On Northgate Boulevard in North Natomas, there is no cross or steeple or anything remotely religious to distinguish Verity Baptist Church from the street. It inhabits one suite in an otherwise nondescript business park.
On Tuesday, the suite was shuttered. Some form of liquid, possibly coffee, had been splattered on the glass front door. An open container of peanut butter appeared to have been dumped on the stoop.
This is the headquarters of national outrage?
Following Sunday’s massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. – the deadliest shooting in U.S. history – Verity’s pastor, Roger Jimenez, delivered an ardent sermon to his congregation. He said they “shouldn’t be mourning the death of 50 sodomites,” that the shooting “helps society” and that “the tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is – I’m kind of upset that (the gunman) didn’t finish the job.”
Video of the sermon, apparently posted to YouTube by the church, had gone viral by Tuesday morning. YouTube later took the unusual step of removing it from the site because it violated its hate-speech policy.
Who is this preacher? Longtime leaders in Sacramento’s faith community say they have never heard of him.
When I rang the doorbell at Jimenez’s South Natomas home Tuesday morning, he opened the door, addressed me politely, smiled and doubled down on his words.
“The point of the sermon is that the Bible teaches us that homosexuality, God put a death penalty on it,” said Jimenez, who, according to his church website, was born in Venezuela but raised in the U.S. Jimenez quoted Leviticus 20:13 as the basis for his feelings.
Some interpretations of Leviticus 20:13 condemn homosexual love and call for those who practice it to “be put to death.” Quoting it, Jimenez said: “And the blood will be on their own heads.”
“All I’m saying is that when people die who deserve to die, it’s not a tragedy,” he added.
Jimenez spoke these words in a kind monotone befitting a loan officer discussing interest rates at a local bank branch. The horror of Orlando, of 49 people massacred (the gunman was also killed) and more than 50 wounded in a hail of gunfire, was disconnected from Jimenez’s self-assured oratory.
Though he didn’t talk long, he wanted people to know he wasn’t backing down from his words. “There are many people who agree with us,” he said. “In America, you are no longer allowed to have an opinion that goes against mainstream society.”
He said his sermon was not a “call to arms.” He said he wasn’t advocating that people go out and kill gay people. He was simply pointing out that 49 people dead and more than 50 wounded in Orlando was the will of God as he saw it.
On its website, Verity is described as an “independent, fundamental, soul winning, separated, King James Bible believing Baptist church.”
An introductory video on the site narrated by Jimenez states that the church was founded in September 2010. “The word ‘verity’ means truth, and we endeavor to be a place where people can hear the truths of God’s words without it being watered down or compromised, “ Jimenez says.
Images of families filling his small church accompany Jimenez’s voice-over in the video, though it’s unclear how many congregants belong to Verity Baptist Church.
The church says it hosts Friday pizza nights and Sunday coffee-and-doughnut socials meant to spread brotherhood. It’s a place professing to be about love but is actually practicing spiritual compartmentalization where killing of gay people is believed to be the word of God.
Which brings us to Jimenez’s legitimacy as a pastor. Verity does not appear to be affiliated with any order of the Baptist faith. That means Jimenez can say whatever he wishes without any accountability to a larger religious community.
“It’s like opening up a store and calling it whatever,” said Jerlen Young-Nelson, media director for the National Baptist Convention, America’s oldest and largest African American religious convention, which boasts an estimated membership of 7.5 million people.
On Tuesday, the National Baptist Convention called the Orlando killings “a horrific act of terror and hatred. As Christians we condemn, in the strongest sense of the word, the taking of human life.”
So who is Jimenez to call himself a pastor and promote a version of Christianity where God puts “death sentences” on people?
“He is a pastor because he calls himself a pastor,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “A pastor who is not accountable is a pastor who can actually facilitate an atmosphere of spiritual corruption. A lack of oversight serves as fodder for theologically erroneous teaching. Why do we legitimize every Tom, Dick or Harry like this? ... I condemn his entire presentation.”
Rodriguez is a national leader in the conservative Christian movement from his massive church in Elk Grove. He has lobbied President Barack Obama in the White House on issues such as immigration reform. Rodriguez said that some, like Jimenez, pick and choose scripture or misrepresent it to fit a particular bias.
“What took place in Orlando is not the will of God,” Rodriguez said. “As Christians, we love everyone. We repudiate intolerance and hatred. I will not only respect my fellow man, I will love you. I will respect you. I will create space for you. If you come to our churches, you are not going to hear any message full of homophobia or animosity.”
Rodriguez, like Mormon leaders and Catholic leaders, believes that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. And many Mormons, Catholics and Protestant Christians in the pews disagree with their church leaders on that issue.
But there is no disagreement on what happened in Orlando. Mainstream Christian leaders like Rodriguez strongly have condemned the massacre. They don’t believe or agree with the fundamentalist hate speech that Jimenez endorses.
A failure to recognize the sanctity of life – all life – is what feeds the kind of violence visited upon innocent people in Orlando. Violence in the name of God feeds killing all over the world. Jimenez is preaching extremism. He’s defaming the faith community, Sacramento and those of us who believe that God loves everyone.
Jimenez said he’s received threats for his beliefs. Still, he believes in the righteousness of his message.
It’s sad that some people feel homophobia strong enough to act on it or justify it. But the only word Jimenez represents is his own.