More than 70 people participated in a “love rally” to counter a church they say preaches hate Sunday morning. Protestors flashed peace signs as they held signs with slogans like like “Love thy neighbor” and “Who would Jesus hate?” as they stood outside the Tempe shopping center that houses the Faithful Word Baptist Church Sunday morning.
More than 70 people participated in a "love rally" Sunday to counter a church they say preaches hate.
Protestors flashed peace signs as they held signs with slogans such as "Love thy neighbor" and "Who would Jesus hate?" on Sunday morning as they stood outside the Tempe shopping center that houses the Faithful Word Baptist Church. Passing motorists regularly waved and honked car horns.
Inside the church, which sits in a storefront a few doors down from a pawn shop, Pastor Steven Anderson talked to about 25 people about walking in holiness, according to one person who attended the service.
It was a few weeks ago that Anderson gave another sermon that subsequently threw the small church into the national spotlight. That sermon was titled, "Why I hate Barack Obama," and delivered Aug. 16 - a day before one church member carried an assault rifle as he protested outside an Obama speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Phoenix.
Anderson has since confirmed to various media outlets that he prays for Obama's death.
That message, as well as other sermons on the church's Web site discussing homosexuals, prompted Phoenix resident Leonard Clark to organize Sunday's love rally. He also started a Facebook group called "People against clergy who preach hate," which had 1,175 members as of Sunday afternoon.
"We plan on doing (a rally) every Sunday until the reverend stops preaching hate, until the reverend stops advocating murdering people for their sexual orientation," Clark said.
Clark, a former National Guard member who attracted national attention himself for blogging against the Iraq War while stationed there in 2005, said he's seen the results of extremist preaching firsthand.
"I've seen this kind of thing kill two of my friends in my platoon," he said. "It's the same type of religious extremism that is killing my fellow soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Clark said Anderson is painting Arizona in a negative light, and he doesn't think ignoring Anderson will make him go away.
"Silence gives him a legitimacy we can't afford to give him in Arizona," Clark said.
Many rally participants echoed similar sentiments. Scottsdale resident Thomas John stood along the street wearing a monk costume.
"I know the church I grew up in wouldn't tolerate this speech," he said. "(Anderson's church is) representing us as a state of hatred."
While the rally remained peaceful, there was one tense moment as participant Carolyn Lowery and a few others walked toward the church. A security guard for the shopping center said they would have to wait for the service to end to talk to the pastor and asked them to stand outside the parking lot.
The protestors eventually complied, but not without making their voices heard.
"I don't have any weapons on me but the weapons of love," Lowery yelled to the guard.
Lowery said she had come to the church at 8:20 a.m. to try to talk to Anderson. She was told to come back later without her sign.
"I want to see where that hate comes from. I've never seen that kind of hate coming from the pulpit," Lowery said.
Anderson declined comment on Sunday, sticking his head out of the church long enough to tell waiting media, "I'm not changing anything I've said. I'm getting a little tired of the coverage."
Several people either declined comment or declined to give their names as they left the service.
The one exception was Buckeye resident Herb Rice, who has attended the church for about six months.
Rice said he doesn't agree with everything Anderson says and doesn't want anyone to die.
However, he said the Bible contains a "strong message." Rice said Sunday's sermon was great and described the services as a cross between a Bible study and a sermon.
"As far as how (Anderson) preaches, it's a little extreme. I need a little heavy handedness," Rice said. "There's a lot of positive things in the Bible. There's a lot of negative things, too."
Between 20 and 40 people usually attend the services, Rice said.