The deaths of 17 students in a horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. has reignited a national conversation about gun control. But one Oklahoma preacher has another solution to America’s gun violence epidemic: Stop letting gays marry.
On Thursday, Fairview Baptist Church Pastor Bill Ledbetter delivered a sermon on the floor of the Oklahoma Senate in which he claimed “immorality in our laws” causes mass shootings.
“There is a time in which he chastens an individual,” he says in a wide-ranging, 16-minute address on everything from the “tyranny” of political correctness to Kim Davis. “There is a time in which just as he blesses nations, he also chastens nations. There are times in which god has to get a nation’s attention. The god who judged Sodom and Gomorrah is the God we’re dealing with today. He has not changed.”
Switching gears to the Feb. 14 tragedy, Ledbetter asks: “What is going on?”
“I’m asking the question,” the pastor continues. “Do we really believe that we can create immorality in our laws? Do we really believe that we can redefine marriage from the word of God to something in our own mind and there not be a response? Do we really believe we can tell God to get lost from our schools and our halls of legislation and there be no response? Do we really believe that?”
Ledbetter also cited Hurricanes Harvey and Erma as signs of God’s wrath, as well as the California wildfires which destroyed over a million acres of land. In total, more than 260 people died as a result of those tragedies.
His comments were swiftly condemned by LGBTQ advocates in Oklahoma.
Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, claims Ledbetter’s “hate-filled and dangerous” comments leave a “shameful mark on the people’s house.” In an email to INTO, he particularly criticized Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate), who invited Ledbetter to the Senate as a “guest pastor” for the week.
“To invoke the deaths of scores of American children in an attempt to further an extremist political agenda is disrespectful, disingenuous, and disgusting,” Stevenson says. “Sen. Brecheen owes the families of these victims an apology. He owes the fair-minded people of Oklahoma an apology. And he owes the thousands of LGBTQ young people in Oklahomawho had to hear these hate-filled wordsan apology.”
“Words have consequences,” he continues, “and if these words result in harm to one of these kids, that falls squarely on the shoulders of the lawmaker who invited this vitriol under the dome of our state capitol.”
Brecheen did not reply to a request for comment before publication time, but Ledbetter’s remarks shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone in the room. According to state Sen. Allison Ikley-Freeman (D-Tulsa), the conservative made similar claims on the floor of the House six years ago. At the time, she says he alleged “gay people caused Hurricane Katrina.”
In a video of his rambling 2012 speech, Ledbetter also appears to blame the Sept. 11 attacks on LGBTQ people.
“That’s not enlightenment,” he says of the movement for queer and trans equality. “That’s spiritual darkness. If we think we’re going to make same-sex marriage a civil right and god’s going to wink about that I would invite us to think again.”
Ikley-Freeman was present during his most recent attacks on the LGBTQ community, although she alleges the connection between same-sex marriage and mass shootings was “very loosely implied.” In a phone conversation, the lawmaker says she considered walking out in protest of his remarksbut stayed for the entire address.
“If I left, it would have created a stir,” she tells INTO. “It would have refocused the conversation onto me, instead of what he said.”
Although the Oklahoma Senate is overwhelmingly Republican, Ikley-Freeman asserts that his comments were not well-received in the room, describing the atmosphere as “uncomfortable.”
The openly lesbian legislator looked around at her colleagues during the speech to gauge their reactions and reports they were “universally” upset by the remarks.
“It was one of those moments of: ‘Am I the only one who thinks this is absolutely unacceptable?’” Ikley-Freeman cliams. “I realized I wasn’t. That made me feel a lot better.”
Audio of the sermon recorded by the news website NonDoc seems to back up the Tulsa Democrat’s assertion. There’s an audible murmur in the room as Ledbetter addresses the Parkland tragedy, and at least one conservative member of the legislature is reported to have left during the speech.
Democratic leadership in the Senate likewise condemned Ledbetter’s inflammatory rhetoric.
“There is no place for intolerance and hate in the Senate chamber or anywhere else in Oklahoma,” says Minority Leader Sen. John Sparks (D-Norman) in a statement. “As senators, we were elected to serve all people in Oklahoma and we should not condone or encourage divisive rhetoric which targets any Oklahoman.”
After his sermon made headlines in Oklahoma, Ledbetter has apologized to anyone who was “offended” by his comments.
“The people that were offended I love with all of my heart,” the pastor tells NonDoc. “I love the American people and the Oklahoma people so very much, so I never want to offend anyone, but when you speak God’s truth that can sometimes be the reaction. But I sure don’t mean to.”
“It’s difficult because I don’t want to offend anybody, but I don’t want to shirk my duty,” he continues. “I love them very much. So much.”
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