BBC Documentary on Steven Anderson and Ruben Israel

Somewhat belatedly, I’ve managed to get around to watching America’s Hate Preachers, a BBC Three documentary by Hannah Livingston that was uploaded to the BBC iPlayer in October and is still available.

The programme focuses on Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church and Ruben Israel of the Official Street Preachers – there were few surprises, although the cameras show both men in their domestic settings and the Street Preachers preparing for a typical “confrontational evangelism” protest.

In the case of Anderson, it is very clear that his perspective on homosexuality is not one of “hate the sin but love the sinner”: Anderson’s advice for gay people us that they should kill themselves, and when asked what he would like to say to someone who left a threatening message on his answer-phone, his answer is “enjoy Aids”. Livingston also references Anderson’s Holocaust denial, and Anderson tells her about why he believes 9/11 was an inside job. Anderson is shown in full flow at a preachers’ conference at the Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento, pastored by Roger Jimenez. Jimenez is a notorious figure in his own right, having celebrated the Orlando nightclub massacre, and the event drew protests. Apparently, Anderson is planning to open three new churches.

The Official Street Preachers, meanwhile, are shown haranguing passers-by on Hollywood Boulevard about the evils of homosexuality and Islam (those enjoying a quiet drink nearby aren’t spared, either), holding a protest outside a Phoenix Pride event, and counter-protesting near the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The fire-and-brimstone rhetoric is also crude, with Israel’s associates bantering rather than preaching, denouncing “nasty cocksuckers”, and waving around a packet of bacon as a supposed prophylactic against Muslims.

Unlike Anderson, the Official Street Preachers at least have a concept that those they hate may be saved, if their evangelism brings about “the fear of the Lord”. Interestingly, members of the group claim that they don’t sin, rather than that they try not to sin, and are sorry when they do – this claim to perfection would be considered heterodox by most Christians.

The Official Street Preachers are known for their many banners – a variety of fonts are used, although Old Town (the font used in old Wild West “Wanted” posters) seems to be a favourite. Ruben has an extensive collection stashed in his garage – he shows off one against Islam and another against “Rebellious Jezebels” (“one you don’t see very often”), explaining that “I can make any banner, any size, and have it sent to me instantly. And have your name on it, and your picture.”

The Official Street Preachers have featured on this blog previously (in return for which I feature on their website) – in 2009 they abused worshippers at a mosque in Tampa while en route to evangelising a Super Bowl event, and in 2012 they showed up at the annual Arab International Festival in Dearborn with a pig’s head on a pole. This provocation caused some disruption, which was written up on conservative media as Muslims attacking a group of harmless Christian evangelists.

One odd detail in the documentary shows Ruben on the cover of LDS Living magazine. The Official Street Preachers also protest Mormon events, but the story here is that Israel has been befriended by a Mormon named Bryan Hall. The relationship features in a Utah-made documentary called US and THEM: Religious Rivalry in America.