Coalition calls FBI probe of pastor ‘alarming’

MOUNT VERNON — The Rev. Randy Steele of Mount Vernon has found himself inundated with requests for interviews from media ranging from St. Louis to California this week.

“I was onAssociated Press radio and that really set it off,” Steele said.

The media has been telling the tale of the senior pastor of Southwest Christian Church being interrogated by FBI agents over the topics of some of his sermons, including the pastor’s speaking out against abortion and homosexuality.

This week, the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition based in Washington, issued a formal statement calling the incident “alarming.”

“This is designed to have a chilling effect on religious speech. Pastors who preach from the Bible about issues such as abortion and homosexual marriage may now be subject to a federal knock on their church door,” Sheldon said.

He contends the FBI investigation was triggered by an anonymous tip and that such a call is not sufficient to warrant an FBI probe.

“Based on one anonymous telephone call, Pastor Steele is required to prove that he didn’t say something,” Sheldon said. “This is the first I have heard of one anonymous phone call touching off an FBI investigation.

“Reflexively, I support the FBI over most of its critics and what it stands for but I am disappointed that a visit to a church can be triggered by one anonymous call,” Sheldon said.

Marshall Stone, media relations spokesman with the FBI in Springfield, said the FBI is obligated to follow up on each complaint it receives.

It has been assumed it was someone in the congregation who provided the “tip” to the FBI.

Steele said it makes him uncomfortable to think the tipster may be back in church this Sunday but he will continue to preach on the topics on which he sees fit to preach.

“You can’t let that kind of stuff bother you. You have to move forward with God’s mission,” 32-year-old Steele said.

There are roughly 150 in the church’s congregation.

Steele wanted to alert his family in his native Indiana about the brewing media interest, but he was too late.

“By the time I called them, they’d already heard about it.’

What will Steele preach about this Sunday morning?

“Prayer,” he said.

“I’ve done a little praying over this whole subject,” he added.

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