A Texas church whose leaders have become infamous for their homophobic rants and violent rhetoric calling for the killing of gay people is being forced to move for the second time this year, its head pastor says.
Stedfast Baptist Church, an independent fundamental Baptist congregation, relocated to Watauga, Texas in May after being evicted from a building it was renting in Hurst, Texas, back in February. The reason for that eviction was that the church violated the terms of its lease, which prohibits violence and threats — much of which stemmed from altercations between church-goers and protesters who demonstrated outside the church property in response to its pastors’ controversial sermons attacking the LGBTQ community.
The church subsequently relocated to a strip mall in Watauga, but people have protested on the sidewalk in front of the property on Wednesdays and Sundays of each week due to their displeasure with the church, which they have accused of promoting hatred — both in sermons, which have been posted online, and in public statements.
In May, the church’s head pastor, Jonathan Shelley testified before the Arlington City Council with several other residents in order to register his objections to elected officials recognizing June as LGBTQ Pride Month and demanding that LGBTQ books or Pride-themed displays be removed from public libraries, that the position of the city’s LGBTQ liaison be eliminated, and that the LGBTQ travel page on the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau website be deleted.
During that meeting, Shelley called Pride an “abomination,” and questioned why the city would recognize a month celebrating homosexuality, which was criminalized until as recently as 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned state anti-sodomy laws as unconstitutional in the case of Lawrence v. Texas. He called homosexuality “filthy,” asserted that all LGBTQ people are “child molesters,” and speculated that celebrating Pride would lead to the spread of HIV. He then went further and recommended the Biblical prescription for homosexuality: being put to death.
“God’s already ruled that murder, adultery, witchcraft, rape, bestiality, and homosexuality are crimes worthy of capital punishment,” Shelley said. “I don’t understand why we’d celebrate what used to be a crime not long ago.”
Shelley has previously flouted the use of anti-gay slurs in his sermons, likening the LGBTQ community to “terrorists,” and has developed an almost unhealthy obsession with condemning homosexuality — even above other sins. In one sermon, he cast homosexuals as perverts and sinners, claiming that people who are gay only identify as such because they “hate God” and were molested as children. He even had some unique takes on the consequences of same-sex behavior.
“What men do with men is defiling their body, hurting their body, they’re hurting each other,” he said. “They’re causing themselves all kinds of problems. Their intestines will sometimes just fall out because of the actions that they do.”
In June, a month after Shelley made his comments to the Arlington City Council, another pastor at the church, Dillon Awes, called for the executions of gay people, whom he called “dangerous to society,” asserting in his sermon that “all homosexuals are pedophiles,” according to NBC News.
“These people should be put to death,” Awes said, as church members erupted in cheers. “Every single homosexual in our country should be charged with a crime, the abomination of homosexuality that they have. They should be convicted in a lawful trial, they should be sentenced to death, they should be lined up against a wall and shot in the back of the head.”
Still another church leader, Deacon Duncan Urbanek, recently condemned women who wear pants, accusing them of “crossdressing.”
Those remarks have attracted more protesters to demonstrate outside the church, leading to altercations between church members, who claim the protesters are harassing them. In September, the church was faced with eviction after its landlord objected to the demonstrations and the disturbances causes by them. But those eviction proceedings were canceled after the church worked out a settlement — the terms of which have never been made public — with the landlord.
Yet despite criticism and the ongoing protests, the church’s leaders have refused to veer away from their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, with Shelley saying, in a recent livestream of his sermon posted to the church’s website, that Christians who criticize his rhetoric are “cowards,” and that he doesn’t “preach my sermons to please everyone.”
“It’s like, hey, the law for hundreds of years in our country said put them to death. And then I just bring up the historical fact and everyone freaks out,” he told his congregants. “I’d rather be the most despised church in our area as long as we are getting more people saved, than be the most pleasing and get one kid saved a year, or a nothing burger that a lot of these churches do.”
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in a video posted to the church’s YouTube channel on Sunday, Shelley, standing in the parking lot, with protesters yelling behind him, told supporters that the church will have to move again in the new year. He said that the church that he has not yet found a new place to move to, but hoped to find one soon, and asked for donations to help with that effort.
“The reality is nobody really wants to lease to us, so it makes it very difficult,” Shelley said. “I am still working a few options, as far as lease options, or maybe even getting a building.”
Shelley also sought to portray his church as “champions of free speech.”
“We’re trying to set precedent where churches can preach the Bible,” he said. “We have a lot of enemies, a lot of people are attacking us. If you actually stand for the Truth, if you stand for the Word of God being preached, you need to support Stedfast Baptist Church.”
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