In the wee hours of Saturday morning, an unknown assailant planted a bomb at First Works Baptist Church in El Monte, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. The explosion shattered the church’s windows and led the pastor to hold services elsewhere. The explosion followed weeks of protests against the church over the pastor’s extreme anti-LGBT rhetoric. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) had accused the church of being a “hate group,” placing it on a “hate map” with the Ku Klux Klan.
Police responded to the attack at about 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning, originally approaching the situation as an act of vandals merely breaking the church windows. “Then we realized that the windows were not smashed, that they had actually blown out from some type of explosion,” Lt. Christopher Cano of the El Monte Police Department told the Associated Press.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller confirmed that the FBI is investigating the explosion. She argued that it was premature to call the incident a hate crime, but added, “that’s always going to be considered as a theory when a house of worship is attacked.” The church did not report any injuries related to the explosion.
The SPLC has long faced criticism for weaponizing its “hate group” accusation against ideological opponents. The SPLC gained notoriety for bankrupting true hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, but in recent decades, it expanded the Klanwatch program to brand mainstream conservative and Christian groups “hate groups.”
In 2012, a deranged man targeted the Washington, D.C., offices of the Family Research Council (FRC), intending to shoot everyone in the building. The attempted terrorist later confessed he had targeted FRC due to the SPLC’s “hate map.” While the SPLC rightly condemned the attack, it continues to brand FRC a “hate group” on trumped-up charges that FRC uses pseudoscience to demonize LGBT people. Although the SPLC does not come right out and say it, its attacks on FRC imply an accusation that FRC encourages violence against LGBT people.
I wrote a book, Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center, in order to expose the SPLC’s nefarious impact on American culture, particularly through its “hate group” accusation. The SPLC routinely uses the accusation to tar mainstream Christian organizations that follow the Bible on sexual issues. However, I must acknowledge that the SPLC is right to condemn the First Works Baptist Church in El Monte.
The First Works Baptist Church is not a “hate group” on the same level as the KKK, but its pastor has called for the U.S. government to kill homosexuals for their sexual orientation — a stance mainstream Christians loudly condemn.
According to the SPLC, First Works Baptist Church is part of the New Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement, a network of 22 U.S. churches and 8 churches overseas that looks to pastor Stephen Anderson for leadership. Anderson, pastor at Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Ariz., has reportedly called for the execution of LGBT people.
Bruce Mejia, pastor of First Works Baptist Church, also called for civil authorities to put LGBT people to death while speaking at a “Make America Straight Again” conference. “We don’t advocate Christians to go out and be vigilantes and try to put these f— to death,” Mejia said. “We want the government to do it.”
The church’s website declares that “homosexuality is a sin and an abomination which God punishes with the death penalty.”
PJ Media reached out to First Works Baptist Church, seeking clarification on this point, and received no response.
The Bible clearly teaches that sexual activity is a sin and that God will judge sinners. Under the Old Covenant, Israel put people who engaged in homosexual activity to death, but Jesus preached a new message of forgiveness and reconciliation. While the New Testament still condemns homosexual activity as sinful, it does not urge Christians to advocate for harsh legal penalties for such sins, especially not the death penalty.
First Works Baptist Church preaches an extreme and dangerous message far outside orthodox Christian teaching on sexuality. In fact, some on the Left demonize conservative Christians by falsely claiming that conservative Christians call for such things.
None of this justifies the church bombing, however. A large group of protesters has advocated for the church to leave El Monte, but even they rightly condemned the bombing.
“We want people from El Monte to know it’s a queer safe space for all genders and sexual orientations. This church is the opposite of that.” Brandon Olmos II, leader of the group Keep El Monte Friendly, told Religion News Service. “We never encouraged any forms of violence.”
More than 15,000 people have signed a petition to expel First Works Baptist Church from El Monte.
In a sermon on Sunday, Mejia denounced the “terrorists” and “sodomites” who set off the explosion in his church and cited Bible verses about persecution, The Los Angeles Times reported. Congregants laughed and shouted, “Amen!” when the pastor described the attack on his church as “exciting.”
The pastor went on to say, “We’re just going like, ‘This is kind of cool!’ We don’t want a boring life. … We want buildings to blow up. Because there’s only one life to live There’s only one life to live, folks. Might as well go out in a blaze of glory.”
While I will repeatedly warn about the dangers of the SPLC’s “hate group” accusation and I condemn this violent attack, there is something sickening about Mejia’s rhetoric here. Jesus did say that those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness are blessed, but those who demand the government put people to death for their sexual orientation are not fighting for righteousness. They’re preaching a false gospel and giving the Left an excuse to demonize conservative Christianity.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.