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A sermon in which a minister who is also a sheriff's detective called for the execution of LGBTQ people has led to an investigation by authorities in Knox County, Tenn.
Grayson Fritts gave the sermon June 2 at All Scripture Baptist Church in Knoxville, where he is pastor, local TV station WVLT reports.
"The Bible says the powers that be are ordained of God, and God has instilled the power of civil government to send the police in 2019 out to these LGBT freaks and arrest them," he said in the sermon, which was posted to Facebook. "Have a trial for them, and if they are convicted, then they are to be put to death ... do you understand that? It's a capital crime to be carried out by our government."
"All the Pride parades, man, hey, call the riot teams, we got a bunch of 'em, get the paddy wagon out here, we got a bunch of 'em going to jail, we got a bunch of them we're gonna get convicted because they've got their Pride junk on and they're professing what they are, they're a filthy animal," he continued.
He was basing his sermon, titled "Sodomite Reprobates," on the King James Version of the Bible's book of Leviticus, which says in chapter 20, verse 13, "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."
A few days before delivering the sermon, which came on the first Sunday of LGBTQ Pride Month, Fritts, a 20-year county employee, requested early retirement from the Knox County Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Tom Spangler told local media Wednesday that Fritts is on paid sick leave until the effective date of his retirement, which is July 19.
"I want to be very clear that it is my responsibility to ensure equal protection to all citizens of Knox County, Tenn., under the law, my oath, and the United States Constitution without discrimination or hesitation," Spangler added. "Rest assured that I have and will continue to do so."
Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen said her office is looking into the matter. "As district attorney, I have dedicated my career to the belief that justice is blind and that all people are entitled to equal protection of the law," she told the Knoxville News Sentinel. "I always have and always will prosecute fairly and justly, based upon the law and the evidence, without prejudice, bias, or discrimination of any kind."
The news about Fritts's sermon, first reported today, alarmed LGBTQ rights advocates. It is "particularly reprehensible when people use religion and their position in law enforcement to attack our community," Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, told the paper.
"This is why we celebrate Pride," added Sterling Field, Tennessee Equality Project chairman for Knox, Blount, and Anderson counties, in an interview with the News Sentinel. "We've had police brutality in the past. Pride started with the Stonewall uprising 50 years ago as a group of folks trying to assert that they deserve to be alive and deserve to have dignity and respect." Local Pride officials said there hadn't been issues with the sheriff's department, although they rely mainly on city police for security.
The All Scripture Baptist Church includes its belief in the death penalty for homosexuality in a doctrinal statement on its home page. It also says the church considers the King James Version of the Bible to be "the perfect, preserved word of God, without error." This translation of the Bible was commissioned in the 17th century by King James I of England, believed by many historians to have been a gay man.
In his Wednesday night sermon at the church, attended by a WVLT reporter, Fritts defended the June 2 message and said he never intended for citizens to execute gay people, but that is instead the job of the government. He said other churches are "weak and spineless" for not endorsing this penalty and added, "Just as much as God loves, God hates." He concluded, "Put homos to death."
Shortly before the Wednesday service began, someone left a note outside the church, accompanied by a Pride flag, according to WVLT. It read, "Dear Pastor Fritts, I don't know what happened to you, but I am so sorry. Love, Thy Neighbor."