Shift in mission for religious firebrand
Antigay pastor refocuses on aiding Springfield
SPRINGFIELD — He gained international attention after he was accused of stoking violence against gays in Uganda. One of his books,
But Scott Lively says he is toning down his antigay rhetoric and shifting his focus to helping the downtrodden. And he’s found a home and a receptive audience in this struggling city where many, but not all, have embraced his mission to “re-Christianize Springfield.’’
Every day, patrons stream to the Christian folk shows and Bible classes at Holy Grounds Coffee House, the café he opened about two months ago on a block not far from downtown. A thousand people turned out for the March for Jesus he led from the café to the steps of City Hall on the day before Easter. And dozens of children and parents flocked to a city park for his annual Family Day celebration, featuring a water slide, face painting, and grilled food. Even the mayor stopped by that event.
But some in the city are wary. Gay rights and civil rights groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, have labeled Lively’s longtime organization, Abiding Truth Ministries, a hate group.
Lively, 53, has been a prominent activist denouncing gays for decades, mostly on the West Coast.
But he leapt into the world spotlight in March 2009, when he traveled to Uganda, and addressed members of parliament at a seminar on “exposing the homosexuals’ agenda.’’
Homosexuality is a crime in Uganda, and gays there have reported being attacked and tortured. Lively said he and two other American evangelicals were invited to the conference as experts on homosexuality. Lively warned the gathering that gays are a serious threat and their lifestyle “will lead to social chaos and destruction.’’
“I pray that this, and the predictions, are true,’’ Lively wrote.
A week after the conference, a bill was introduced in the Ugandan Parliament that would allow gays to be executed under certain circumstances. Gay rights and human rights activists said Lively’s presentation helped set the stage for the bill, which was condemned by the United States and other governments.
Lively says he was surprised by the bill and asserts he did not push for the death penalty or support it. He said he told the Ugandan leaders that they should not punish gays but send them to government-sponsored “reparative therapy’’ to make them straight.
“That was really disturbing to me, when the law eventually did come out,’’ he said.
Lively’s role in the antihomosexuality bill was featured prominently in The New York Times, on ABC News and National Public Radio, and he was mocked on
Lively’s official biography describes him as a lawyer and doctor of theology who lectures across the globe on “the rising epidemic of homosexuality among youth’’ and “the role of homosexuality in the rise and rule of Nazism and the alarming implications for our nation.’’
He was raised Catholic in Shelburne Falls, in the northwest corner of the state. He left Massachusetts in 1977, and says he became an alcoholic and a drug addict who hitchhiked across the country and slept under bridges. In 1986, he says, he embraced evangelical Protestantism.
After working for years as a conservative activist in California, he moved to Springfield, he said, at the invitation of Alexey Ledyaev, a Latvian pastor who offered him a position at his church, New Generation Christian Center. Gay rights groups have accused Ledyaev of fomenting antigay sentiment in the former Soviet Union. But Lively says he was inspired by Ledyaev’s call to “transform cities for Jesus.’’
“I began asking the Lord if we could have a city, too,’’ Lively said. “And he gave me Springfield.’’
Lively and his wife, Anne, bought an abandoned house, gutted it, repaired it, and dubbed it “Redemption House.’’ He turned a former television repair shop into Holy Grounds, where the coffee is free and the walls are adorned with framed Biblical sayings. About 40 people attend Sunday services at the café, he said, and about 300 help him evangelize through his new ministry, Redemption Gate Mission Society. Lively also hosts a morning radio show. ...