Steven Anderson, pastor at Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, has made national news with a recently preached a sermon in which he called for the execution of all homosexuals by Christmas in order to cure AIDS/HIV (news articles can be found here and here, as well as a protest held in front of his church on Sunday here). Since posting the video online tens of thousands of people have seen it, mostly because Mr. Anderson purchased advertising for the video on Facebook. This is not the first inflammatory sermon Mr. Anderson has preached. He has prayed for President Obama’s death, and called for women to be silenced.
On December 4, 2014, my colleagues in the local alliance of faith leaders in Tempe—consisting of conservative, moderate, and liberal/progressive Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith leaders—alarmed by Mr. Anderson, prepared the following statement denouncing his call for violence against homosexual persons:
For those alarmed, as we are, by the recent statements by a Tempe Baptist minister, calling for the execution of homosexuals, we would like to offer a different perspective as faith leaders of TEAM, the Tempe Interfaith Alliance.
Faith is meant to draw us together to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God—whether we use the name God, G-d, or Allah. And so today we sign our names side by side to show our solidarity against anyone who calls for the execution of LGBTQ people in the name of God.
Faith ought to strengthen our communal life and encourage respect and tolerance for our differences. It is not meant to polarize and divide or to set us against each other. And it is never meant to be a cry for attention from one to murder the many!
We deplore this pastor’s hate speech and calls for violence, especially when these statements come from a man who purports to be a faith leader in our community and especially during this season when we long for peace, justice and reconciliation. We stand together calling all people to care for our neighbors, to link arms against violence, and to work together for mutual forbearance and understanding of all people.
Signed by TEAM, including,
Rev. Eric Ledermann, Pastor, University Presbyterian Church
Rabbi Dean Shapiro, Temple Emanuel
Rev. Chris Gonzalez, Pastor, Missio dei Communities
Pastor Seth Troutt, Grace Community Church
Rev. Gil Stafford, Pastor, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church
Deacon Dorothy Saucedo, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church
Rev. Andy Burnette, Pastor, Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation
Rev. Kellie Walker, Minister of Music, Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation
Rev. Jeff Procter-Murphy, Pastor, Dayspring United Methodist Church
Rev. Stan Martin, Pastor, Mission del Sol Presbyterian Church
Rev. Elice Higginbotham, Interim Senior Minister, Desert Palm United Church of Christ
Ann Hardt, Tempe Friends Meeting
Rev. Tony Valenti, Pastor, The Bridge Tempe
Rev. Tom Parker and Rev. Gayle Parker, co-Pastors, The Spring Church
Rev. Al Gephart , Pastor Emeritus, University Presbyterian Church
Rev. Doug Bland, Pastor, Tempe Community Christian Church, Disciples of Christ
Rev. Sue Ringler, Pastor, Guardian Angels Catholic Community
The statement can be downloaded in PDF here.
I continue to be amazed by people who call themselves Christian, who claim adherence to God’s call for abundant love and compassionate justice, can make such inflammatory statements. My only conclusion is that Mr. Anderson is simply trying to make a name for himself. The worst part: people are listening. In the video his congregation laughed when we called for the execution of homosexuals.
Here is my personal post on Facebook soon after the sermon was posted:
This pastor is not representative of all Tempe religious communities, Christian or otherwise. These are very threatening and dangerous words he is using. As a member of the Tempe, Arizona, clergy I denounce his vitriolic and violent language, his abuse of our sacred scripture to perpetuate his own fear and prejudice, and lift up the fact that Tempe is an open, affirming, and welcoming city to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. Many of the clergy and religious communities may differ theologically on affirming homosexuality, but I believe most of us would affirm the sacred truth that all life belongs to God, and any call for execution violates the values of God.
To any in Tempe who feel threatened or who feel they are in danger because of their sexuality and the lambasted call for execution by this pastor, I offer my church, University Presbyterian Church of Tempe, as refuge. UPC recognizes that God calls for mutual respect and commitment in all relationships, gay or straight, romantic or not, sexual or platonic. We are an open and affirming community for all LGBTQ sisters and brothers. Further, we believe that calling for the execution of anyone is a violation of biblical values and principles this ill-informed “Pastor” claims to be defending.
This once again lifts up the need to include homosexual people as a protected class under our discrimination and hate crime laws.
He is using scripture, but I believe abusing scripture and lacking any understanding of cultural contexts within scripture. Taken as a whole, texts such as the stoning of homosexuals and eating shell fish—not to mention silencing women, who are agents of God’s throughout scripture, and they talk to fulfill their agency—are easily understood as being culturally bound to the times when those texts are written, and do not conform to the overall scriptural witness of God’s grace and mercy. I think difficult texts are important as they offer a warning to later generations how we are apt to apply to God our own fears and prejudices (remember the slavery in the U.S. and the biblical arguments used to perpetuate it, let alone segregation?).