An anti-gay sermon by a Tempe pastor that brought about a protest rally on Dec. 7 has helped cast a light on his anti-Semitic views, including subterfuge he used on Jewish clerics in the Valley to appear in a upcoming anti-Jewish documentary film.
About 100 people gathered Dec. 7 on the sidewalk outside Faithful Word Baptist Church, including Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz of Valley Beit Midrash and Rabbi Dean Shapiro of Temple Emanuel of Tempe, to protest a sermon called “AIDS: The Judgment of God” delivered at the church on Nov. 30 and posted on YouTube the next day. In the sermon, Steven Anderson, the pastor, cited Leviticus 20:13 as providing the means to end AIDS: putting homosexuals to death.
The protest, dubbed “Love Wins – a Peaceful Demonstration,” was publicized by D26 Democrats through social media, with instructions on conduct, including not booing or using ugly shouts, no obstructing the sidewalk and no sound-amplifying equipment or boom boxes.
As the YouTube of the sermon went viral, TEAM – Tempe Interfaith issued a statement on Dec. 5 that said, in part, “We deplore this pastor’s hate speech and calls for violence, especially when these statements come from a man who purports to be a faith leader in our community and especially during this season when we long for peace, justice and reconciliation.” Shapiro, one of the statement’s 18 signatories, read it to the crowd during the demonstration.
“I felt it was important for me as a Jew and as a rabbi and a gay man and a Tempe resident to be there and declare that (Anderson’s) message was unacceptable and dangerous,” he told Jewish News after the rally, “but I don’t feel that I need to make a cause of it. The authorities are aware of him and if anything goes wrong, they can take care of it.”
“I was surprised by the diversity of the crowd,” said Yanklowitz. The protest he said was relatively calm and had no organized program, except that the demonstrators turned their backs on Anderson when he addressed them.
Speaking of the pastor’s Nov. 30 sermon, Yanklowitz said, “I felt a response was necessary and that it was crucial for Jews to be a voice there (at the protest).”
He said that congregants were clearly armed (“which was kind of terrifying”) and that church security heckled the demonstrators.
State Rep. Andrew Sherwood told Jewish News that he attended “as a member of the community, supporting the work to promote equality.” A friend had sent him a clip of Anderson’s sermon, he said, “and I was shocked and concerned to discover that it was in my own community.”
Earlier this year, Rabbi Leo Abrami, a Holocaust survivor who has served at Reform and Conservative synagogues throughout his decades-long career, was contacted by a man who said that he was making a documentary explaining some aspects of the Jewish faith. He offered to come to Abrami’s home in Sun City West and arrived with a cameraman. His visitor turned out to be Anderson, although Anderson identified himself as “an interested layperson” who was curious about Judaism, Abrami said. “I made the mistake of not Googling him before he came.”
Anderson also contacted Rabbi Reuven Mann, an Orthodox rabbi; Rabbi Irwin Wiener, who serves congregations in Sun Lakes and Sun City West; and Jeffrey Schesnol, a Humanistic ceremonial leader training to become a madrikh (guide).
“The subterfuge that he used to get these interviews from us is beyond belief,” said Wiener, who noted that the man mentioned a PBS documentary. “When he used the words PBS to me, it sounded legitimate and I didn’t pursue it any further,” he said.
Mann said he feels “like it’s a responsibility to explain Judaism to anyone that’s interested” and is asked to do so frequently. “I’m very open about this and I don’t suspect that anyone has any ulterior motives,” he said. He was contacted this past summer and although he said he doesn’t remember the particulars, he remembers being told by his interviewers that they were working on a documentary about religion in general and that they wanted someone to speak about Judaism.
“They were extremely polite and friendly,” Mann said. “We set it up in my study, and they were asking me all kinds of questions. They seemed pretty curious and knowledgeable, and I was answering very honestly.”
Schesnol said that his interviewer told him that he was working on behalf of a Los Angeles-based film company and the documentary would be used as an educational tool to help people – Jews and non-Jews – understand Jewish concepts and the differences between the various branches of Judaism. The interview was filmed at the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center in downtown Phoenix.
They were all asked to sign a release to approve use of the material from the interviews. Now, all four are being used in promotional materials for “Marching to Zion,” an anti-Jewish film that is slated to be released in March 2015.
Last month, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement about this film, which Anderson is co-producing with Paul Wittenberger, whom the ADL calls a conspiracy-oriented filmmaker from Los Angeles. ADL stated that it was “deeply troubled by the upcoming release of a new ‘documentary’ geared toward Christian audiences that purportedly will focus on ‘the history of the Jews,’ but in fact will likely serve as a tool for denigrating Jews and Judaism.”
In a promotional video, Anderson said that the film has two purposes: “to prove that the Jews are no longer God’s chosen people in the New Testament but that we as believers, we as Christians, are God’s chosen people. And secondly, to prove that the modern-day nation of Israel over in the Middle East is a complete fraud.”
In this video, he shows snapshots of Abrami, Mann, Schesnol and Wiener and says, “They’re making all the points for us. They’re all saying the same things and confirming what we show from the Bible to be true.”
Also in this video, Anderson commented, “It seems like all the churches today have bought into this pro-Israel stance and we need to wake people up.”
ADL informed the clerics that they should be aware of what the film is going to be about and if they have concerns about the film, that they should seek legal counsel, said Marilyn Mayo, a director of ADL’s Center on Extremism. “It’s important that the community be aware of Steve Anderson and who he is and what he’s really about and should educate itself about who is in their midst.”
Abrami said he is fighting back.
“The pastor misrepresented himself,” he said. “He was lying to me all along. ... I’m not letting it go, whenever I can I will fight back.”
Mann also said that he has spoken to his attorneys and will be “pursuing all legal remedies against all the parties who were involved in this heinous scam.”