffress will be joined by our GREAT @VP Mike Pence!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2020
An estimated 2,200 people were expected to worship inside the main sanctuary, with between 1,500 and 2,000 people in overflow rooms across the church’s six-block campus in downtown Dallas even as coronavirus cases continue to surge in Texas, overwhelming some hospitals in the Houston area.
Jeffress told a local news channel that the church would take worshipers’ temperatures and strongly encouraged masks and social distancing.
As Mother Jones reports: “Pence’s visit to Texas comes as the state is experiencing a post-reopening wave of the coronavirus. Two months ago, Gov. Abbott announced one of the nation’s earliest and quickest reopening plans. But the past two weeks saw record hospitalization rates, with local officials considering using convention centers and stadiums for overflow capacity. In total, there have been around 150,000 COVID-19 cases and 2,400 deaths in Texas.”
Abbott reversed course on his reopening plan Friday, shutting bars back down, scaling back restaurant capacity to 50 percent, and prohibiting outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people unless local officials approved.
“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” he said in a press release. “The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health.”