The voice you hear on that vile video is a Baptist preacher named Jeff Owens, shown in the photo. He is the pastor of Shenandoah Bible Baptist Church in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Here is a sampling of what he preached:
"We need to stop burning flags and start burning fags!”
“We need Hunt-A-Homo Week.”
“We need to take 'em all out and shoot 'em with a scatter shotgun!"
The video was sent to me by several readers, and it’s been circulating on numerous other blogs during the past week. (Reportedly, it was also up on YouTube until it was pulled.) It’s a sermon that pastor Owens delivered 15 years ago, but some say that the sermon was still up on his website until about a week ago.
Apparently, the publicity finally became uncomfortable for Owens. Yesterday, he posted an apology. In it, Owens says the “words in that sermon tape were erased many years ago” and that they “somehow have resurfaced” much to his “disappointment and embarrassment.”
Frankly, I don’t think his apology is enough. Not nearly enough.
First of all, it’s not as if the guy made an apology all on his own. He came up with this apology only after the recent publicity. This gives the appearance that it was the publicity that prompted the apology and not any genuine remorse.
Second, if his remorse were genuine, shouldn’t his apology be every bit as visible and vigorous as the hate-sermon he delivered? Instead, it’s tucked away in a not-so-obvious place on the church website.
Third, I just flat-out don’t buy his excuse that he was “young” when he delivered this hateful sermon. In his current online photo, he looks to be about 50-ish. That means he would have been at least 35 when he delivered this hate-sermon.
Keep in mind, this isn’t just some small country church with an isolated, lonely hate-monger. This is a very large church with a dozen men on its ministerial staff. And did you listen to the crowd in the background while Owens was delivering that sermon? He incited plenty of support for such hate.
And now, this guy -- pastor Jeff Owens -- is going on a speaking tour at Baptist churches all across the country. Take a look at this list of 35 churches that have invited him. (This schedule was previously shown at www.owenspublications.com/calendar/calendar.php. I happened to have a window open with it when the page vanished from accessibility, and so I was still able to cut and paste it.)
So here’s my question. Why aren’t these other Baptist churches denouncing such horrific hate speech and insisting that Owens’ apology be made far more widespread before they invite him to speak from their pulpits?
In fact, why aren’t many, many more who carry the “Baptist” name -- Baptists of all types -- speaking out loud and long against such hateful preaching?
But of course, why should anyone be surprised? After all, it was a former high Southern Baptist honcho, Wiley Drake, who prayed in the name of God for the death of President Barack Obama.
And it was a sitting Southern Baptist president, Frank Page, who publicly castigated clergy rape and molestation victims as being “nothing more than opportunistic persons.”
With only a few exceptions, these hateful pronouncements were met with silence from other Baptists.
And if you think such talk is representative of only a few extremists, then ask yourself why Baptists keep putting men with extremist views into positions of power. In fact, Frank Page is on track to become the next president of the Executive Committee for the Southern Baptist Convention.
And now . . . for those of you who are wondering what the Jeff Owens story could possibly have to do with my usual topic of clergy sex abuse and child molestation, consider this.
As reported in The Journal, Pastor Owens’ adult son, Jeremiah Daniel Owens, “pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault charges from an eight-count indictment handed up in October 2007 that charged him with sexual assault and sexual abuse against two girls, ages 15 and 13 . . . The mother of the 13-year-old…said her daughter met Owens at the Shenandoah Bible Baptist Church in Martinsburg where Owens’ father is the pastor.”
It wasn’t the first time that Jeremiah Owens had caused people a lot of hurt. In September 2004, he was sentenced to 3 years of probation after pleading guilty to three counts of possessing stolen property following a string of burglaries in Indiana, for which he had been charged with burglary and theft. Then, in November 2004, he was charged with rape of a 14-year-old girl in Lexington, Kentucky.
A grand jury dismissed the 2004 rape charge because of “insufficient evidence.” But I think you still have to wonder just how much the father, pastor Jeff Owens, may have known about the deeds of his son.
And did pastor Jeff Owens warn his West Virginia congregation about the crimes of his son in Indiana and the serious charges in Kentucky? Did he seek to protect the vulnerable or did he simply unleash Jeremiah on a trusting congregation?
What we know for sure is this: Pastor Jeff Owens’ adult son, Jeremiah Owens, ultimately pled guilty to sexual assault and abuse of two young girls in West Virginia.
Pastor Jeff Owens published a book called “Character lessons for children.” According to the Owens Publications website, it’s a coloring book with “lessons to learn” on such topics as “work, laziness, diligence, waking up, being on time, bathing, [and] obedience.”
Perhaps Pastor Owens should have also included lessons on not raping or molesting kids.
But I guess he was too busy with preaching hate and violence against gays.
Update 5/24/10: The video at the link in the first line has now been removed from that site. However, it was reposted here.