An occasional interview with everyday Americans who are challenging the status quo.
The conservative blogosphere was appalled when video showed Black Lives Matter activists assaulting parishioners at Grace Baptist Church and then moving inside bristling for a fight.
Protesters screamed at a woman holding a child and two others in tow. At least one man was pulled aside and punched repeatedly. “This is no House of God,” a man chanted into a bullhorn.
The video went viral.
But, as is often the case, what happened before the cameras rolled and brought this kind of big-city unrest to Troy, New York, wasn’t shown. Like the Covington Catholic High School students’ confrontation with an American Indian activist, there is more to the story.
Grace Baptist Church is not the average church, and John Koletas is not the average pastor.
“We are an old-fashioned hellfire and damnation church,” Mr. Koletas told The Washington Times. “We’re not backing down, and we’re not apologizing.”
Protesters also said Mr. Koletas’ preaching was racist.
He insisted that is not the case and said people of color comprise nearly one-third of Grace Baptist’s congregation.
Indeed, Black church officials are among those trying to keep the peace in the shocking video.
“They wouldn’t come if they thought we hated them,” he said. “There are too many spineless cowards behind the pulpit today, and I could care less what the world thinks.”
Ironically, given it was the internet that gave the protest notoriety, it also was the internet that put the church on protesters’ radar and brought them to Troy, a working-class city in upstate New York.
Grace Baptist has an audio archive of Mr. Koletas’ sermons, and it is easy to see why the sermons raised the ire of Black Lives Matter activists.
“Blacks are cursed,” was the title of the last of a trio of sermons he delivered last year, coming on the heels of “Greeks are cursed” and “Jews are cursed.”
Another story that blared across the internet was Grace Baptist’s raffle for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Online critics said it was improper etiquette for a house of worship.
“What’s the big deal about a church and a semi-automatic?” he asked. He said upstate New York is rife with outdoors people and hunters and thus the event wasn’t a local scandal.
Grace Baptist sits on a residential street in a city that is nearly 70% White. Troy is 17.4% Black, according to the 2010 census.
In conversation or from the pulpit, Mr. Koletas has an unnerving habit of mixing arguments that can also be found among conservative Black intellectuals with inflammatory rhetoric. His opinions about the baleful effects of government dependence or crawling Black economic growth since the enactment of the Great Society and the War on Poverty echo the work of conservative economists of many colors.
But he rarely holds back in denouncing liberal Black leadership and its negative impact on Black society.
“Jesse Jackson is a liar; Al Sharpton is a liar,” he thunders in the online sermons. “Sadly, their leaders have destroyed them.”
He will cite definitions of “racist” from 19th-century Webster’s dictionaries to buttress his contention that he is not, but he bluntly opposes interracial marriage. He told a reporter that all are not God’s children unless they have been “saved.”
Mr. Koletas’ lineage traces to Greece, and he insists he means Greeks, Jews and Blacks are “cursed” in a biblical sense rather than as an attack. But he also fulminates against “smoking weed” and “acting like savages,” and he slams the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for changing his name.
Grace Baptist courts controversy in its social media, too. Despite Mr. Koletas’ description of events, some Troy residents objected to the AR-15 giveaway and fumed on Facebook: “Defend your family against the savages. Buy a gun! Or come to church … and win one.”
The controversies haven’t emptied the pews at Grace, Mr. Koletas said.
“Since the pandemic started, our attendance has been cut in size for obvious reasons the last three, four months, but we are just about to the same level of attendance of adults as we were back in March,” he said. “Our attendance has been steadily growing the last two, three weeks since the gun giveaway and the attack/assault on our church members outside our church building.”
Some Troy residents sided with protesters, saying they have had enough of Grace Baptist’s antics.
“If this behavior isn’t called out, we risk slipping backward into a state of willful ignorance,” Troy resident Molly Gilchrist wrote to the editors of the Times-Union. She was criticizing the newspaper for its coverage, which she considered too favorable to the church.
“Hate and racist ideologies are being spread in our neighborhood,” Ms. Gilchrist wrote. “We need to know about it so we can do the work necessary to fight it.”
Mr. Koletas said the demonstrations on the church’s doorstep have quieted down, although some stragglers are keeping up the protest.
The church and his incendiary preaching still stand, offering what the congregation considers a bulwark against destructive Marxist influences.
“The mob is against free thought because it is full of Marxist theology and ideology,” he said. “We are all cursed — Greeks, Jews, Blacks, anyone. That’s just teaching a truth that’s not as widely taught as it used to be.”