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The Southern Baptist church attended by the accused Atlanta-area mass shooter promoted strict, uncompromising views about sex, gender roles, feminism, and the importance of obeying the government—any government—even in North Korea.
In recorded sermons that have since been deleted from the church’s web site, lead pastor Jerry Dockery decried “radical feminism” and criticized recent shifts in gender roles as the work of Satan.
“Radical feminism has engulfed our culture like a tsunami,” Dockery told his congregation on September 20, 2020. “We’re now striving for gender neutrality, for gender fluidity, you name it. It’s just gender whatever-you-want. And I would say to you that this is a blatant, a blatant—I will say it one more time—a blatant guidance, direction and strategy of Satan to oppose and usurp the authority of God.”
The Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Georgia, now finds itself engulfed in crisis after one of its congregants allegedly killed eight people in a shooting spree at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area Tuesday evening. Six of the victims were Asian women, and officials say they are still investigating whether the attack should be considered a hate crime.
The alleged gunman told police he had a sex addiction and that he wanted to eliminate what he saw as “temptation”—although experts have expressed skepticism about that self-diagnosis. Massage parlors, especially those that employ migrant or Asian women, are often considered go-to spots for various sex acts. It’s unclear if that assumption applies to the businesses the suspect targeted.
“Radical feminism has engulfed our culture like a tsunami.”
One of the suspect’s former roommates told VICE News that he appeared to be “under the pressure-cooker of his religious surroundings.” Tyler Bayless, 35, who spent several months in a halfway house where the accused shooter sought counseling for his self-professed sex addiction, said that the suspect repeated the church’s denunciations of feminism and pornography.
At first, the church, where the gunman was baptized in 2018, reacted to the tragedy by locking down its online presence and nixing access to its website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. But it re-emerged Friday to denounce the suspect’s “wicked act” as antithetical to its beliefs, rebut that his religious views could have played a role in the shootings, and begin the process of revoking his membership to the congregation.
“These unthinkable and egregious murders directly contradict his own confession of faith in Jesus and the gospel,” the church wrote in a lengthy statement on its website.
“We repudiate any and all forms of misogyny and racism,” the church wrote. “We also explicitly denounce any and all forms of hatred or violence against Asians or Asian-Americans.”
Yet when the website came back online, references to some of the church’s more uncompromising positions were removed. They remain accessible on cached web pages, and many of the sermons are still posted on Spotify.
The church makes clear it takes a strict stand against sex outside of marriage.
“We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and a woman,” the church’s bylaws state. “We believe that any form of sexual immorality, such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, polygamy, pedophilia, pornography, or any attempt to change one’s sex, or disagreement with one’s biological sex, is sinful and offensive to God.”
In a sermon on Christian ethics on February 9, 2020, Dockery said that the Bible teaches that all governments have been “instituted by God” and therefore entrusted with authority to rule over us.
He specified that he meant even the brutal dictatorship of North Korea.
“What about North Korea? What if you lived in North Korea, and you're a Christ-follower—does this apply to you? Absolutely,” Dockery said.
“Following the plans of the authorities that God has placed in front of us” creates “a moment where we are glorifying and honoring God as sovereign over everything,” Dockery explained.
North Korea is widely considered one of the harshest authoritarian regimes on earth, as a country where citizens are routinely thrown into prison camps for minor infractions like gossiping about the state.