BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Last month, the pastor of a small Boise Baptist church, which prohibits gay members, told his congregation that God wants to “put all queers to death.”
“When they die, that stops the pedophilia,” said Pastor Joe Jones of Shield of Faith Baptist Church. “It’s a very, very simple process. … These people know that they’re worthy of death.”
Jones gave the May 11 sermon, published on YouTube, in anticipation of LGBTQ Pride Month in June. The preacher, in between sips of coffee from a grenade-shaped mug, chastised those who vote for political leaders that fail to execute gay people — which God commands, he said.
Donald Williamson, executive director of Boise Pride, the nonprofit that organizes the city’s annual Pride festival, said Jones’ speech was inciteful in a state like Idaho.
“That is flat out hate speech,” Williamson told the Idaho Statesman by phone. “A message like that will, at some point, get through to somebody on a level where it’s going to motivate them to want to take the next step. And that’s dangerous.”
Jones did not return a phone call from the Statesman seeking comment.
Jones’ comments were publicized this week by TikTok content creator “socialistlyawkward,” who said in an online video that the pastor uses the Bible to “try and dehumanize LGBTQ people.” The post had about 73,000 views as of Friday morning.
While an extreme example, Jones’ intolerance toward LGBTQ people is not an anomaly in Idaho. His sermon is a sample of the slew of anti-gay and anti-transgender discourse that continues to beset Idaho’s LGBTQ community, and a hostility that’s intensified in recent weeks around the LGBTQ community’s month-long celebration.
HOW RELIGION INFLUENCES IDAHO POLITICS
Last week, Blaine Conzatti, president of the Idaho Family Policy Center, published a column, crowded with Bible references, that called homosexuality “sinful,” “immoral” and “an abomination.”
“Christians must refuse to celebrate evil,” Conzatti wrote in the post titled “Devotion: The Danger of LGBT Pride.”
Conzatti is an influential lobbyist whose nonprofit spearheaded Idaho’s new law that bans most abortions.
The Idaho Family Policy Center also lobbied this year for legislation that sought to ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender children and a bill that would have held librarians liable for distributing “harmful material” to minors. Most of the materials found in a Meridian library that spurred the legislation depicted LGBTQ relationships.
Religious views on LGBTQ lifestyles have consistently informed Idaho politics. Same-sex marriage is still prohibited by the Idaho Constitution, even though multiple courts ruled the 2006 voter-approved amendment violated the U.S. Constitution.
The Idaho Legislature has also rejected more than a dozen proposals to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in state law.
In 2020 the state banned transgender girls and women from playing in sports aligning with their gender identity and made it illegal for transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificates.
“God gave us a gender, male or female, for a specific reason and purpose,” Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Iona, wrote on Facebook May 31, the day before Pride Month began. “Any attempt to change one’s gender is ungodly and offensive to Him.”
PRIDE MEANT TO BRIDGE DIVIDES
Williamson counters “hateful rhetoric” with another Bible verse. The Gospel of John says, in part, “love one another,” because “God is love.”
Anti-LGBTQ sentiments may be worsening in Idaho, said Williamson, who’s lived here for a decade. On Thursday, the Boise Police Department announced that Pride flags along Harrison Boulevard were vandalized for the second consecutive year. But the intolerance always comes from extremists, Williamson said.
“In my heart, I believe it’s not the majority of Idahoans,” he said.
Pride Month and the Boise Pride Festival, which is scheduled for September, is meant to demonstrate that, Williamson said.
“That festival is so important, especially here in Idaho and especially with this legislation that we’ve been seeing over the last several years, to show the greater LGBTQ+ community and its allies that they’re not alone,” he said. “They’re seen. They’re heard.”