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California church known for its anti-LGBTQ beliefs is bombed

A command post is seen outside the First Works Baptist Church after an explosion in El Monte, Calif., on Saturday. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)
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A California church that espouses anti-LGBTQ beliefs and has been the recent target of protests was bombed with an improvised explosive device early Saturday morning, authorities said.

The El Monte Police Department responded to calls around 4:30 a.m. about smoke at First Works Baptist Church. Officers discovered windows were broken and realized there had been a blast, Lt. Christopher Cano told reporters at the scene. There were no injuries or deaths.

El Monte police, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI responded to the explosion and determined there was not a second device.

Law enforcement is investigating who might be behind the blast, although there is no indication that activists protesting the church were responsible for the attack, El Monte Police Chief David Reynoso told The Washington Post. Obscene messages in spray paint on the building found by responding officers were not related to the anti-LGBTQ teachings, Reynoso said.

“We don’t have any information leading us to believe that the demonstrators in the past are in any way responsible for this,” Reynoso said.

The detonation was powerful enough to break a window in a neighboring structure, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller told The Post.

Federal agents are looking into a police report filed two weeks ago by the church’s pastor, Bruce Mejia, about an arson threat sent on social media, Eimiller said.

The church did not answer calls Saturday.

Researchers at the Southern Poverty Law Center have classified the church as one of 70 hate groups in the country that promote anti-LGBTQ sentiments.

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It is part of the New Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement, fewer than two dozen churches in the United States that are associated with anti-LGBTQ pastor Steven Anderson. Anderson has been banned from 34 countries for his rhetoric that calls for the deaths of LGBTQ people, according to the civil rights group.

The church’s teachings condemning same-sex marriage have attracted criticism and protests. An online petition by Keep El Monte Friendly, a group that organized the protests against First Works Baptist Church, to expel the church from El Monte has received more than 15,000 signatures.

Negotiations were ongoing between local authorities, the church and protesters to mitigate tensions, Eimiller said.

Those talks included the city and county, Alma Martinez, El Monte city manager, told the Los Angeles Times.

“Even though we don’t know at this time who is involved in the crime, as a city we want to make sure that we continue to work on de-escalating the situation to promote peace, safety and respect in our community,” Martinez told the newspaper. “Crimes of this nature are not acceptable.”

Keep El Monte Friendly said in a statement that it did not condone the act of violence.

“Our movement was intended to bring light and awareness to the hateful rhetoric taught by this group,” the activist organization said of the church. “We understand that what they preach can make people upset. However, we would never promote, encourage or condone any violence or acts of harm.”

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