GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - A new Metro Atlanta church may soon be added to a national list of hate groups for its anti-LGBTQ views.
The pastor of Strong Hold Baptist Church told Channel 2 Gwinnett County Bureau Chief Tony Thomas that homosexuals deserve the death penalty.
Heidi Bierich, from the Southern Poverty Law Center, tracks hate groups across the U.S. Thomas asked her, “Does this qualify as a hate group for you guys?” Her answer: “Oh, yeah. If an organization is going to advocate for the death penalty for people engaging in same-sex relationships, they are going to make our list.”
A Channel 2 viewer told Thomas about the church after seeing a sermon on YouTube about the Gay Pride Parade in Atlanta. The sermon was titled “Shame on Atlanta Pride and its Supporters.”
During the sermon, Pastor David Berzins said, “Today, apparently is the sodomite pride parade taking place in Atlanta, in our hometown right now that’s going on. There are a bunch of pedophiles, perverts, reprobate, wicked, vile people marching up and down the streets of Atlanta.”
Berzins moved to Atlanta last summer. He comes from Arizona, where he was ordained at the Word of Truth Baptist Church. If that church sounds familiar, it’s because the pastor there made national news in 2009 when he said he prayed for President Barack Obama’s death. The reason: Obama is pro-choice.
Both pastors call themselves New Independent Fundamental Baptists. The group’s website lists 21 churches in the United States. Berzins says they are not a denomination, but a group of like-minded churches.
Strong Hold Baptist Church held its first services in a county-owned building at Lucky Shoals Park in Norcross.
Gwinnett County public records show the church spent $3,141 renting a room in the government building between June and August.
It was there that Berzins gave his sermon on the Gay Pride Parade.
“There used to be a time they were in the closet. They need to go back in the closet. They need to be run out, you know, they need to be eradicated,” he said during that sermon.
The viewer who told Thomas about the church said, “I'm not sure why it would be acceptable for a man in a county-owned building to be calling for the eradication of homosexuals from Atlanta.”
The ACLU says it’s because the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech.
“He's free to say whatever he wants to say as long as he's not inciting violence,” Sean Young of the ACLU told Thomas. “He is free to assert that his God hates the same people he hates. He is even free to celebrate the deaths of people he doesn't like.”
That’s exactly what Berzins did on the day President George H.W. Bush was buried.
“I would say rejoice that there is one less wicked reprobate person on this earth,” he preached, citing the first Gulf War and Bush’s membership in a secret society at Yale known as Skull and Bones.
The church recently moved from the government-owned building to a strip mall off Jimmy Carter Boulevard. The sign outside the new church still announces “Space Available” instead of the church’s name.
After a recent Bible study, Berzins sat down with Thomas to answer questions.
“Are you guys a hate group?” Thomas asked.
“I don't think that characterizes us. We do have some things we do hate,” Berzins replied.
He told Thomas homosexuality, along with kidnapping, adultery, bestiality and other sins mentioned in the book of Leviticus, should be punished by death.
“I stand by that statement,” Berzins said.
“You realize how some people might react to that,” Thomas said.
“Sure,” Berzins replied.
He says his beliefs come straight from the Bible. While asserting the government guaranteed right to free speech, Berzins criticizes nongovernment groups that want to stop his message from getting out.
In a sermon about hate speech, Berzins said, “It’s very clever to criminalize speech just by calling it hate speech. They haven’t done it yet, but this is the push.”
He pointed out that two other churches in the network have been stripped of the ability to take credit card donations online, because the credit card processing companies won’t do business with them.
In that sermon he said “even the more mild groups” are being targeted, citing controversial radio host Alex Jones. Jones, among other things, has claimed that the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut was just an elaborate hoax. Facebook, YouTube, Apple and Spotify banned him from their services last year. Berzins says he’s not endorsing Jones, just showing
examples of how private companies are choosing to limit views some see as offensive.
But he says, no matter what society thinks, he and his church aren’t going anywhere.
“No one is gonna be able to prevent me from preaching the word unless they kill me,” he said.
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