A church east of Los Angeles that had been branded as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its anti-LGBTQ views has been damaged in an IED attack, prompting a county official to essentially blame the victim.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis noted that “violence is never the answer, even in response to hate speech,” but her plan of action following Saturday’s bombing of First Works Baptist Church in El Monte was to call for community leaders to come together to “address hate issues.”
The FBI is investigating the attack, in which a homemade explosive device was apparently thrown into the church. Responding to the scene shortly after 1am local time, firefighters encountered smoke coming out of the windows and saw the front of the building vandalized with graffiti.
The controversial civil rights non-profit SPLC has been tracking First Works Baptist as an alleged hate group going back to at least 2019. The watchdog similarly condemned the Family Research Council for alleged anti-LGBTQ bigotry, partially inspiring an August 2012 attack by a gunman who sought to kill as many employees there as possible but was disarmed after shooting a security guard.
First Works Baptist had been under threat of attack. The Rev. Bruce Mejia reported an arson threat to police two weeks ago, and a protest against the church had been planned for Sunday. Threatening messages against Mejia can still be seen on Twitter. An online petition signed by more than 15,000 people demands that Mayor Jessica Ancona recognize the church as a “hate group” and “take them out of our city.”
Mejia reportedly called Saturday’s bomb attack “a little bump in the road” and said it won’t “deter us from doing what we always do.” The church held its Sunday service in a residential backyard on Sunday. A message posted on First Works Baptist’s Facebook page Saturday morning quoted Romans 12:19, saying, “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
The SPLC has accused Mejia of calling for the government to round up gay people for mass executions.
Mejia bills First Works as a “fundamental, soul-winning” Baptist church that believes in the King James version of the Bible. “We believe that hard preaching changes lives,” he said in a video introducing the church. First Works believes “homosexuality is a sin and an abomination which God punishes with the death penalty,”according to the church’s website.
However, branding the belief that homosexuality is a sin as “hate speech” would condemn a wide swath of conservative Americans. The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the US with over 14 million members, has said that LGBTQ individuals are “inconsistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”
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