A Texas Baptist church – described as an “anti-LGBT hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center – has sparked outrage after a pastor said gays should be “put up against a wall and shot in the back of the head”.
Pastor Dillon Awes of Steadfast Baptist Church in Watauga, a suburb of Fort Worth, made that comment and other controversial remarks during a Sunday morning sermon entitled “Why We Won’t Shut Up.”
“I’m angry this morning because our entire country is celebrating the worst sin in the Bible,” Awes said during the sermon, in reference to Pride Month, which commemorates the LGBTQ+ community each June.
“You know, a lot of pastors have this stupid idea where it’s just like, ‘Oh, you know, God loves everyone. And God hates sin but loves the sinner.’ But people have taken this to such an extreme that they’re saying celebrate sin, don’t just condone it, celebrate it,” he continued. “Let me show what the Bible says about these people.”
Awes read several passages from the Bible and condemned homosexuality as a sin. He once told the community that gays were “dangerous to society” and that “all homosexuals are pedophiles”.
“I’m not saying that every single homosexual living now has already committed this act with a child, because they may not have had the opportunity and may sometime later in life,” he said. “So we need to kill these people through the right government channels. … These people are not normal. They are not your average everyday sinner. … They have no hope of salvation.”
At certain times during the sermon, people in the crowd could be heard cheering in agreement. Awes told the room he thinks the “solution for gay people in 2022” is the death penalty.
“These people should be killed. Every single homosexual in our country should be charged with a crime. The horror of homosexuality they have should be tried in a due process. They should be sentenced to death. They should be lined up against the wall and shot in the back of the head,” he said.
Many people on social media criticized the pastor, with some calling his comments a violent threat to the church.
“Encouraging the execution of gay people is not protected speech. Dillon Awes should be considered and charged as a domestic terrorist,” wrote one Twitter user.
Another said Awes’ comment “makes the LGBTQ+ community a huge target” and that the pastor “must be on the FBI watch list.”
Other people complained to the Watauga Police Department, prompting them to issue a statement Wednesday. While the department denounced “any message that promotes hate,” the department said Awes’ comments are protected by freedom of expression.
“First of all, the Watauga Police Department would like to reaffirm our commitment to making Watauga a great place to live for all people. The Watauga Police Department values diversity and will continue to protect people’s right to express their identity,” the statement said.
“Any message that promotes hatred against any class or group of people is absolutely against the culture of the Watauga Police Department. The language used by the pastor of Stedfast Baptist Church will likely be offensive to many people. However, at this time, the reported language of the sermon appears to be constitutionally protected free speech. We will continue to monitor this evolving situation.”
Awes could not be reached on the phone numbers given to him. The church’s senior pastor, Jonathan Shelley, defended Awes, saying in a lengthy statement that America has weakened “penalties for homosexuality.”
“The Bible teaches that God’s laws have not changed on this matter,” Shelley said. “We will not let the devil’s influence in our culture prevent us from believing the Bible. Our main goal is not to preach controversial things, but to save people. However, we will preach whatever the Bible says.”
Minyvonne Burke is a senior breaking news reporter for NBC News.