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'We're still watching:' Anti-LGBTQ Stedfast Baptist Church blasted for hosting service in Arlington

A woman with purple hair is holding a white sign that says "we have eyes everywhere," with googly eyes in place for the word "eyes." She's standing in front of a parking lot and the Hilton DoubleTree Arlington.
Yfat Yossifor
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KERA
Lynette Sharp holds up a sign as members of Stedfast Baptist Church enter for service Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, at DoubleTree in Arlington. Sharp protested the group in Watauga until they were forced to move. This week the protesters located the group in Arlington.

Equipped with LGBTQ-affirming signs and rainbow apparel, protesters in Arlington Sunday had a message for the anti-LGBTQ Stedfast Baptist Church: "We have our eyes on you."

About 20 protesters — a coalition of Arlington residents and people who have followed the church across North Texas for years — waved to congregants from the sidewalk as they walked into the hotel.

Protesters said hotel management will not let the church rent space after Jan. 29.

That convinced protesters like Lynette Sharp to hold off on chants or messages critical of the Arlington Hilton DoubleTree.

"We are still wanting Stedfast to see our presence and know that we're still watching," Sharp said.

‘They are on my turf' Protesters rally against anti-LGBTQ church in new Arlington location

Management from the Arlington Hilton DoubleTree did not return a phone call seeking comment; nor did the property owner, El Paso-based Esperanto Developments. Regional managers standing outside the Hilton DoubleTree refused to comment or confirm and asked reporters to leave the property.

Protesters have followed the church's movement across North Texas for years. Stedfast Baptist Church Pastor and President Jonathan Shelley has celebrated in his sermons the death of a pride parade attendee in Florida and advocated for LGBTQ persons to be shot in the head.

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Yfat Yossifor
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KERA
Jonathan Shelley of Stedfast Baptist Church drops off members for service Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, at DoubleTree in Arlington. Protesters followed the church to this new location after they were forced to move from Watauga.

Shelley’s sermon — and ensuing protests — caught the attention of their landlord, Fellowship of the Sword. Attorneys representing the landlord sent a letter in July and an eviction notice Aug. 13, 2021, that claimed Shelley’s sermon “incited violence” against LGBTQ people.

“Your violent, inciting words and behavior, stated while speaking to the Stedfast Baptist Church congregation and then later posted for the general public to witness on YouTube, are a nuisance, offensive and dangerous to the other tenants and to the public at large,” the July 1, 2021, letter states.

The 96th Tarrant County District Court ruled in the Fellowship of the Sword’s favor; however, the Texas 2nd District Court of Appeals reversed the decision Oct. 20 and sent the case back to district court.

Stedfast did not respond to an email sent by KERA News Friday requesting confirmation that Stedfast operated out of the Hilton DoubleTree, or questions about the length of Stedfast’s lease and current operating locations.

Shelley announced Dec. 18 that Stedfast planned to leave its Watauga location in a YouTube video announcement. Standing in front of a group of protesters, Shelley said the church would seek other options, including leased space.

“Well, the reality is nobody really wants to lease to us, so it makes it very difficult,” Shelley said.

0122 Stedfast protest 01.jpg
Yfat Yossifor
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KERA
Protesters put up signs against Stedfast Baptist Church, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, at DoubleTree in Arlington. Protesters followed the group from Watauga where they were forced to move.

'They're on my turf'

Stedfast is listed as a hate group for anti-LGBTQ speech by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Despite its status, Sharp says Stedfast has motivated LGBTQ North Texans and allies to raise the alarm. That's how they found out Stedfast Baptist Church sought temporary space in Arlington.

"They have strengthened the queer community because now we're all hanging out together and we met at the protests and we're friends. A lot of us DoorDash, a lot of us Uber eats. There's a lot of delivery drivers and someone saw them here and let us know," Sharp said.

Shelley and some congregants decried the LGBTQ community during a May Arlington City Council meeting as Mayor Jim Ross prepared to issue a June Pride Month proclamation. Shelley argued during the meeting that God prescribed capital punishment to LGBTQ people, along with rapists, murderers, witches and those who have committed bestiality.

Public commenters have denounced Shelley’s comments, both in comments supporting the proclamation as well as debates over Pride Month displays in Arlington libraries.

Kolin Kilpatrick, who has spoken in favor of LGBTQ representation at City Hall and in the library system, attended the protest to get his message across again.

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Yfat Yossifor
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KERA
Kolin Kilpatrick, Lynette Sharp and Aster Graves hold up signs as they protest against Stedfast Baptist Church Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, at DoubleTree in Arlington.

"They're on my turf," he said. "It feels great because they did not to expect to see us this morning and we have shown out in very high numbers today. They're on the ropes, and they're about to be on the run."

Sharp said her group has enlisted Arlington Residents for Inclusion, a coalition of LGBTQ supporters who spoke up at Arlington Public Library Advisory Board meetings about the displays, for the protests Sunday. They’re prepared to call other businesses if the protest does not convince DoubleTree staff to void its contract with Stedfast.

"I'm here to fight white Christian nationalism wherever it comes up — and abuse," Sharp says.

For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741.

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at kbroussard@kera.org. You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Kailey Broussard is a reporter for KERA and The Texas Newsroom through Report for America (RFA). Broussard covers the city of Arlington, with a focus on local and county government accountability.