Monday, November 16, 2015

Berean Pastor: "I do not feel pity for a godless society"

Remember Sean Harris, the pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina who told parents to punch their "effeminate" sons back in 2012? Sean Harris and his colleague William Sturm weighed in on the Paris attacks during a November 15th podcast entitled "France will be merciless in its response to ISIS". After sharing a news report on the attacks, Harris and Sturm offered commentary that was startling in its coldness. The podcast serves as yet another example of right-wing disregard for Syrian refugees.

At the 3:48 mark, Harris and Sturm mocked the idea of France clamping down on terrorism among their Muslim population. Sturm called France "dumb" and accused it of lacking "good backbone" for admitting Syrian refugees. The two men seemed to conflate Muslims, Islamic extremists, and Syrian refugees.
HARRIS: So Bill, he says that they're going to be merciless. What's your reaction to that, because I heard that Friday night. What's your reaction to the fact that France is going to be merciless?

STURM: I don't think they have any idea how to even start. I mean, 24 percent of their males under the age of 25 are Muslim.

HARRIS: 25 percent?

STURM: 24 percent of males under the age of 25 are Muslim. What are you going to do?

HARRIS: A quarter of their national population.

STURM: Yep. Male population under the age of 25, a quarter of them are Muslim. What are you going to do? ... It says they haven't seen this mayhem since World War II. Well, there's some other things they haven't seen in Paris since World War II, and that is a good backbone, okay? A good backbone. When you let Syrian refugees and you let these fighting-age Middle Easterners flee to your country, and ISIS says they've put 4,000 fighters into Europe through the refugees' movements, how dumb are you? How dumb are you?
At the 13:15 mark, Harris and Sturm insisted that gun control prevented the Paris victims from arming themselves before the terrorist attacks. Terrorists (whom they again conflated with Syrian refugees) will not heed gun control laws anyway, they argued.
STURM: In a country where they have strict, strict obnoxious gun control.

HARRIS: Right. So much so, Bill, that no one was armed. No one was able to respond. Not a single person in the theater was able to do anything. They all just had to cower and run for their lives. Not one single individual had a concealed carry permit, because they don't allow that in Paris. They've "evolved" beyond that. We are the "barbarians" in America who think that there's a need to have weapons.

STURM: And of course, refugees, they abide by things like gun control.

HARRIS: Laws. Once you tell them once the laws are, they obey them. "Of course! We didn't know that was the law! Now that we know that's the rule."

STURM: "Good thing the mayor's coordinating a gun turn-in, a buy-back-a-gun thing. We'll take all our AKs in, and our explosive vests, since we know there's a law now. We'll take them in and turn them in."
In a breathtaking show of callousness, Sturm admitted that he felt no sympathy for France. The Paris attacks were just desserts for a "godless society", he insisted at the 16:37 mark, forgetting that the victims were innocent people with names and faces. Sturm and Harris afforded pity to "brothers and sisters" in Paris, presumably evangelical Christians, but not to French victims.
STURM: I do not feel pity for a godless society that is now eating the fruit of their own ways. I feel pity for my brothers and sisters who are in Paris who are partakers of this.

HARRIS: Sure, sure. It's hard not to say "You're reaping what you sowed," but at the same time, Bill--

STURM: I have brothers and sisters there.

HARRIS: Yeah, that are now living in terror.
Harris and Sturm somehow used a conversation about terrorist attacks as an opportunity to slam the LGBTQ community. At the 18:12 mark, Sturm tastelessly likened the advance of radical Islam to the advance of LGBTQ equality. Harris warned listeners that pedophiles will rise up in the same way as LGBTQ persons and Islamic extremists, drawing upon ugly stereotypes of LGBTQ people as child abusers.
STURM: I noticed an escalation. It works with the LGBT community. It works with Islam. Everyone that seems--"Just let us live peaceably." Before you know it, they're shaking the dog. They're wagging the dog.

HARRIS: Yeah, and you're saying that you see this with the Muslim community, you saw it with the LGBT community, and Bill, it seems as though that the transgender community's on that same glide path, and the logical follow-up to that'll be the pedophilers.
These two Christian pastors couldn't sound less Christlike if they tried. Two men who revere the Bible seem to have forgotten the Bible's commands to care for the destitute and to welcome the foreigner. Whatever happened to, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in"? Whatever happened to, "The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born; love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt"?

I was struck by the lack of compassion that Harris and Sturm felt for the Paris victims. For them, the terrorist attacks were an opportunity to indulge in victim-blaming, to sneer at France for its alleged inferiority to the U.S. Sturm berated France for supposedly being "dumb" and "godless" instead of grieving for the victims or sharing constructive observations about the attacks. The essence of their commentary seemed to be, See? We're better than those frogs. That won't happen to us because we're smarter/holier/armed to the teeth.

Harris and Sturm also demonstrated tribalism, in that they respected members of their in-group ("brothers and sisters") but looked down their noses at people outside their Christian, American, right-wing tribe. Perceived outsiders, including French citizens, Muslims, refugees, and LGBTQ people, were either dismissed as foolish or demonized as threats. Their podcast reminds us that tribalism prevents us from recognizing the humanity of other people, from expanding our moral universe to include people who are different from us.

Xenophobia and tribalism won't undo the damage of the Paris attacks, and they won't make us safer. I wish more figures from the right, including Harris and Sturm, understood that.


  1. "Xenophobia and tribalism won't undo the damage of the Paris attacks, and they won't make us safer. I wish more figures from the right, including Harris and Sturm, understood that."

    But then they wouldn't be figures from the right. ;-)

    1. Agi Tater -- True. A reasonable right-winger is an oxymoron.

  2. The Paris attacks were just desserts for a "godless society", he insisted at the 16:37 mark, forgetting that the victims were innocent people with names and faces.

    No different than the notorious remarks of Falwell and Robertson after 9/11. They'll say the same again if ISIS ever hits the US.

    Harris and Sturm are merely highlighting how much their mentality resembles that of ISIS. In ISIS's official statement claiming responsibility for the Paris attacks, they called France the "capital of prostitution and obscenity" meaning that France was worthy of attack because it does not conform to their religion's taboo system. Harris and Sturm are saying essentially the same thing here.

    1. Infidel -- It's amazing how much the different fundamentalisms of the world have in common. Self-righteousness and a lack of empathy are only two of the many things they have in common.

  3. Oh, and I really doubt that a quarter of France's population under 25 is Muslim. About 8% of France's whole population is Muslim, or rather, consists of immigrants from Muslim countries and their descendants -- a lot of those people are so assimilated and secularized (as most French people are very secular) as to not be Muslim in any meaningful sense. Nor are the birth rates much higher than the general national birth rate any more. Europe has a lot of wingnut websites which throw around wildly-exaggerated numbers like this, arrived at by errors like taking percentage statistics for a capital city and applying them to the whole country (or simply made up), and of course American wingnuts uncritically parrot them.

    1. Infidel -- The CIA World Fact Book stated that Muslims only make up 7-9% of France's population, so Harris and Sturm are way off. I wonder what website gave them their exaggerated numbers?

  4. Strange how these right wing religious leaders manage to shift the argument into a demonization of all the things/people they hate. - Gays, gun control, etc., leaving subject of the Paris terror attacks far behind.

    1. Donna -- The mental gymnastics they do to reach that point are amazing.

  5. One meme I dislike is the soft, kind Jesus that liberals love. In reality, if he really ever existed, Jesus was more like a David Koresh tor the crazy ranter on the campus quad than the kindly Episcopalian down the street.. The New Testament, with its emphasis on damnation, is WORSE than the Old Testament. Many of the nicer parts (the vague, touchy-feely Sermon on the Mount) were added well after the fact to soften the apocalyptic stuff.

    I think these wackaloons are extremely "Christ-like" actually. And that is not a good thing.

    1. Brian -- Still, it's interesting when fundamentalists cherry pick Biblical passages and ignore the ones they find inconvenient.

      We can definitely agree that Sturm and Harris are not nice people!


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