Miami Beach Community Church saw helping Joseph Jorczak as central to its mission — providing a place for people with mental illness to commune with God.
Church leaders let Jorczak march with them in the city’s gay pride parade. They gave him food. When he got sick, they drove him to the hospital and prayed for him.
On Sunday, they plan to post men with guns at the front door after Jorczak threatened to mow down church members with an assault rifle — an attack he claimed would eclipse the mass killing at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, according to police.
The church’s sin, according to rambling postings on his Facebook page: extending that same inclusive, welcoming hand to gay people.
“The Miami Beach Community Church is filled with a bunch of sick homosexuals,” police say Jorczak posted, according to Miami Beach NBC-affiliate WTVJ. “Orlando will look small to what is coming to Miami Beach, specifically the Miami Beach Community Church.”
He also posted that “you cannot trust the LGBT community” and mentioned that he had finally found someone willing to sell him an assault-style rifle.
Concerned, police went to Jorczak’s apartment on Wednesday to ask him about the posts. An altercation ensued, and Jorczak was arrested — the climax to months of tension between the church and a man it once tried to help.
The church sent an email to members last week, encouraging them to report anything suspicious, the Rev. Harold Thompson told The Washington Post. Police and security guards will also be out in force during services.
The church of about 155 people has been criticized for its progressive stances before, but this is the most serious threat that has been leveled, Thompson said.
Miami Beach Community Church is nearly a century old, but in the 1990s began taking a strongly progressive stance, Thompson said. It became a safe space for LGBT youth and had a recurring spot in the city’s annual gay pride parade. The church posted a picture of a candle after the shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.
A popular church video from five years ago features one slogan: “God doesn’t reject people. Neither do we.” The video features a single mother, a gay couple and an elderly man with a walker, all being ejected from a church.
A section on the church’s website outlines its core beliefs: “No matter who — no matter what — no matter where we are on life’s journey — notwithstanding race, gender, sexual orientation, class or creed — we all belong to God and to one worldwide community of faith.”
Not everyone agrees.
Thompson said he has an inbox full of email from people who think the church’s open embrace of gay people runs counter to the Bible. They say “we’re all going to burn in hell — how dare I as a pastor preach and lead people into this life,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t typically go beyond email.”
Just as important, Thompson said, is the church’s embrace of the mentally ill. They feed the homeless in Miami Beach four days a week and invite them to church services. On Saturday, the church will host a special holiday party for people with autism.
Sundays can get interesting. People speak up out of turn or randomly start singing. Others will parade up and down the aisles while Thompson preaches.
Mostly, Thompson said church members roll with the interruptions — and he keeps preaching.
Jesus associated with people who mainstream society viewed as undesirable, Thompson said. His church should, too, he said. As long as people aren’t openly hostile, the church is welcoming.
Jorczak did cause interruptions, according to Thompson.
During a service last winter, he stood up and started screaming at the top of his lungs. Someone called police, and he was escorted out. He made threats against Thompson’s family and the church treasurer.
The threats have made some question whether the church is doing the right thing.
“There are individuals in the congregation that are nervous about the homeless or people that come in with mental challenges that are acting out,” Thompson said. “There’s tensions around that part of the ministry.
“But from my perspective, that’s the part of the ministry we should embrace. There’s all manner of individuals facing different crises in their lives, and they need a church that will say it’s okay to come here, it’s okay to be here.”
He planned to go more in depth about it with his church on Sunday.
But on Saturday, he posted a prayer on the church’s Facebook page.
“Today I call upon each of you to lift up Joseph Jorczak, praying for his health and a deep sense of peace and harmony with the world. Joseph is in pain. He is hurt and afraid. He is not rational. Sadly, he has focused his anger and frustration onto the church. His words of hate towards our LGBT members are disturbing and unsettling. I pray his words have no power.”