Sacramento’s religious community Tuesday reacted with horror to the pronouncements of a Natomas pastor who praised the Orlando massacre for eliminating “Sodomites.”
The 45-minute sermon Sunday by Roger Jimenez, pastor of a tiny church in a Natomas office park, had gone viral by Tuesday morning, drawing condemnation around the nation. YouTube took down a video of the sermon, saying it violated the site’s ban on hate speech. But another copy was quickly posted.
Jimenez of Verity Baptist Church spoke to reporters briefly Tuesday morning outside his house on River Run Circle in South Natomas. He said he would not back down from his Sunday sermon lauding the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
He said he doesn’t intend to incite people to violence against LGBT people, but said he believes that God has “put a death penalty” on them. He quoted various Bible verses to prove his point, saying that Christianity isn’t just about a loving God but also one who punishes behavior the Bible labels a sin.
“All I’m saying is that when people die who deserve to die, it’s not a tragedy,” he said.
In his Sunday sermon, Jimenez said the killing of 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., “helps society.”
“I think Orlando, Florida, is a little safer tonight. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. I’m kind of upset he didn’t finish the job.”
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson condemned the sermon on Twitter. “The hateful comments made by a preacher in Sacramento do not reflect Christian values and have no place in our society,” Johnson wrote, accompanied by the hashtag “#standwithorlando.”
At the start of his sermon, Jimenez explains that he had intended to preach on another subject Sunday morning, but after hearing news of what happened in Orlando in the early morning hours, he felt compelled to instruct Christians on “the biblical response” to the Pulse nightclub massacre, which also left 53 people wounded.
“There’s no tragedy,” Jimenez said. “I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out.”
The Rev. Donald Lee at First United Baptist Church in Sacramento called Jimenez’s message “heresy.”
“It leaves me speechless that any Christian pastor would say such a thing,” Lee said. “I don’t care what side of the fence you’re on, that’s wrong. All people of faith, Christians, Muslims, Jews, we’re people of peace. We don’t condone violence in any way, and to claim it against a particular group of people – whether they’re gay or Puerto Rican or Mexican or white – is so against our principles. That’s an inflammatory, horrendous remark.”
On Tuesday, a group of more than 700 pastors in the region called the Sacramento City Pastors Fellowship issued a statement in opposition to Jimenez’s sermon. “These comments, applauding the death of innocent people, are completely contrary to the Bible’s teaching and God’s heart,” the pastors wrote. “His statements do not represent Jesus nor hundreds of Sacramento pastors whose hearts have been broken and are praying for the loved ones so tragically affected by this cowardly act.”
Chuck Wysong, senior pastor at Life Community Church, said Jimenez’s hate speech is “polluting to the cause of Christ.”
The Rev. Kristin Stoneking is a lesbian Methodist minister from Davis who serves as executive director for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith peace and justice group with 70 chapters nationwide. She said she fears the sermon and others like it will fuel a conflagration of homophobia.
“The fire has started,” she said. “All of us who believe in peace and love must have the courage to put our buckets on that flame. All of us have seeds of violence and love within us, and what grows is what we water.”
Donald Bentz, executive director of the Sacramento LGBT Community Center, called Jimenez’s sermon “downright scary.”
“His church is a 10-minute drive from where I live,” Bentz said.
The LGBT center hosted a rally for the Florida victims Sunday at 20th and K streets, the heart of Sacramento’s Lavender Heights neighborhood.
Jimenez, Bentz said, is essentially calling for genocide. “When Hitler was starting his campaign against the Jews, he too was saying people are subhuman and don’t matter and it’s OK to murder them. This is how it starts.”
Verity Baptist Church will hold a worship service at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, the first service at the church since Jimenez delivered his incendiary sermon on Sunday. Natasha Fernandez, who lives in Sacramento with her partner and her son, said there will be a peaceful protest outside the church on Wednesday beginning at 6 p.m., and that 60 people are planning to attend.
“I don’t want (Jimenez’s) bigotry and hatred to be representative of how Sacramento is mourning this tragedy,” Fernandez said. “I think there’s too many of us in the community right now who are with Orlando and who stand with Orlando, and we will not let this intolerance represent our city.”
Members of the Sacramento LGBT community and their allies also are planning to protest Verity Baptist Church on Sunday, June 19. The church, according to its website, opens at 10 a.m., and protesters plan to assemble around the entrance at 9:45 a.m. with signs, according to the Facebook event for the protest. Verity Baptist is located in an office park on Northgate Boulevard in an unincorporated part of North Natomas.
On a page of its website titled “What We Believe,” Verity Baptist Church explains that the congregation considers homosexuality to be “an abominaton before God which God punishes with the death penalty.” The page also stipulates that gay individuals are not allowed to attend or join the church.
A promotional video posted on Verity’s website shows an ethnically diverse congregation consisting of a few dozen people sitting on folding chairs at church services. The church has a group to support parents who home-school their children, and says it sends “soul winning” vans of parishioners out into the community to knock on doors and preach Verity’s brand of religion.
The Verity website says the church uses only the King James Version of the Bible.