Small Palm Sunday processions imitating Jesus’ trek into Jerusalem aren’t uncommon for Christian churches, but First Baptist Dallas doesn’t do small.
Nearly 3,000 church members and visitors joined First Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress on Sunday evening to march from the downtown Dallas church to Klyde Warren Park, where they raised a large LED cross, sang with famed gospel artist Sandi Patty, and gave away dozens of books.
Though the annual march celebrates Christian teachings about salvation, organizers compared this year’s march to Saturday’s March for Our Lives, a nationwide demonstration for legislation to address gun violence.
“It was my idea although our march had been planned for more than a year,” Jeffress wrote in an email. “It was coincidence that it was scheduled on the same weekend [as the March for Our Lives] but — perhaps — it was providence.”
Earlier on Sunday, Jeffress told Fox & Friends viewers “for the first 150 years of our nation’s history, our school children prayed, they read Scripture in school, they even memorized the Ten Commandments, including the commandment ‘Thou shall not kill.'”
Prayers and speeches at the march didn’t address the topic, but churchgoers say Jeffress praised the march in his morning service.
The pastor, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, says spiritual change is the first, but not the only, step in addressing violence. While the church has no official stance, Jeffress says “99 percent of of our people” disagree with The Supreme Court’s decision in Engel v. Vitale that official school prayer is unconstitutional, the ruling against mandatory Bible readings in Abington v. Schempp, and the decision prohibiting posting the Ten Commandments in public schools from Stone v. Graham.
Students at the march agreed that spiritual matters are the most important of their concerns, but were content with the church’s scope of authority.
Skyline High School sophomore Sergio Daniel Ramirez and his family joined First Baptist Dallas four months ago. He says the church has transformed his personal spiritual life as well as his views on gun legislation and religion in schools. He’d support stricter age limits on gun ownership, raised prices for bullets, and more support programs for victims and their families.
More spiritual opportunities in school would also be helpful, he says, but that the school should not promote any one belief. For that, he has his church.
“Every message you learn in church really sticks with you, if you read between the lines and you pay attention,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez was glad his school held a moment of silence after the Parkland, Fla. shooting that killed 17 and spurred their classmates to call for gun control legislation.
“[Jesus] died for us to do good things and to speak His word,” Ramirez said. “He didn’t die for us just to hold a firearm.”
Hildana Bereket said her fellow students at Clark High School in Plano planned a walk-out, but she didn’t participate.
The freshman has been active with First Baptist Dallas’ programs for years, and said this year’s march attendance reflects the increased attendance in student ministry and outreach programs.
“Our youth group focuses more on the things we’re dealing with and the things we’re seeing in school, in order to respond in a Biblical way,” Bereket said. “It’s based on what’s going on in the school system and what’s going on in our lives currently.”
The point of this isn’t to go change somebody else’s belief,” Bereket said. “It’s supposed to show what we believe.”
And what they believe has more permanent implications than legislation.
“The Bible gives us all the information our world needs to remedy most everything that’s wrong with our society,” Executive Pastor of Ministries Ryland Whitehorn said. “[But tonight] we want to share with Dallas that Jesus Christ can change our lives eternally.”