Pastor Steven Anderson has one name for what he planned to do in South Africa: “soul-winning.”
The country’s minister of home affairs had some different words for Anderson and members of his church: “I am certain they promote hate speech as well as advocate social violence.”
The Arizona preacher has a history of inflammatory statements against LGBT people, and now his words have gotten him barred from entering South Africa.
The church that Anderson founded, Tempe’s Faithful Word Baptist Church, has been named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The organization says Anderson preached in 2009 that he would pray for President Obama’s death, and the next day one of his congregants went to an Obama appearance carrying an assault rifle and a pistol. It says that Anderson once told a gay journalist, “If you’re a homosexual, I hope you get brain cancer and die like Ted Kennedy.” A pro-LGBT group once raised $20,000 in a crowdfunding campaign to send Anderson lumps of coal for Christmas — a lot of coal.
Most recently, Anderson was criticized for his sermon after the massacre in a gay club in Orlando. “The good news is that at least 50 of these pedophiles are not going to be harming children anymore,” Anderson said. “The bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive, so they’re going to continue to molest children and recruit people into their filthy homosexual lifestyle.”
Anderson has nine children with his wife, and he boasts on his church’s website that he has no college degree but has memorized almost half the New Testament word for word.
When South Africans heard that this pastor was coming to their country to proselytize door-to-door, they protested. Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba said that more than 60,000 people signed petitions asking that Anderson be barred from the country.
The country’s law allows for foreigners to be denied visas because they are “likely to promote hate speech or advocate social violence,” Gigaba said.
“South Africa has its own mending to do; we do not need more hatred advocated to our people,” he said, in a lengthy address about why he was declaring Anderson “a prohibited person in South Africa.”
Gigaba announced his decision Tuesday shortly before Anderson was scheduled to fly to South Africa. The pastor changed his travel plans, and when he spoke to The Post on Wednesday, he said he was in Germany, about to board a connecting flight to Ethiopia and from there to Botswana.
He said he was surprised that South Africa banned him just before his trip.
“We should have a God-given right to our freedom of speech and our freedom of religion,” Anderson said. “Thank God in the United States we have that. But over there, they don’t.”
The idea for his trip to South Africa came about because of a woman from Botswana, who came to Canada for higher education and started listening to Anderson’s sermons on YouTube, he said. She came to his Tempe church for a summer, then fell in love with a fellow congregant. Anderson wanted to attend their wedding in her homeland.
And as long as he was there in Africa, he thought he might as well do what he has done in eight American cities: Gather dozens of people to go door-to-door preaching the gospel — what Anderson calls a “soul-winning marathon.”
He planned two big drives, one in Botswana and one in neighboring South Africa.
“Just to be clear, the soul-winning marathon never had anything to do with homosexuality,” Anderson said. “At none of these soul-winning marathons has it ever come up. I preach 156 times a year at my church, every year. I preach all manner of subjects. I preach everything that the Bible says — 90 percent of it is not about sexuality. People get kind of a caricature of what our church is like, because basically they hear the most extreme five minutes out of the most extreme sermon out of the year.”
Not that he’s backing down from any of his previous comments. He stands by all the controversial sermons he has given, he said.
The U.S. State Department does not intervene on behalf of Americans who are denied entrance to foreign countries based on those countries’ immigration laws. Will Cocks, a spokesman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, said that the State Department also respects South Africa’s dedication to protecting LGBT rights. “We are a friend and partner of South Africa, and we support their efforts to continue building a society based on human rights for all.”
As for Anderson, the pastor said on Wednesday that he’s focusing on Botswana instead of thinking more about a country that doesn’t want him to come.
“It’s not like I’m hellbent on visiting this place,” he said of South Africa. “It’s not really that cool of a place.”