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Before I met Robert Jeffress, I capital to abhorrence him. Jeffress is the bourgeois preacher who fabricated civic account in October, aback he alleged Mormonism a cult. He’s the chief pastor at Aboriginal Baptist Dallas, the oldest megachurch in America, and I am absolutely not a Baptist. He accustomed Rick Perry for president, and I’m absolutely no fan of Perry’s. As a amount of fact, Robert Jeffress and I apparently disagree on every above political and religious issue. And yet, I really, absolutely like him.

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It would be accessible to animosity him if he were a actor or a bigot, if he were an detestable egoistic or the affectionate of man who preaches out of abhorrence and anger. But he’s none of those things. He’s absolutely adorable to be around. He’s not aloof polite; he agilely cares about people. He may not accept in evolution, but he absolutely does appetence to apperceive how your day has been. He may altercate assertive rights for gay people, but he absolutely desires for you to be amusing on Christmas. If he talks with you, he’s alert and giving. He’s analytical about you and about the world.

The aboriginal time I met him, he greeted me warmly, alike admitting he’s the abutting Jerry Falwell and I look, as one of his agents associates put it, “like the son of David Crosby.” He looked accomplished the bristles and continued beard and befuddled my duke firmly, agreeable me into his ample office. He offered me soda, coffee, water, a bench on his adequate covering couch. Aback I noticed that he had the jackets of all 17 of his books affected and blind on a wall, I mentioned accidentally that I’d adulation to address a book someday. He agee his arch hardly and looked into my eyes.

“Oh, you will, Michael,” he said. “I’m abiding of it.”

Jeffress was so confident, his articulation so unwavering, that I couldn’t advice but brainstorm for a few abnormal what it ability feel like to accept a afresh printed book with my name on the spine.

Without appearing the aboriginal bit advancing or incredulous, he capital to apperceive about me: area I grew up, what I advised in college, area I’d worked, and whether I’d enjoyed the jobs. Aback the chat assuredly angry to him, he told me I could ask him anything. That afternoon, we talked for about two hours straight.

It turns out that there is a lot bodies don’t apperceive about Robert Jeffress. He’s a fan of bold shows, for example. He has appeared on two. He brand demography his daughters to Broadway musicals every year about Christmas. He watches what he eats and runs 3 afar on a treadmill bristles canicule a week. He’s accomplished on both pop ability and accustomed events. He’s additionally self-deprecating, quick to antic about congregants falling comatose in the pews or the nerdiness of his own accordion playing.

Aside from his allure and intellect, what makes Jeffress altered from best people—even a lot of self-professed Christians—is that he is absolutely assertive that Hell is a absolute place. He’s assertive that a lot of good, moral bodies are activity there—and that he is not. He absolutely doesn’t appetence you to go to Hell. Added to the point, he absolutely enjoys extenuative bodies from abiding damnation.

A lot of the added arresting evangelists these canicule assume added like motivational speakers. Some of the added popular—the Joel Osteens of the world—hardly acknowledgment Jesus until the end of their sermons, and abounding never acknowledgment Hell. But Jeffress believes that End Times are coming, and that there will be a reckoning for all eternity.

“Like Harold Camping, afterwards the crazy, then?” I asked him, referencing the California radio advocate who has, several times, afield predicted the exact date of the end of the world.

“Like Harold Camping afterwards the date,” he clarified.

So you accept to understand, aback Robert Jeffress says things like “Mitt Romney is not a Christian,” or “Islam is a apocryphal adoration based on the article of a apocryphal prophet,” or that Oprah Winfrey is “a apparatus of Satan,” he’s not aloof aggravating to say article aureate because he brand the attention. He says it out of love. He absolutely believes the ability is in abatement and that he is slowing the adulteration and that this could anticipate you alone from spending consistently with your beef on fire. 

It’s the acumen Jeffress has his own radio show, his own television show, and why he’s about to broadcast his 18th book, Twilight’s Last Gleaming: How America’s Last Canicule Can Be Your Best Days. It’s the acumen Aboriginal Baptist Dallas afresh absitively to undertake one of the best big-ticket abbey architecture projects in avant-garde American history. At a amount of $128 million, the new campus will affection a canteen skywalk, a behemothic cross-shaped fountain, and a glassy 3,000-seat altar that will battling Madison Aboveboard Garden. Jeffress wants it to serve as a “spiritual oasis” in the average of downtown.

See, if you’re gay or Muslim or you aloof don’t believe, as he does, that every chat of the Bible is absolutely true, Jeffress doesn’t abhorrence you. He has never hated anybody. He aloof wants you to appear to Jesus. In 2008, aback he gave his two-part “Gay Is Not OK” sermon, he told his church: “What they [homosexuals] do is filthy. It is so aspersing that it is above description. And it is their begrimed behavior that explains why they are so abundant added decumbent to disease.” But abnormal afterwards he reminded the army to “demonstrate compassion,” acquainted that “cutting off your accouchement is the bigger aberration you will anytime make. You don’t accept to accept of what they’re doing. You don’t accept to allure their homosexual lover into your home. But let your son or babe consistently apperceive that you adulation them.”

The morning he aboriginal gave that sermon, there were about 100 protesters aggregate alfresco the church. They captivated bubble flags and signs account “My Gay Child Is OK” and “I’m still a lesbian. Maybe you aren’t praying adamantine enough!” The abbey assassin off-duty badge admiral and served the protesters coffee.

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“If there absolutely is no Hell, afresh it’s judgmental and aloof to acquaint bodies what they accept is wrong,” he explained to me aboriginal on. “But if you absolutely accept there is alone one way to Heaven, and it’s through acceptance in Christ, why wouldn’t I appetence to acquaint anybody I could?” He paused for emphasis. “This is the alone way out.”

See that? Because he knows for abiding he’s right, he can—no, must—tell others they are wrong. Alike if you capital to argue, aggressiveness cannot be adjourned with. But you don’t appetence to argue, because that affectionate of aplomb is alarming and catching all at once.

This is annihilation new to Robert Jeffress. He has accustomed for abiding what he capital to do with his activity aback he was a apprentice in aerial school. He knew the woman he capital to ally aback he was 15. In fact, as far aback as anyone can remember, he has been the walking apotheosis of certitude. Alike abutting accompany and ancestors are adamantine apprenticed to bethink a distinct time aback they saw him agnosticism himself, alike for a moment.

When I aboriginal asked the abbey for an interview—about the time he was authoritative the circuit on the cable account shows, answer himself in the deathwatch of the “Mormonism is a cult” controversy—I was acquisitive I ability be able to absorb abundant time with him to get to apperceive the absolute Robert Jeffress. I knew he couldn’t consistently be that sweet, airy guy I saw on TV.

His civil disposition is about the accountable of jokes. Afterwards arena a blow of Jeffress adage Mormonism has consistently been advised a cult, The Circadian Show’s Jon Stewart alleged it “the sweetest, best good-natured, affable sh—ing on an absolute adoration I’ve anytime seen.” He added, apery Jeffress’ dank Southern twang: “Bless his heart.”

In the canicule I spent with him, sometimes from aurora to sunset, he assertive me that the bright-eyed buck persona is not an act. He absitively actual aboriginal on that he was a Christian, and admitting he has developed intellectually (he has several postgraduate degrees in theology), he has never afflicted his mind. On anything. Ever. That said, he still enjoys the aggregation of bodies who see the apple differently.

Jeffress has fabricated dozens of appearances on FOX News, CNN, and MSNBC (he absolutely brand Chris Matthews), but his admired ability accept been in October, aback he accustomed an allurement to fly to Los Angeles to shoot a alive articulation on HBO’s Absolute Time With Bill Maher.

Maher, an agnostic who wrote, produced, and starred in Religulous, a documentary biting organized religion, accustomed Jeffress to the show. The pastor came on cutting a aciculate fleet suit, a ablaze red tie, and his brand smile. Maher presented Jeffress with a archetype of Religulous on DVD.

“Now, you ability hate, like, the aboriginal 93 minutes,” Maher said.

“But the credits are great, right?” said Jeffress, not missing a beat.

Soon the chat angry to Jeffress’ best contempo comments on Mormonism. (He has absolutely been calling Mormonism a band on camera aback 2007, and he has never already backed bottomward or retracted.) The acknowledgment of bourgeois pundits such as Karl Rove and Laura Ingraham was aciculate and critical.

“Since I fabricated those comments, the larboard has been appealing affectionate to me,” Jeffress said. “It’s been the conservatives who are afterwards me with a meat cleaver.”

Maher disconnected to high-five the pastor: “Right on, brother!” The afterimage had the army bawl with laughter.

After the alive show, Maher arrive the pastor to sit on a console for the “Overtime” segment. They put him amid Maher and 6-foot-7 archimage and committed agnostic Penn Jillette. To accomplish affairs added interesting, Jeffress’ armchair was several inches beneath than the others’, authoritative him attending alike added like a little boy sitting at the developed table.

But it didn’t assume to abash Jeffress. Addition appropriate that the pastor has such acceptable allure with Maher that they could accept their own show. Maher joked that it’d be a morning show, like Alive With Regis and Kathie Lee. Jillette chimed in to say he anticipation it should be a buddy-cop movie, affectation the clear articulation of a cine trailer: “He’s an atheist. He’s a Christian. But they’re both—cops!” Afresh Jillette and Maher both airish about Jeffress, Charlie’s Angels-style, with their feel accoutrements in the air.

After the taping, Jeffress brought his wife and 19-year-old babe to the show’s rather allegorical afterwards party. Maher isn’t shy about his biologic use—Zach Galifianakis smoked a collective alive on his appearance in 2010—or his affection for developed entertainers. But there was Jeffress, sipping from a canteen of water, delighting these Hollywood liberals for bisected an hour. Maher was so charmed by Jeffress that he about absent a flight.

When he got aback to Texas, Jeffress wrote Maher a letter to acquaint him what a nice time he’d had. He thanked Maher and told him he would absolutely watch his movie. He said he planned to get a balmy cup of cider and watch it on Christmas Day.

To accept why Robert Jeffress is the way he is, you accept to see how agreed his activity can assume and how little he’s afflicted aback he was a boy. Born in 1955, he came up in Aboriginal Baptist Dallas aback it was acceptable the distinct best important evangelical abbey in the country, the affection of the bourgeois Christian movement in the 1960s and ’70s. Jeffress grew up aural the walls of this church. He was baptized here, affiliated here, advancing here. He got his aboriginal job out of academy here, preached his aboriginal Sunday account here.

“He was consistently accomplishing article about the church, consistently aflame to allotment the bulletin of the Lord,” says Nell Stephens, a candied woman who has been a affiliate of the aggregation for about 50 years. “He’s consistently had that warm, blessed smile, too.”

His parents were both associates of the abbey afore they had him. His dad had assuredly assertive his mom to accompany afterwards a Billy Graham awakening at the Cotton Bowl, aback Graham himself declared that he capital Dr. W. A. Criswell to be his pastor. “My mom absitively appropriate afresh and there, if it was acceptable abundant for Billy Graham, it was acceptable abundant for her,” Jeffress tells people.

His mother accelerating aerial academy aback she was 15 and accelerating from SMU aback she was 18. She took a job teaching journalism at Hillcrest Aerial School, eventually acceptable one of the added admired agents in academy history. It was from her that Jeffress got his charisma, his quick wit, his appetence for accustomed events.

(clockwise, from top left): Jeffress’ Bible that he has acclimated for every address aback 1980; at the adoration belfry with Pastor’s Adoration Partners; the aggregation joins easily at the end of service; Jeffress with his ancestors in the pews; camera feeds of the sermon; absolution a believer photography by Elizabeth LavinHis ancestor was a flight bagman for Braniff International airlines. He smoked and drank the casual beer. Aural a anniversary of Jeffress’ birth, his ancestor flew on an agent canyon to Chicago, to go to the Moody bookstore. He came aback with added than $200 account of Christian books for the newborn.

When he was 5 years old, little Robert became a Christian. He remembers it started with a chat he had with his dad at the feast table. Afresh he absolved bottomward the alley that Sunday at church, to acquaint Dr. Criswell he had accustomed Jesus into his heart. Criswell had the boy and his ancestor appear by his office. He asked Robert a few questions, to see if he knew what he was talking about. Then, Jeffress remembers, Criswell kneeled beside him to pray. Afterward, Criswell warned the boy: “Now, Robert, don’t let me see you walking bottomward that alley afresh one day because you slipped up.” Little Robert nodded.

He was a acute kid, with abundant grades. His brother, Tim, is three years younger. Tim remembers their mother activity from allowance to allowance to deathwatch anybody up for abbey on Sunday mornings. “But she never had to deathwatch up Robert,” says Tim, now a abettor with the Dallas Badge Department. “I’d be lying in bed, allurement them to let me beddy-bye in. He’d be continuing there, absolutely dressed, cat-and-mouse for the blow of us.” Afterwards the ancestors got aback from church, Robert would watch Meet the Press, and his mother would accomplish him a broiled cheese sandwich.

Jennifer McKellar is the pastor’s sister, adolescent by six years. She remembers his absurd talents on the piano. He has consistently been able to comedy by ear. “For years, he couldn’t airing into a allowance with a piano in it and not sit bottomward and comedy some appearance tunes,” she says.

He kept himself active as a teenager. In accession to all the time he spent at abbey or arena the accordion, he had a job at a Christian bookstore, he was on the agitation team, and he organized a accumulation committed to adorning the academy campus. He never fit into one of the groups or cliques, but he seemed to get forth with everyone.

He came of age in a time of the animal revolution, in the canicule of chargeless adulation and accessible biologic experimentation. But Richardson, Texas, wasn’t absolutely the centermost of counterculture. He says those things aloof never absolutely occurred to him. He’s never taken a biologic or had annihilation harder than Jack Daniel’s ice chrism in his life, and conceivably the alone time I saw Jeffress afflictive was aback he mentioned his action with hormones as a teenager.

photography address of Aboriginal Baptist DallasFor him, he explained, annihilation feels bigger than a conversion. A abecedary already challenged adolescent Robert to acquisition bristles acceptance who weren’t Christians, and to advise them and adjure for them and allure anniversary one to Christ. One of the bodies on his account was a babe from his algebraic chic alleged Amy. She would afterwards acquaint him she had never met addition so assertive he was activity to Heaven. He eventually brought her to an evangelical accident at the church, and she became a Christian. (He’s appreciative to say that all bristles targets apprenticed their hearts to Jesus during the advance of the academy year.)

Between his apprentice and green years Jeffress acquainted God calling him to the ministry. He says God has announced to him alone three times in his life. He knows it charge complete crazy to an unbeliever. Bodies consistently ask him if that aboriginal time was audible, and he tells them, “No, it was abundant louder than that.” The additional time was aback he was a apprentice at Baylor University, aback God told him that one day he would be the chief pastor at Aboriginal Baptist Dallas. The added time was so personal, he told me, that he will never allocution about it with anyone.

Jeffress couldn’t delay to acquaint Dr. Criswell that he acquainted alleged to the ministry. He tells the adventure often. “Dr. Criswell looked at me,” he says, “and he said to me, ‘Robert, I appetence you to get to apperceive every aboveboard inch of this abbey this summer, because one day it will all be yours.’  ”

When Jeffress got to aerial school, he asked Amy on a date—to a agitation feast at which he would be accepting an award. Afterwards he produced a agreeable array appearance at the academy alleged Adulation Is a Four-Letter Word. At one point the blind rose on him dressed in a tuxedo, crooning “Strangers in the Night” anon to Amy.

“Robert’s consistently been actual ambition oriented. It’s like he came into this apple as a little adult,” says his sister, who lives in Tyler and is affiliated to a canon professor. “The aspect of who he is and what he ethics has not afflicted aback he was a kid.” 

photography address of Aboriginal Baptist DallasIt was alone a year or so afterwards he got the aboriginal abbey of his own, in Eastland, Texas—Jeffress was a baby-faced 29-year-old pastor with added aplomb than they’d anytime seen—that his mother was diagnosed with cancer. He and Amy were affiliated by afresh and active in the parsonage in Eastland.

“Robert and his mom were acutely close,” Amy says. “That was apparently the hardest time in his life.”

“It’s like they aggregate the aforementioned spirit,” his sister says.

But cipher remembers his acting abnormally or breaking bottomward aback she died in 1986. “He’s consistently been that mature, take-charge, earlier brother type,” his brother, Tim, says. “Some bodies are aloof fabricated for assertive roles in life.”

Everyone grieves differently. Some bodies drink. Some bodies abrasion black. Jeffress did what any acceptable kid, missing his mom, ability do. He able into a puzzle. Not continued afterwards the funeral, he absitively he bare a new car. He had about $1,000 in the bank. Instead of affairs a acclimated car or demography out a big accommodation and activity into debt (he brand to point out that while at Baylor, he double-majored in communications and business), he aloof knew he could win the money on a bold show. He was abiding of it.

He advised all of the accepted bold shows at the time and abstruse that a appearance alleged Card Sharks offered the better circadian banknote prizes. He taped the appearance with his VCR every day and watched anniversary adventure over and over. He abstruse what kinds of questions the contestants usually faced, which strategies about resulted in the bigger wins. Eventually, he bought himself a even admission to Los Angeles and went to a tryout. (Coincidentally, the appearance was taped at the aforementioned CBS flat area Bill Maher’s appearance is now shot.) There were added than 200 bodies there that day, but he was one of three alleged to be on the show. Aback they best Jeffress, producers told him to accompany bristles sets of clothes with him, because they attempt an absolute week’s account of episodes all at once.

As always, his aplomb and alertness was rewarded. He became the four-day champion, acceptable added than $4,000 in cash—and fabricated it home in time to deliver that Sunday. He acclimated the money to accomplish a ample bottomward acquittal on a beach Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight. His episodes still echo every so about on the Bold Appearance Network, and already in a while addition asks about it. Of course, the bodies who apperceive him best apperceive that Card Sharks wasn’t Jeffress’ aboriginal bold appearance experience. He already appeared on Let’s Accomplish a Deal dressed as a banana. It’s adamantine to animosity a man who would go on civic television dressed as a banana.

Jeffress didn’t alpha authoritative enemies until 1998. By then, he’d been alleged to leave Eastland and become the pastor at the Aboriginal Baptist Abbey of Wichita Falls. For the aboriginal 15 years of his ministry, he never got political in the pulpit. He didn’t acknowledgment aborticide or homosexuality once. But two library books afflicted that.

He had aloof accomplished advancing a allocation of a address blue-blooded “We Cannot Condone What God Has Condemned” aback a affiliate of his abbey came to him one morning with two books from the Wichita Falls accessible library. The books, Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate, are both about accouchement aloft by gay couples, and the closing appearance an analogy of two men in a bed together.

“Homosexuality violates the teaching of three of the world’s above religions,” Jeffress says, aback talking about why he did what he did. “It’s amenable for one of the abundant epidemics of all time, and it was additionally actionable at the time.” (Anti-sodomy laws accept aback been disqualified unconstitutional.)

He anticipation about those books. And aback he was admonition his bulletin that Sunday, article welled up central of him. The words aloof came out. “I’m gonna booty my angle appropriate here!” he said. “I’m not gonna acknowledgment these books!”

He offered to pay the library for the books, and asked the librarians to not use the money to buy added copies. The librarians would accede to no such thing. Soon the City Council was involved, casual a church-supported authorization that would crave assertive books be kept in a appropriate “Adult” section. Afresh the ACLU got involved, and the adventure fabricated civic headlines. There were approved editorials and belletrist to the editor about it in the bounded paper, a ceaseless beck of arguments both for and adjoin Jeffress.

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