The evangelical pastor delivering a blessing at Monday’s opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is a “religious bigot” who is unworthy of such an honorary role, Utah Senate hopeful Mitt Romney wrote on Twitter Sunday night.
“Robert Jeffress says ‘you can’t be saved by being a Jew,’ and ‘Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell,’” Romney, who is Mormon, wrote on Twitter Sunday night. “He’s said the same about Islam. Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.”
Dallas pastor Jeffress, who leads Dallas’s First Baptist Church and is also a member of President Donald Trump’s evangelical adviser board, is well-known for sharply critical statements on faiths other than his own, including labeling the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints a “cult.”
Jeffress, on his church’s website, has also written that “Islam is a false religion” and that “if you sincerely follow the tenets of Islam, then you will end up in hell when you die.”
The controversial pastor defended his positions on Twitter as based in deeply held faith rather than bigotry.
“Historic Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that salvation is through faith in Christ alone,” he wrote. “The fact that I, along with tens of millions of evangelical Christians around the world, continue to espouse that belief, is neither bigoted nor newsworthy.”
The opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem was marked Monday by protests in Gaza, where Israeli forces killed at least 16 Palestinians, according to Reuters.
Trump’s decision, announced last year, to make good on a campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was met in almost equal measure by praise from Israeli leaders, who have long considered Jerusalem their capital, and anger from Palestinians, for whom the status of Jerusalem remains a key point in the long-running regional conflict.
Among the Trump administration’s delegation to Monday’s embassy opening were top advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump as well as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has also prompted criticism from other nations who have accused the Trump administration of taking a step that weakens the chances for a regional peace agreement. Diplomats and officials from multiple European countries are expected to skip events related to the embassy opening.