Texas Gov. Rick Perry dedicated the new $130 million campus of First Baptist Church of Dallas, led by Pastor Robert Jeffress, on Sunday, two months after evangelical athlete Tim Tebow canceled his scheduled appearance at the church over controversy regarding Jeffress.
"Let me add my profound, 'Wow!'" Perry said. "This is quite a place, and the way we do it in Texas. It is a beacon – a place where our salt and our light can truly be seen."
While the new campus opened last weekend for services, it was officially dedicated Sunday.
Mark Lovvorn, chair of the new campus Planning and Development Committee, announced that the Committee unanimously voted, unbeknownst to the First Baptist leadership, that the Fountain Plaza, a focal feature in the middle of the campus, will now officially be known as the "Jeffress Fountain Plaza."
Perry told Jeffress that "the fountain that will appropriately have your name on it" in downtown Dallas is "a beautiful place that will draw men and women who need Christ." He added that while people will come for its beauty, they will discover much more. "Thank you for sending a powerful message, not just to this city, state or nation – but to the world. First Baptist Church of Dallas is truly reaching the world with God's love."
In contrast to its splendid new building, First Baptist was once seen as a dying church. But Jeffress is credited for revitalizing the church, which has experienced growth under his leadership. However, some media recently described Jeffress as a "hate-spewing anti-gay, anti-Semitic" preacher.
Perry spoke about the need to be gracious with "sinners," while not specifically referring to any group.
"I think of the woman [in the Bible] who met Jesus at the well," Perry said. "It is not our job to judge souls, but to point people to the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We as fellow sinners will never condemn someone to salvation, but God can use us to show them grace and love them to it."
Honoring the church's past heritage and commitment to Dallas, the service began with an archival video of former First Baptist Pastor Dr. W.A. Criswell in 1974 saying, "It is our desire, under God and the presence of the Lord, to build in the heart of Dallas the most beautiful lighthouse for Christ on this earth."
Dr. David Jeremiah, senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church and host of Turning Point radio and television ministries, was also among the guests.
"If the church is being ignored because we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, that's one thing; but if we are deemed irrelevant because we aren't playing the world's game nearly as well as the world does, then that's a tragedy," Jeremiah said. "If we're going to be attacked or ignored by the world, let it be for turning the world upside down like the early apostles did. Not for trying to become so much like the world that you can't tell the difference between the two."
Apparently due to the negative portrayal of Jeffress by some media, Tebow announced in February that he has canceled his planned visit to the megachurch on April 28.
"While I was looking forward to sharing a message of hope and Christ's unconditional love with the faithful members of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas in April, due to new information that has been brought to my attention, I have decided to cancel my upcoming appearance," Tebow then said. "I will continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring Faith, Hope and Love to all those needing a brighter day. Thank you for all of your love and support. God Bless!"
Located in the heart of downtown Dallas since 1868, First Baptist Dallas opened its state-of-the-art campus last weekend, adding three-quarters of an acre of green space to downtown. It includes the latest features and technological advances for any church.