Pastor Robert Jeffress’ prominent Texas megachurch, First Baptist Dallas, held its annual “Freedom Sunday” to celebrate national heritage a week ahead of Independence Day.
The observance, controversial for its focus on American patriotism, featured a 200-voice choir and orchestra and remarks by conservative Christian writer Dave Barton. Barton spoke about the Christian beliefs that most of the United States’ Founding Fathers confessed.
Jeffress, a Fox News contributor and one of former President Donald Trump's earliest evangelical supporters, told The Christian Post that the service had three purposes.
Those purposes are “to express gratitude to God for His blessings on our country, to acknowledge the Christian foundation upon which our country was built and to declare our nation’s duty to obey God if we are to enjoy God’s continued blessing.”
“We make it clear every year at our ‘Celebrate Freedom’ service that we are not worshipping America, but we are worshipping the God who has blessed America,” Jeffress said.
“Furthermore, we always declare that our future blessing as a nation is conditioned upon our obedience to God. We close every ‘Celebrate Freedom’ service as we do every service at First Baptist Church, Dallas, with an explanation of the Gospel and an invitation to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior.”
The church could not hold the patriotic service next Sunday, the Fourth of July, because many members of the choir and orchestra, whose music is an integral part of the service, will be traveling that day.
As for the July Fourth service this year, Jeffress explained that it would be more like a typical Sunday service except for the congregation’s plan to sing “God Bless America” at the end of worship.
Over the years, First Baptist Dallas has garnered attention for its annual Freedom Sunday observance, which generally falls on the Sunday closest to July 4.
On Freedom Sunday 2018, Jeffress preached a sermon centered on showing how the U.S. was founded to be a Christian nation.
"America was founded predominantly, not exclusively, but predominantly by Christians who wanted to build this foundation of Christian nation on the foundation of God's will," stated Jeffress during the 2018 observance.
"Furthermore, these men believed that the future success of our country depended upon our fidelity to the Christian beliefs. ... Our future success depends on our country being faithful to those eternal truths."
Last year, the observance was held with some in-person restrictions enacted due to the pandemic, with then-Vice President Mike Pence delivering remarks before a reported 2,200 worshipers.
“The Bible tells us it was for freedom that Christ set us free,” stated Pence at the time, as reported by Baptist Press. “As you celebrate freedom in this coming week, practice prayer in a renewed way.”
The annual service has faced its share of critics, both liberal and conservative. Among the critics is bestselling conservative Christian author Rod Dreher, who labeled the event "a form of idolatry."
"... you couldn't pay me to sit there and listen to Jeffress preach that poke-in-the-eye patriotism on Sunday, and partake in his church's glorification of the war machine, under the guise of a 'salute to the armed forces,'" wrote Dreher in 2018.
“Jeffress says his sermon is going to be about what he believes are the evangelical Christian foundations of the United States. This is a historically shaky thesis, to say the least, and I’m on the record saying that America is a ‘post-Christian nation’…”