Divergent views of Christian faith found voice inside and outside a controversial Sacramento-area church that hosted what it called a “Red Hot Preaching Conference” starting Thursday evening.
Inside the Verity Baptist Church on Northgate Boulevard, Steven Anderson, pastor of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Ariz., spoke on signs of the end times, while outside about dozen members of the LGBT community and their supporters staged a largely silent protest.
Verity Baptist has been targeted by protesters since a recorded sermon by its pastor, Roger Jimenez, praising the killings of 49 people in an Orlando gay nightclub, went viral online last month. He lauded the killing of “Sodomites,” and protesters anticipated more of such preaching during the four-day conference.
Dusty Arnold, who said he is bisexual, Christian and an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church, said the message of Verity Baptist runs counter to Christ’s command to love one another. Arnold, along with friend Don McCormick, launched the “Kiss Away Hate” campaign to counter what he considers hardline preachers’ messages of hate.
For many in the LGBT community, he said, “it is hard to go to church and feel accepted.”
Inside the church, about 200 people turned out for the conference. Members of the congregation defended their pastor, saying he preaches what people need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. They said he offers messages based on the King James Bible, which they view as an unadulterated version of scripture.
A 37-year-old mother of two children, who declined to give her name said that at other churches she has attended, people would “pat you on the back until you walk off a cliff.” Pastor Jimenez, she said, had taught her to live as a Christian woman.
The audience included people from as far away as New Zealand: Logan Robertson and Samuel Frances said they were drawn to the conference by the pastors’ “unique” preaching style.
Anderson in his sermon cited as signs of the end times NATO as a world government, electronic payments instead of cash and new-age religions that mingle philosophies.
Anderson said he and like-minded believers didn’t necessarily focus on homosexuality but felt inundated on the issue by the media and society.
“This fight has come to us, and you know what I say: bring it on,” he said.
Anderson said he was impressed when he saw Jimenez facing off with protestors on television.
“I’m thinking he looks good on there,” the preacher said.
Anderson says on his website that he was born and raised in Sacramento. The church he founded in Tempe is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
He drew the attention of a British Broadcasting Corp. crew doing a documentary on hardline preachers. Georgia Sawyer, the documentary’s assistant director, said they have been following Anderson for about two months. They also interviewed members of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Arnold and McCormick said they issued an invitation to the pastors through the BBC crew to sit down and talk about their respective beliefs, but they were told the pastors were too busy.
Among those standing vigil with the protesters Thursday evening was Bishoy Abdelshaid, who said he and two other people have been protesting outside the church at nearly every service since Jimenez’s sermon on the Orlando shootings. Abdelshaid said he is not gay and belongs to Saint Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in Roseville. He said he felt compelled to defend the protesters and defend Christ.
Abdelshaid said had planned to go inside and listen to Anderson’s sermon, but he was turned away because of his hair – a punk style – and tattoos on his arms. The tattoos, he said, are Bible verses written in Arabic because he is from Egypt.