Sanders, Harris and Booker stump at church whose pastor said being gay is 'enough to send you to hell'

Three leading Democratic presidential candidates – all ardent supporters of LGBTQ rights – have made campaign stops in the last two months at a Baptist church led by a controversial Las Vegas pastor who believes that being gay is “enough to send you to hell.”

Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey both attended services last weekend at Rev. Robert E. Fowler Sr.’s Victory Missionary Baptist Church in Las Vegas, while Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont held a town hall at the church last month.

The Mercury News reported this week on the pastor's history, noting it's unclear whether the three candidates knew about his views -- which weren't exactly hidden. The Las Vegas Review-Journal covered the provocative pastor in 2017 and Fowler himself spoke publicly about the subject long before that.

Pastor Robert E. Fowler of the Victory Missionary Baptist Church in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Credit: Victory Baptist Church)

Pastor Robert E. Fowler of the Victory Missionary Baptist Church in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Credit: Victory Baptist Church)

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“[W]hether you commit adultery, whether you commit fornication, whether you’re a child molester, you gossip, you lie, you cheat on your taxes, you don’t pay your tithes, things of that nature — all of that is wrapped together as sin, along with homosexuality,” Fowler said in a 2013 interview. “And so at our church, we don’t believe that there’s any one sin that’s greater than anything else.”

Despite the embrace by the three liberal presidential candidates, Fowler’s views on homosexuality appear to have changed little since then, with the pastor telling the Bay Area News Group on Sunday that “homosexuality, adultery, fornication, those are all sexual sins addressed in scripture.”

“Any sin, if you break the law in one area, you’ve broken it in all areas,” he added. “If you mess up in one area, that’s enough to send you to hell — so any sin is pretty bad for me.”

The campaign stops at Fowler’s church by Booker, Harris and Sanders are not the first time the pastor has been embraced by Democratic power players – Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford and state Assemblyman Jason Frierson were both criticized in 2017 for being congregants of his church – but the recent stops by the candidates point out the perils presidential hopefuls face when local leaders are not properly vetted beforehand.

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“It’s a tough line, because they want to reach out to folks who are members of those congregations, and there are probably members of the congregation who also don’t believe those views,” Melissa Michelson, a Menlo College political science professor, told the San Jose Mercury News. “But it is important for candidates to be more careful about this sort of thing, because it sends a message that that sort of language isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker.”

In a statement to the Mercury News, Harris’ campaign said that the California lawmaker’s “support and advocacy for LGBTQ equality has been unwavering throughout her career. She will continue to visit houses of worship across the country to address congregants about the pressing issues we face as a nation.”

Booker and Sanders’ campaigns did not respond to a request for comment.