It was love vs. hate, round one, down at the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe this morn, as about 125 soldiers of love, led by local progressive activist Leonard Clark, took on the Pastor of Hate, aka, Obama-despiser Steven Anderson, who was preaching to his tiny flock during the storefront church's 10:30 a.m. service.
Organized by Clark through his new Facebook group People Against Clergy Who Preach Hate, which has 1,189 members (and counting), the demonstration was meant as a peaceful push-back to Anderson's August 16 sermon wherein he prayed for President Barack Obama's death. One of those attending the August sermon was none other than Anderson-follower Chris Broughton, who the next day brought a loaded AR-15 to a demo outside the Phoenix Convention Center, where Obama was addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"[Anderson's] inciting people, whether he admits it or not," said Clark, holding a big "God Is Love," sign. "They asked the man who carried the AR-15 in the church, basically, whether he would be for violence against our president -- our Constitutionally elected president -- and he wouldn't say yes or no, he would just say, `I hope he meets his maker sooner than later.'"
For Clark, the demonstration was a way of showing that not everyone in Arizona is a wacko who wants the president dead. He told me that this was but the first of weekly demonstrations at the church's strip-mall location.
"Look, there might be a miracle," said Clark. "This guy might say, `I'm moving to Siberia, or, guess what, `Forgive me,' and I'll be the first to not criticize him."
For the most part, the demonstration was lively and conflict-free, with motorists honking their support for signs that read, "Love Thy Neighbor," "Who Would Jesus Hate," and "Let the Peace of Christ Rule Your Heart."
One of my faves was a little more cantankerous, though, and borrowed a famous quote from Barry Goldwater concerning Rev. Jerry Falwell, where Goldwater said, "Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass." But in the sign, the name Falwell was crossed out, and Anderson's was written above it.
It was a diverse crowd, with a smattering of Christian ministers, young girls strumming guitars, a faux monk, and Code Pink's Liz Hourican offering free hugs. She wanted to offer Anderson a hug, but Anderson only briefly stuck his head out the front door of his church, declining to address the flock of press present. He did, however, reaffirm that he hated Obama, and that, "I'm not changing anything that I said."
Later, he exited through the back entrance of his church, which also doubles as the address for Anderson's business, Anderson Fire and Security Incorporated. Check out the instructional videos on his fire alarm YouTube site. Some look like they may have been shot in the church, but I can't absolutely sure of this. (Please see update below.)
Before Anderson played turtle with the press, a couple of congregants walked the media gauntlet, including a big, jovial guy named Herb Rice, who distanced himself from some of the more controversial statements of his pastor. Rice said he didn't hate anybody or want anyone to die, and he hoped that maybe Obama could do that beer-at-the-White House thing with his pastor. You know, kinda like how Obama did with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and that Cambridge cop.
And here I thought Baptists don't drink. I mean, every Baptist church I've ever been to used grape juice instead of wine for communion. Which, by the way, is one damn fine argument for Catholicism.
Though Anderson's known for his links to gun-nutty libertarians such as militia pimp Ernie Hancock of the Web site Freedom's Phoenix, and Chistopher "AR-15" Broughton, the only gun I saw was on the hip of some guy who said he was acting as security for the property, and who reminded me of Sam Elliott's character in that 1989 Patrick Swayze flick Roadhouse.
Carolyn T. Lowery of the Arizona Black United Fund gave this security fella an earful when she walked toward the church in an attempt to talk with Anderson.
"I've been out here since eight o'clock trying to see the minister," she exclaimed, wagging her finger at him. "And you're denying me to go into the church? What kind of church is that? Sounds like a cult to me. Preaching hatred. That's what you're doing.
"We want to pray with the brother," Lowery told the guard, who said he'd pass the message on. "I don't have no weapons on me but the weapon of love."
As all the TV cameras were glued on this exchange, it'll be interesting to see how they play it.
BTW, I didn't see Broughton while I was there, but I have a feeling that some of the other church-goers may have slipped out the back door as well. You've got to remember, Anderson's congregation is really small. I attended a recent gathering, as I detailed in my column this week, and I counted about 25 persons present for the Sunday evening sermon. During a recent interview with Alan Colmes, Anderson pegged his congregation at about 100 souls.
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Nor did I see Anderson's great defenders and boosters from FreedomsPhoenix.com -- owner Ernie Hancock, editor Power Gammill, or RP4409 videographer Jason Shelton. Can't imagine why they'd be ashamed to show their faces round the man they've been lionizing Anderson for his run-ins with the U.S. Border Patrol and Arizona DPS. Can you?
(PS: I found out after making this live that the guard mentioned above is named Tim. He says that he works for the property manager of the strip mall Anderson's church is in. Seems like he's a good guy, and probably got a hard deal today from some of the protesters, who thought he worked for the church.)
***UPDATE 9/9/09: As some commenters have noted, Anderson's Web site and YouTube site for his fire alarm business have gone down since my run-in with Anderson on Sunday evening. What this means would only be speculation on my part. When there's smoke, is there fire?