Standing at the front of the All Scripture Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., Pastor Grayson Fritts had the rapt attention of his congregation. It was June 2, the first Sunday of Pride Month, and Fritts had planned a timely sermon.
For roughly an hour, Fritts, who is also a detective with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, railed against members of the LGBTQ community –– referring to them as “sodomites,” “freaks” and “animals” –– and called on the government to carry out the proper punishment for the “capital crime.”
“They are worthy of death,” he declared in a video originally released by the church that was later shared on social media.
The sermon, which was reported this week by the Knoxville News Sentinel, has since prompted fierce condemnation from elected officials, members of the public and advocacy organizations. Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen has announced that her office will review all pending cases involving Fritts, who spent 30 years as a detective. In a statement to The Washington Post, Allen added that although no one has made any allegations against Fritts, a prosecutor will also be assigned to receive complaints about his past cases.
“I find this speech personally offensive and reprehensible,” Allen said. “As District Attorney, my constitutional obligation is to protect the integrity of the justice system.”
In a Wednesday statement to the News Sentinel, Sheriff Tom Spangler said Fritts was no longer on active duty, noting that the detective had put in a request earlier this month to take a county buyout offer. Fritts is on paid sick leave until the offer takes effect July 19, Spangler said.
“I want to be very clear that it is my responsibility to ensure equal protection to ALL citizens of Knox County, Tennessee under the law, my oath and the United States Constitution without discrimination or hesitation,” he said. “Rest assured that I have and will continue to do so.”
Fritts and the church could not be reached for comment.
By late Thursday, video of the June 2 service had been removed from the church’s Facebook and YouTube pages. However, portions of the fiery sermon, during which Fritts yelled and pounded his fist against a lectern, were edited into a nearly six-minute-long clip shared to social media by the Tennessee Holler, a liberal news site.
“I’m sick of sodomy getting crammed down our throats,” Fritts said at one point in the video, drawing attention to Taylor Swift’s recent efforts to fight anti-LGBTQ bills going through Tennessee’s state legislature.
“It’s infecting our culture, people,” he continued, later insisting that American culture had changed but the Bible isn’t “outdated.”
Fritts argued that the Bible demands that gays be put to death. And throughout the sermon, he spoke passionately about how it is the responsibility of the government to enforce those supposed teachings, not individual Christians — unless they are also police officers.
“God has instilled the power of civil government to send the police in 2019 out to the LGBT freaks and arrest them and have a trial for them, and if they are convicted, then they are to be put to death,” he said, earning approving murmurs from the crowd. Fritts later added that the “Bible says that sentence should be carried out speedily.”
These days, Fritts said it would be easy to spot a member of the LGBTQ community. They’re in grocery stores and your neighborhood Lowe’s being “flamboyant” and “walking around like a bunch of Twinkies,” he said. And then, there are the Pride parades.
“Man, hey call the riot team, we got a bunch of them,” Fritts said. “We have a bunch of them we’re going to get convicted because they have all their pride junk on, and they’re professing what they are, that they’re a filthy animal.”
One week later, LGBTQ people appeared to still be on Fritts’s mind as he dedicated another hour to delivering a sermon titled, “Sodomite Reprobates,” which he kicked off by griping about people “trying to mischaracterize our stance on homosexuals.”
“What I believe about homosexuals is straight from the word of God,” he said last Sunday.
On Wednesday, Fritts defended himself to reporters and during a service he led at the church that was livestreamed.
Fritts told WVLT his personal beliefs did not affect how he acted on the job. The pastor was awarded detective of the month in 2017, the News Sentinel reported.
“If I worked at the Burger King and somebody from the LGBT community came in and they ordered a hamburger, I would make them a hamburger because that was what my job would be,” he said. “Even if I felt differently towards that person and felt exactly what I feel and believe, I would still do my job.”
Inside the church, however, Fritts’s response to the blowback was less measured as he raged against other Baptist pastors who needed to “grow a spine” and “stand up just like I’m standing up.”
“The world looks at it and they’re like, ‘Oh, there’s Pastor Fritts. There’s that lone wolf . . . that one guy, that one Baptist pastor that’s just a lunatic, that’s just crazy,'” he said. “Guess what, there’s a lot of people that believe exactly like I believe.”
The problem now, Fritts said, is that all his “Baptist brethren have put their heads in the sand” because they don’t want to deal with the widespread criticism he’s facing.
“They’re weak, they’re spineless, and you know what, if the Bible says it, you need to say it. You need to preach it,” he said as people in the crowd could be heard saying “Amen” and “That’s right.”
On Wednesday, WVLT reported that a small rainbow flag was left near the church with a note that read: “Dear Pastor Fritts, I don’t know what happened to you, but I am so sorry. Love, Thy Neighbor.”
On Thursday, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero (D) and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs (R) all denounced the June 2 sermon.
“This Knox County Sheriff’s detective is preaching about murdering LGBTQ people,” Cooper tweeted. “There is no ambiguity. There is no confusion. He is suggesting the execution of our friends and neighbors.”
In a statement, Rogero said she was outraged by Fritts’s “inflammatory statements,” which " cast a negative light on our community.”
“Fritts’ statements raise concerns locally and nationally about protecting LGBTQ+ rights and equality,” she said.
Jacobs described the comments as “extremely vile and reprehensible.”
“I strongly condemn threats of or calls for violence,” he told WVLT. “On an official level, I have the utmost confidence that Sheriff Spangler along with District Attorney Allen will handle this issue in a professional and appropriate manner.”
While preaching on Wednesday, Fritts denied “calling anybody to arms.”
“I’m not calling anybody in here to arms,” he said. “I’m not calling anybody here to violence. I’m saying it’s the government’s responsibility is what I said.”
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