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Durant pastor’s state Senate sermon stirs up controversy, claiming recent events are God’s wrath

OKLAHOMA CITY - A Durant pastor that delivered a sermon on the floor of the Oklahoma State Senate Thursday morning is coming under fire for saying recent hurricanes, school shootings, and acts of terrorism are God's wrath for transgressions, like marriage equality.

Pastor Bill Ledbetter of Fairview Baptist Church in Durant was nominated as Chaplain of the Day by Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate. Thursday is devotional day and the prayers are allowed to go a few minutes longer. Ledbetter went 15 minutes and stirred up some serious controversy.

In the audio of the sermon, provided to News 4 by NonDoc.com, Ledbetter called for a return to America's foundation principles and blamed gay marriage for recent natural disasters and mass shootings.

"Do we really believe that we can tell God to get lost from our school and our halls of legislation and there be no response? Do we really believe we can redefine marriage from the word of God to something in our own minds and there not be a response?"

Some Senate Republicans and Democrats reportedly walked out during the prayer.

Sen. Allison Ikley-Freeman, D-Tulsa, stayed for the entire 15 minute sermon. News 4 contacted Ikley-Freeman, who is openly gay and married, for comment, but deferred to a statement released by Senate Democrats Thursday evening.

“This morning, Pastor Bill Ledbetter of Fairview Baptist Church in Durant, who has served as guest chaplain for the week at the invitation of Senator Josh Brecheen, delivered a sermon which was hateful and promoted his personal political agenda," said Senate Minority Leader John Sparks, D-Norman. "There is no place for intolerance and hate in the Senate Chamber or anywhere else in Oklahoma. As senators we were elected to serve all people in Oklahoma and we should not condone or encourage divisive rhetoric which targets any Oklahoman."

Democrats called for Ledbetter to apologize and called for Senate leadership to "ensure future guest chaplains are respectful when addressing" the higher chamber.

During a press conference with Senate Republican leadership Thursday afternoon, after adjourning, they said decorum needed to be worked on, on the Senate floor.

When asked about the sermon, Senate President Mike Schulz, R-Altus, said, "I don't believe that someone is in a car wreck because God is striking him down."

Ledbetter's sermon on the Senate floor comes as the house's chaplain program faces scrutiny for changes made to its program, saying it lacks diversity for those of different faiths.

In the wake of the sermon, local and state civil rights and LGBTQ advocates railed against the sermon, and the platform provided on the Senate floor.

"This was about bigotry and vitriol and hatred and further division in our society," said Troy Stevenson, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, an LGBTQ advocacy group. "It's not just awful because it insults marriage equality, it's awful because he is invoking the name of dead teenagers and victims of horrible crimes around the country, and using that to further a political agenda. It's disgusting."

“The grotesque drivel passed off as a religious devotional by Bill Ledbetter today in the Oklahoma State Senate can hardly be reduced to an issue of lax decorum by a legislative body with such an abysmal track record on equality," said Oklahoma ACLU Executive Director Ryan Kiesel in a statement. Kiesel also served as a state representative from 2004 to 2010. "These remarks fall so far out of the confines of rational thought that swift and strong condemnation is the only reasonable response."

When News 4 talked to Pastor Ledbetter by phone Thursday afternoon, he said he didn't wish to talk about the controversy surrounding his sermon on camera, but said his sermon was "not meant to be hateful." Ledbetter added that he loves this land, country, and he didn't want to offend anyone.