Anti-LGBT hate group Stedfast Baptist Church (SBC) has split after pastor Donnie Romero resigned from the main SBC church in Fort Worth, Texas, in early January amidst revelations that he hired prostitutes and was involved in gambling and marijuana.
Romero garnered national attention for comments following the 2016 massacre of 49 patrons by a lone gunman at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, popular with LGBT people. Romero celebrated the massacre, said that God should finish the job, and referred to the murdered patrons as “sodomites,” “perverts” and “pedophiles.”
The split occurred in the SBC-Jacksonville (SBC-Jax) congregation around the same time as the ordination in Fort Worth of Texas pastor Jonathan Shelley, brought in to replace Romero on Jan. 6.
Romero had also been the head pastor of SBC-Jax and SBC-Oklahoma City, satellite churches of the main Fort Worth branch under the pastorship of Fort Worth. The satellite churches become independent once their pastors are ordained by the head pastor of SBC-Fort Worth. No preacher at the SBC satellites has been fully ordained.
The split, which occurred over Shelley, revealed acrimony and personal slights among churches and their congregations involved in an ambitious movement launched by Steven Anderson, pastor at Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, an anti-LGBT hate group. Romero was a former congregant of Anderson’s.
Anderson has garnered international attention in previous years for calling for the deaths of LGBT people and has been banned from entering several countries for his anti-LGBT rhetoric.
SBC is part of Anderson’s network, called the New Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement (New IFB), which claims it is not a denomination but rather a “revival of what the old IFB once represented.” New IFB churches, like the old Independent Fundamental Baptist churches, use the King James Bible. The old IFB movement was founded in the 1940s to reclaim the fundamentalism of the 1920s.
Anderson’s network has churches in the U.S. but also one in South Africa, four in the Philippines, and two in Australia.
Anderson traveled to Fort Worth at the beginning of January to help the church after Romero’s resignation and to bring in and ordain Shelley at SBC. Shelley is from another Texas church in Anderson’s network, Pure Words Baptist Church in Houston.
Tension erupted, however, when SBC-Jax primary preacher Adam Fannin refused to accept Shelley’s pastoral authority. In the ensuing turmoil, accusations of financial wrongdoing and personal slights abounded as all three church leaders – Anderson, Shelley and Fannin – released videos about their positions on Shelley and SBC that have garnered hundreds of comments.
Commenters either supported Anderson and Shelley, or supported Fannin while some referred derisively to Anderson as “Pope” and also to the New IFB as “a cult,” a term Shelley used in reference to Fannin and his followers.
War of Words
The conflict started as a power struggle just days after Romero’s resignation. Anderson posted a video Jan. 5 on the New IFB YouTube account outlining the situation and noted that a meeting held Jan. 4 at SBC-Fort Worth went well. He ordained Shelley on Sunday, Jan. 6.
Then Anderson expressed his frustration with Fannin (calling him “duplicitous,” “selfish” and “disingenuous”) who refused to accept Shelley as pastor of SBC-Fort Worth and SBC-Jax amid allegations of financial wrongdoing.
Fannin also posted a video Jan. 5 to the New IFB YouTube channel claiming that the New IFB is “not a cult,” that details about Romero’s situation had been intentionally withheld and that a “conspiracy and a cover-up” in Fort Worth was taking place. He also claimed that Romero failed SBC-Jax as a pastor.
Fannin further declared he was the “only God-ordained leadership” in all three of the churches, then accused people from “the outside” of taking control of local situations like the one in Fort Worth, a reference to Shelley. Fannin also claimed that there are things going on in the New IFB Movement that “are not biblical,” a series of bad decisions in Arizona were creating “jerks in the movement” and that “Pastor Steven Anderson is not the sheriff of Stedfast Baptist Church.”
Later on in the video, Fannin accused SBC-Fort Worth of a cover-up regarding its finances. He also said that Anderson fired him via text message, thus “usurping the authority” of a local church. “I would serve under Jonathan Shelley,” Fannin went on, “if it were right, but unfortunately at this moment I would have an issue with that because he has publicly lied about me.” A few minutes later, he stated that “Jonathan Shelley is not the boss of Stedfast Baptist Church and he is not the boss of Jacksonville to be able to fire me. I’m under a God-given, biblical ordination.”
Within a week of Romero’s resignation Shelley also fired Fannin and threw him and his supporters out of Stedfast, which effectively split SBC-Jax and left the remaining congregants of that church who support Shelley without a building.
Shelley addressed both the bans on Fannin and his followers and the “righteous remnant” – those who supported Shelley – of SBC-Jax in a January 7 video posted at the New IFB YouTube account, saying that SBC-Fort Worth was going to help them get everything they needed to continue on as an SBC satellite.
Shelley also noted that Stedfast was bringing in outside investigators to determine wrongdoing.
Anderson addressed alleged financial wrongdoing at SBC-Jax in a Jan. 10 YouTube video titled “Audit of Financial Records in Jacksonville Complete.”
There has been financial fraud that has taken place at Stedfast Jacksonville. There’s no doubt anymore, okay? The way things were run by Romero is fraudulent. We already knew that, okay, that’s already been admitted. That’s already being taken care of by an outside auditor/lawyer/accountant that’s gonna come in and fix that. … But folks, Jacksonville is being run in the same way. The same garbage financially is going on out there, and that explains Adam Fannin’s bizarre behavior.
He went on to say that “Adam Fannin is involved in the dishonest financial practices and he needs to be investigated whether he’s been involved with the gambling and the hookers and everything else because he was right there with Romero on this shady financial practice.” Ninety percent of what Romero admitted to, Anderson continued, took place in Jacksonville, so Fannin “needs to be investigated hard.”
Shelley made his opinions of Fannin clear in a video Jan. 6 on the New IFB YouTube channel (the day of his ordination at Stedfast) in which he said he refuses to work with Fannin and would never send him out as a pastor.
He’s the most prideful, arrogant person I’ve ever had to deal with. He only cares about himself. That’s been evident through his actions and his desires to just basically destroy his own church. He doesn’t care about anybody but himself. It’s been super clear through his actions. And, you know, he’ll say things about it out of both sides of his mouth. He’ll try to say things that are right and say things that sound good but anybody can see through this silver-tongued devil, what his real ambitions and motives are. He’s lied about so many different people. … This guy is wicked. The Bible says if a ruler hearkens to lies, all of his servants are wicked. And you know, any of these Adam Fannin sympathizers, at this point I just say you’re wicked. … He [Fannin] showed his true colors and it’s disgusting, it’s horrifying.
SBC-Jax church member “Ben the Baptist” (Ben), who is a supporter of Shelley’s, posted a video Jan. 8 titled “The Stedfast Jacksonville Split.” Ben claimed that Romero’s oversight at SBC-Jax had slipped, and that Fannin had been claiming more independence though the church is not independent and he had not been fully ordained. Ultimately, Ben said, he believes the split was necessary and now feels SBC-Jax is on the right track, and he appreciates Shelley’s leadership.
“Listen, I told him, I want you to come in here guns blazing. I want you to clean this thing up. There was a cancer in this church that’s been removed and we need somebody to come in and clean house.”
The dust seems to be settling, as SBC-Jax regained control of its Facebook page Jan. 17, according to a post by Ben the Baptist. The next day, another post announced “The NEW Stedfast Jacksonville,” which listed Shelley as pastor along with three preachers from the local congregation. The church also has a new address in Jacksonville, which appeared on a Facebook event post that noted Steven Anderson will be preaching there in early February.
And though Anderson’s New IFB seems to have weathered this storm, if the hundreds of comments posted on the videos during this dust-up are any indication, there are those who are not pleased with how Fannin was treated and others who feel that the New IFB is cult-like, with Anderson as the tyrannical leader who removes people who don’t adhere to his party line.
As for Fannin, SBC-Jax posted a sermon by one of its preachers Jan. 23, titled “Adam Fannin was Destroyed by Pride.”
SPLC photo illustration