Pastor Donnie Romero, of Fort Worth-based anti-LGBT hate group Stedfast Baptist Church, resigned from the church after admitting to “sins,” including hiring prostitutes, gambling and marijuana. Fellow anti-LGBT pastor Jonathan Shelley, with Pure Words Baptist Church in Houston, was quickly brought to Fort Worth and ordained Jan. 6 at Stedfast to replace him.
Romero came to widespread media attention in 2016 when he said that God should “finish the job” and kill the survivors of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a place that catered primarily to LGBT clientele. In a video Romero posted after the attack, in which 49 people were gunned down, he said, “These 50 sodomites were all perverts and pedophiles and they are the scum of the earth and the earth is a little better place now.” YouTube has since removed the video for violating its policy on hate speech.
In a 2014 sermon, Romero claimed he wasn’t going to let “dirty faggots” into his church and said they want to “snatch your children” to “hurt and rape them.” He also said that LGBT people should be put to death because the Bible says they’re filthy.
Romero resigned from the congregation in a video posted Jan. 2 on YouTube, saying he had “not been ruling his house well” and had been a “terrible husband and father.” He said he and his family planned to stay on as members of the church and then apologized for the hurt “this may cause people.” He did not specifically name what he had done.
Following Romero’s statement, virulently anti-LGBT and antisemitic pastor Steven Anderson, of anti-LGBT hate group Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, took to the pulpit to field questions from the congregation and proposed Shelley as a potential replacement. He also did not discuss what Romero had done.
That information came out in a separate video posted Jan. 3 on YouTube by Anderson. “Basically,” Anderson said, “the major sin was being with prostitutes. And then there were also marijuana and gambling, that were also discovered.”
Anderson plays a key role in the middle of the Stedfast maelstrom. He is an origin point for both Romero’s Stedfast and Shelley’s Pure Words via a loose-knit network that Anderson helped construct called the “New IFB movement.” IFB refers to “Independent Fundamentalist Baptist” churches, an older movement founded in the 1940s to reclaim the fundamentalism of the 1920s, according to John Fea, chair of the history department at Messiah College.
The “New IFB movement” is, according to the website thenewifb.com, “a revival of what the old IFB once represented.” Each nondenominational church associated with the movement is independent. The website lists 29 churches as New IFB (all three Stedfast churches are listed, along with Pure Words and two Faithful Word churches), and it appears to have gone public recently. The site’s newsletters date back to November 2018.
Romero is a former member of Anderson’s congregation. He left with Anderson’s blessing in 2014 to start Stedfast in Fort Worth. Anderson ordained Romero, and traveled to Fort Worth this past week to address the Stedfast congregation and help guide them during the crisis.
Shelley is also a former member of Anderson’s congregation. Anderson ordained him in July 2018 to start Pure Words in Houston. Like Anderson and Romero, Shelley is also known for anti-LGBT statements. Part of a YouTube sermon uploaded Oct. 17, 2018 by Pure Words Church is titled “Why you should never hire a homo.” In it, Shelley said,
Look, you turn on the TV, what do you see? Fags. You turn on, you know, the internet, you get on YouTube, fags. You turn on any kind of news channel, there’s [sic] crammin’ fags down your throat. You go to the public school, what do they want to do, they want to push the fag agenda down your throat, you look in the newspaper, they want to push the fag agenda down your throat. You go to the store today, there’s fags everywhere, it’s so disgusting, it makes me want to vomit, they keep pushing the fag agenda, the fag agenda, just coming down your throat and you say how am I gonna fight it? How am I gonna fight it? The word of God. That’s what’s gonna fight it.
Photo illustration by SPLC