Shawn Vestal: Religious leaders push back against hateful viral video

May 25—It was appalling, if not exactly surprising, to see a viral video of a "pastor" of a local "Christian" "church" calling for the execution of LGBT people.

Some 2 million people have now reportedly watched the clip of a blustery young "preacher" puffing himself up like a wannabe Il Duce and calling for the government execution of people who "desire strange flesh." In an era when so many have turned Christ and the Bible into sheep's wool for bigotry, it was an especially gross example.

What didn't go viral — and what was not an embarrassment for Spokane and Christianity — was the response of many other members of the local clergy who denounced the vile diatribe.

A group of regional faith leaders quickly issued a statement decrying the viral hate-preach and doing its best to reclaim the mantle of Christianity and religion from those who put it on only as a justification for hatred.

"We denounce those who call for the terrorizing and killing of any human being in the name of faith," the members of the Faith Leaders and Leaders of Conscience of Eastern Washington and North Idaho said in their statement.

"Repentance is a Christian practice, and we strongly recommend that Jason Graber, as a Christian, repent of his words of terrorism, hate, and violence and return to a humble walk with his God."

That statement was signed by the group's founder, the Rev. Gen Haywood, pastor of Veradale United Church of Christ, and several others. They included the Rev. Pamela Starbuck, of Manito Presbyterian; the Rev. Liv Larson Andrews, of Salem Lutheran; the Rev. Bob Feeny, of Westminster Congregational Church of Christ; the Rev. Deb Conklin, of Liberty Park and St Paul's United Methodist Churches; the Rev. Jim CastroLang, of the United Church of Christ; and several others, including members of the Jewish and Sufi communities.

In a different world, their names would become more widely known than Graber's. In this one, Graber earned himself — and us, to a degree, in a region with a thread of hateful extremism woven into our fabric — another drop of notoriety.

He is a pastor of Sure Foundation Baptist Church and it isn't the first time his antediluvian views have slithered into the light. In his Mother's Day sermon, for example, he warned mothers to beware of their daughters becoming "whores" or their sons sleeping with "whorish women," as well as expounding on the threat of "homos" and AIDS, according to reporting at ChurchLeaders.com, a web site of news and resources for members of the clergy.

He advises women to stay home and raise the kids, referring to day cares as "don't-cares" that are full of pedophiles.

According to ChurchLeaders.com, Graber's congregation is loosely affiliated with the "pastor" Steven Anderson of Tempe, Arizona, a notorious anti-Semite and pulpit bigot.

Anderson, once called "the lunatic pastor of Tempe's Faithful Word Baptist Church" in a column in the Phoenix New Times and whose church has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has spread Holocaust denial, called for the death penalty for gay people, and prayed for the death of President Obama.

In the video that boomeranged around the internet last week, Graber is shown standing at a little podium before a wall with a Biblical quote displayed. You can hear other voices in the room, but can't tell how many.

"Any parents that would have their child have a transgender surgery done on them — any parent that would do that should be shot in the back of the head," Graber said. "They need to be convicted in trial and immediately shot in the back of the head, and then we can string them up above a bridge so the public can see the consequences of that kind of wickedness."

Graber expands his call for the death sentence to all LGBT people and brags about the fact that most people wouldn't say what he's saying.

"There are very, very few people out there in the world today who are actually fighting the spiritual fight," he said.

"I want you to go ahead and find me another preacher in Spokane that preached a message where they said that these child molesters, these child butchers ... all the LGBT people, people that desire strange flesh, that they should all be put to death by the government. Find me the preacher that says that."

It's true that — even in the current climate of widespread, mainstream political hostility toward gay and trans people — most preachers don't say that. Very few, in fact, tend to call for hanging dead bodies from bridges. Very few speak from the pulpit about executing people in the name of Christ.

Very, very few — but not few enough.