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Listening to the pre-election preaching in one small Kentucky town

Hateful rhetoric like this gets people killed.

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Photo by Ismael Paramo / Unsplash

With the election just three weeks away, my small, rural Kentucky town was suddenly “ate up,” as Grandma Ann might say, not with politics but with sex and sin.

The Oct. 17 meeting of the Anderson County school board was standing room only, and the vast majority were there to make fear-mongering, religious statements about the LGBTQ community.

Randy Adams — a teacher in the Anderson County schools and, it turns out, pastor of his own congregation — had published a Facebook manifesto explaining his refusal to follow Kentucky Department of Education guidelines regarding pronoun usage.

He wrote, in part, “As a Christian, I cannot call a person a gender other than their biological gender. That is a sin against God,” and, “Staff members who morally object, I ask you not to follow this guidance. I know this is scary but our community needs us to stand tall for truth.”

We also had Christy Franklin — a school board candidate highlighting her membership at Ninevah Christian Church as a job qualification — who wrote on her campaign Facebook page, “These issues are right here in Anderson County whether we like it or not: Critical Race Theory (CRT), using incorrect pronouns, transgenders, furries (students that think they are animals), and medical freedom. I’ve heard some people say this will happen ‘when pigs fly!’ Well, the pigs are flying, my friends.”

Ironically abortion, the pig that usually flies during election season, was barely on the radar here. Why? Because as Election Day snuck up, those in power could see that Amendment 2 (which would constitutionally ban abortion) was not creating enough fear to drive Republican votes and, in a last minute panic, rightwing politicians and their preachers became hellbent on scaring folks into the voting booth.

Looking back, none of this was a coincidence. The issues that whip voters into a frenzy and drive them to the polls — Does “They’re coming for your way of life!” sound familiar? — are the same issues that fill church pews.

We would be wise to consider perfectly-timed religious outrage on political issues, mirroring the American zeitgeist of fevered, right-wing political rallies, as two sides of the same coin.

Ms. Franklin did her part by pushing absurd, rightwing conspiracy theories, and while Mr. Adams was temporarily suspended from teaching, with pay, he hosted a revival of sorts at Sand Spring Baptist Church on the dangers of the LGBTQ “agenda.” A welcoming prayer and introduction was given by Sand Spring Reverend Mike Hamrick, and The Anderson News reported that state Sen. Adrienne Southworth,  who represents Anderson County in the legislature, “encouraged those in attendance. ‘We need to hear from you. Action time is now.’”

What a religious and politically timed … coincidence.

The day before Election Day, the Lexington Herald-Leader published a story that opened, “On a recent Saturday afternoon, on the steps of the Kentucky Capitol, Bishop John Iffert wanted to make something clear: Christians have a duty to publicly advocate on behalf of unborn fetuses ahead of the November election.”

The article went on to quote Terry Cooper, Ms. Franklin’s pastor at Ninevah Christian Church, one of the largest congregations in Anderson County. “One week after the call to arms from Bishop Iffert, on October 9, Minister Terry Cooper issued a dire warning to his Lawrenceburg congregation. He was preaching from the book of Jeremiah, when the Old Testament God told Jeremiah to stop praying for the people of Judah, because their sexual and idolatrous transgressions were too far gone for redemption. God was poised to destroy their city as punishment. Can America be compared to ancient Israel?” Cooper asked his congregants.

Cooper said America’s own irredeemable sins have come in the form of the “godless LBGT agenda,” materialism, and abortion rights. It’s a ‘spirit war,’ he said.”

We could laugh about phrases like “sexual and idolatrous transgressions,” but hateful rhetoric like this gets people killed.

In 2016, 49 people died and 53 were wounded after a mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. Two weeks before this year’s election, five were shot to death and 19 injured at Q Nightclub, a well-known LGBTQ bar in Colorado Springs. Words matter.

I often watch sermons by pastors Hamrick and Cooper online, so I knew that Cooper’s Oct. 9 warning was no anomaly.

On May 22, a week following the Republican Primary, Cooper preached, “Our governor of the state of Kentucky vetoed a bill in April that simply stated that boys couldn’t play girls’ sports,” and that “the president of the United States came on television just about a week before our governor vetoed that bill and said that the U.S. government supported and intended to pay for youths, children, to change their genders based upon their feelings.” Minutes later, he added, “Yesterday I noticed this, Walt Disney. The headline is Gay Pride Themed Disney Plush Toys. I’m going to tell you before I read it, they’re coming for your children.”

And gosh, who has time to worry about “woke” issues like mass shootings in bars, schools, churches, grocery stores, concerts, etc. when we can get all het up about colorful stuffed animals and S-E-X.

In his July 3 sermon — Happy Independence Day, everyone! — Cooper opened with a story about how President Lincoln feared the war between the states might break the nation. “Social issues are what divided the states in Gettysburg in the Civil War, and social issues are what are dividing the nation again,” he told his congregation. “Issues like abortion, LGBTQ rights, the gender wars, religious freedom, all of these social issues are dividing our nation into a civil war.”

I am reminded of the final, shocking scene in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” Like the LGBTQ community, Tessie Hutchinson has done nothing wrong, and yet everyone, including her own children, are called upon by the powerful men of the town to stone her to death. ““It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.

We must stop listening to those in power who demand that we hurt our neighbors.

The November midterms are over. Randy Adams has gone back to teaching, his lengthy manifesto long  gone from his Facebook page; Christy Franklin lost her bid for school board; Sen. Southworth is scheduling town halls to talk about the 2023 legislative session; and as a friend and member of Ninevah Christian Church told me about his pastor’s recent, post-election sermon, “The message was all about hope. It was so normal!”

What an, ahem, coincidence.

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Cross-posted from the Kentucky Lantern.



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