Americans United for Separation of Church and State today denounced the violent rhetoric of an Arizona preacher who is praying for the death of President Barack Obama and called on Religious Right leaders to repudiate such extremism.
The Rev. Steven Anderson (left) of the Faithful Word Baptist Church told his Tempe, Ariz., congregation he prays that Obama “dies and goes to hell.” In an Aug. 16 sermon that recently came to public attention, Anderson said, “If you want to know how I’d like to see Obama die, I’d like him to die of natural causes. I don’t want him to be a martyr, we don't need another holiday. I'd like to see him die, like Ted Kennedy, of brain cancer.”
Anderson’s sermon took place just before an Obama visit to Arizona, and a member of the congregation showed up outside the Obama event in Phoenix carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle.
“This has gone much too far,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “When preachers call for the death of the president or others that they disagree with, it provides a justification for acts of intimidation and violence. It’s grossly irresponsible, and the American people ought to rise up and say ‘enough is enough.’”
Lynn said Religious Right leaders have a special responsibility to repudiate such rhetoric.
“National Religious Right leaders have been feeding their flock a steady diet of shrill and provocative language,” said Lynn. “It should come as no surprise when Anderson and those like him escalate the animosity.”
Lynn noted that “imprecatory prayers” (prayers that ask God to kill or otherwise harm others) have become all too common in recent years:
The Rev. Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., announced in June of this year that he is praying for Obama’s death. Drake, former second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has also called for imprecatory prayers against AU’s Lynn and other staff members of Lynn’s organization.
The Rev. Gordon Klingenschmitt, head of Pray In Jesus’ Name Ministries and a former Navy chaplain, has also sought prayers for the death of Lynn and others who challenged Klingenschmitt’s Religious Right activities.
Randall Terry, Operation Rescue founder and head of the Society for Truth and Justice, held a June 1 news conference at the National Press Club to say he is glad that Nebraska physician Dr. George Tiller is dead. Terry said the doctor, whose clinic provided abortions for women with problem pregnancies, was a “mass murderer” who “reaped what he sowed.” Tiller was murdered while serving as an usher at his church.
TV preacher and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson as recently as 2003 urged his followers to pray that God would remove three Supreme Court justices so that President George W. Bush could replace them with nominees that support Religious Right positions against reproductive choice, gay rights and church-state separation. In 2001 Robertson joined the late Jerry Falwell in blaming the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Supreme Court, gays, feminists and civil liberties groups.
Said AU’s Lynn, “Religious Right leaders have every right to make the case for their views on public issues, but when they inflame opinion with outrageous statements, they are going too far.
“This must stop,” said Lynn, “before more tragedies occur.”