Church leaders in Tarrant County want people to know the violent homophobic messages being shared by Jonathan Shelley and other leaders at Stedfast Baptist Church in Watauga don’t reflect the views held by the Christian community in Tarrant County.
While churches in the area hold different views on the LGBTQ community, all the church leaders who spoke with the Star-Telegram said calls by leaders at Stedfast for LGBTQ people to be arrested, charged with a crime and executed don’t reflect the teachings of Christ in the Bible.
“It’s hateful and could hurt people who are LGBTQ and could push others to go and be violent,” said Jorene Taylor Swift, pastor of Celebration Community Church in Fort Worth.
Celebration Community Church, which says it is the first LGBT-affirming church in Fort Worth, was founded on the idea that anybody, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, should feel like they have a place to go and worship, Swift said.
She said she’s seen the faith community in Fort Worth and Tarrant County come to accept and affirm LGBTQ people over the last 21 years that she’s been a minister here and said the messages of hate are harmful to people who have not yet seen the love the churches in the area offer them.
“Look at the teenagers who read those words, how do they feel?” Swift asked. “What do they think about God? What do they think about church? I think they probably don’t feel like there’s any place for anybody who identifies as LGBTQ.”
Tarrant County church leaders told the Star-Telegram that messages calling for the death of anybody, including the LGBTQ community, are unacceptable.
“I find it appalling,” said Tom Plumbley, senior minister of First Christian Church in Fort Worth. “Anybody calling for the killing of other people, that’s just way out of line.”
Plumbley said not everybody in his church agrees completely on doctrine regarding the sinfulness or lack thereof in the LGBTQ community, but that nobody in the congregation would ever advocate for killing people for their sexual orientation or gender expression.
“The church that I’m a part of and the church that I see described in the New Testament is one so very different from anything that would lead one to hate or hurt anyone else,” Plumbley said. “Please, do not understand this as what the Christian faith is. Christ came that all might have life and have it abundantly.”
Willow Creek Community of Christ church in Hurst, the city where Stedfast was based before its leaders’ demands for the deaths of LGBTQ people led to their eviction, is working with Harmony Ministries, an organization that “provides advocacy, education, and resources for Queer voices in Community of Christ with a shared vision of full participation,” according to its website.
“We’re all God’s children and even if you disagree with the lifestyle, you have to love the person,” Community of Christ pastor Jim Price said. “That’s what being a Christian is. Christ didn’t discriminate against anybody, even those who lived such that it was seen as unacceptable at his time.”
He said his church and other Community of Christ congregations have placed Pride flag emblems on their doors to show that they welcome LGBTQ people to worship with them. One example of that welcoming attitude, he said, is that a camp the church is running has a transgender person on staff.
Not all of area churches are LGBTQ-affirming, but none of them who spoke with the Star-Telegram said they in any way agreed with the messages being preached at Stedfast Baptist Church.
Dennis Hester and Dennis Serratt, pastor and deacon chair of First Baptist Watauga, said in a joint statement on the behalf of the church that they do not endorse the “LGBTQ+ movement” but that their hearts are “grieved today by the disunity, hatred, and pain that is plaguing our city of Watauga and the surrounding community.”
Hester said his church has been mistakenly called and emailed by people who thought he was the one preaching messages of violence against the LGBTQ community and has seen the hurt and distress caused in the community, as well as received threats because of that misunderstanding. He said his church is also worried by those threats of violence against Stedfast Baptist Church.
“We are hurting because of vile words of condemnation calling for the death of our LGBTQ+ neighbors,” Hester and Serratt said in the statement. “We are also grieved by similar personal threats directed toward leaders of Stedfast Baptist Church.”
“We fully recognize that all people are created in God’s image,” the two First Baptist Watauga leaders wrote. “We seek to express the love of God for all our family, friends and neighbors.”
Ryon Price, senior pastor at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, said his church has long been a “welcoming and affirming” church for LGBTQ worshipers and was kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2008 for the stance that gay and lesbian worshipers could be members of the church and could hold leadership positions.
“First off, I wish to express my sincere apology to the LGBTQ community for the way the Christian community has be represented by these hate mongers,” Price told the Star-Telegram. “All people were made in the image of God and have intrinsic value and worth, including those in the LGBTQ community, so we are welcoming and affirming of those in the LGBTQ community both in society and in church.”
Brian Coulter, pastor of First Presbyterian Fort Worth, said what he has seen at Stedfast Baptist Church is “just straight hate speech” and that he doesn’t see Stedfast as a real church.
“It’s very cultish, it sounds to me,” Coulter said. “If people hear messages like what’s coming from Stedfast and want to hear why we don’t think that’s what God teaches us, come on down and we’ll have a conversation.”