Protesters chant outside Sacramento church whose pastor praised mass shooting in Orlando
The controversial local preacher who praised the killings of 49 people in an Orlando gay nightclub last month has organized a gathering of like-minded pastors in Sacramento next week, including one who made national headlines in 2009 when he promised to pray for the death of President Barack Obama.
The four-day event, called the “Red Hot Preaching Conference,” is being organized by Verity Baptist Church preacher Roger Jimenez. The morning after the Orlando massacre, Jimenez praised the killings for eliminating “Sodomites” during a 45-minute sermon at his tiny church in a Natomas office park.
Jimenez said next week’s conference is a gathering of “preachers that believe the same things and became friends,” and he expects more protests.
Local leaders made clear Friday that they reject the views expressed by Jimenez and the preachers he invited. In a statement, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said, “I join other faith leaders, officials and community members to clearly say: Sacramento does not have a welcome mat for hate.”
The most controversial of the conference’s four pastors may be Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Ariz. Faithful Word, which Anderson founded on Christmas 2005, is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
“Steven Anderson is a one-man hate factory posing as a representative of Jesus Christ,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the SPLC.
Potok added that classifying Anderson’s church as a hate group was “one of the easiest listings we’ve ever done ... Anderson is so completely over the top.”
Anderson, who says on his website that he was born and raised in Sacramento, made national headlines in 2009 when one of his sermons about the president, “Why I Hate Barack Obama,” went viral. In it, he said, “I’m going to pray that he dies and goes to hell.”
He has also posted anti-Semitic sermons and been condemned by the Anti-Defamation League.
Jimenez said he is expecting up to 350 people to attend the conference, including a news crew from the British Broadcasting Corporation. But he does not have exact numbers because there is no formal registration process. He said that he has heard from individuals as far away as Canada who plan on traveling to the event.
Jimenez said that a different preacher will take the pulpit each day, ending with his own sermon on Sunday. He doesn’t know what he will speak about, he said, because he doesn’t want to repeat the preachers before him.
“It will be red hot, I will tell you that,” said Jimenez. “It will be controversial. I’m going to preach the Bible.”
At least one local activist is organizing a response. Corey “Dusty” Arnold, who describes himself as a bisexual Christian and ordained minister with the Universal Life Church, started a “kiss away hate” campaign that will hold peaceful events outside of the church during the conference, including a same-sex kiss-in, he said. Another group is planning a similar kissing event at the state Capitol on Friday, according to a Facebook post.
“I want to make a voice and show these false pastors that how they are teaching…is not right,” said Arnold. “This needs to stop because we are supposed to love each other and Jesus Christ actually sat down and ate dinner with sinners. ... These pastors coming in, to me, it drives my blood to a boiling point.”
Other activists in town are hoping Jimenez doesn’t get more attention.
“It’s just very frustrating because I feel like our social media and general media is so filled with outrage … it doesn’t really help anyone,” said Tre Borden, a board member of the Sacramento LGBT community center. “It’s easy to go and scream outside of a hateful preacher’s facility. ... I don’t believe doing something is better than doing nothing.”
Jimenez said that he is not bothered by the controversy.
“The fight of our day, I believe, is this homosexual transgender agenda,” he said. “So, yeah, we’re going to stand against it.”
Pastor David Berzins of Word of Truth Baptist Church in Prescott Valley, Ariz., is also scheduled to appear at the event. Berzins said he worshipped with Anderson before starting his own church and agrees “100 percent with (Jimenez’s) sentiment because you have to look at what the Bible teaches about Sodomites.”
Berzins said he has known Jimenez for about eight years, and would be handling “outreach activities” during the conference, including participating in “soul-winning” trips that will take members door to door in surrounding neighborhoods to evangelize. He added that “red-hot preaching” specifically refers to sermons about sin and that he welcomes the scrutiny the event is generating.
“We don’t shy away from the attention,” he said.
Jimenez said he believes the current controversy is a good example for his children. He added that he did not find his views to be extreme, only old-fashioned, and that views on sexuality were only a part of the church’s teachings.
“People think that we are this cult where we are fixated on the subject of homosexuality,” he said. “We’re a normal church. ... If you would have gone to church in the 1950s or 1960s, you would have found the exact same type of people who believe the exact same type of things we believe today.”
Carlos Marquez, board president of the Sacramento LGBT community center, said that he supports Jimenez’s First Amendment rights but doesn’t think the church’s message resonates with the larger Sacramento religious community.
“It is our strongly held belief that his points of view and perverse interpretation of religious text encouraging violence against LGBT people is a distortion of the prevailing consensus by a majority Sacramento’s interfaith community that LGBT people should be treated fairly,” he said in a statement.
An early announcement for the event said it would be held at the Hilton Garden Inn in South Natomas. Jeff Irving, general manager of the hotel, said that although the event had never been scheduled there, the hotel has received numerous posts about it on social media, including threats of protests.
The hotel has been working to dispel the rumor.
“It’s been responded to quite extensively over the last two weeks, but it has died down,” he said.