pastor Bill Ledbetter
Pastor Bill Ledbetter, second from right, raised eyebrows with his devotion Thursday, March 1, 2018, in the Oklahoma State Senate. (William W. Savage III)

A Durant pastor aggravated some members of the Oklahoma State Senate this morning when he suggested that a string of deadly tragedies is the logical result of creating “immorality in our laws.”

“Feb. 14 (a young man) went into a school and killed 17 of our people, our kids. What is going on? What is going on?” Bill Ledbetter, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church, said to senators Thursday. “I’m asking the question. Do we really believe that we can create immorality in our laws? Do we really believe that we can redefine marriage from the word of God to something in our own mind and there not be a response? Do we really believe we can tell God to get lost from our schools and our halls of legislation and there be no response? Do we really believe that?”

After the Senate adjourned, President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz (R-Altus) said he does not believe what the pastor implied.

“I don’t believe that bad things happen as punishment. We live in a world that evil has a place in. Can we stop all evil? I would like to think we could, but we know that’s not true,” Schulz said. “I don’t believe that somebody’s in a car wreck because God’s striking them down. I don’t believe cataclysmic events happen because God is trying to punish. Evil is present in this world. It is a real and present part of what we deal with. It is not something that started in the past couple of years.”

At least one Republican senator walked off the floor in the middle of Ledbetter’s comments, which lasted for more than 15 minutes. Multiple senators took offense to the remarks and told Schulz as much.

“Several members came and talked to me about this today,” Schulz said, adding that he personally did not interpret Ledbetter’s remarks in the same manner. “We’re going to have discussions about maintaining decorum of the Senate.”

Senate Minority Leader John Sparks (D-Norman) released a statement minutes after the publication of this story. He called for Ledbetter to apologize and criticized the pastor’s rhetoric:

It is an observed custom of the Senate that a guest chaplain be invited to deliver a brief five minute sermon to the Senate on the last day of session for the week. This morning, Pastor Bill Ledbetter of Fairview Baptist Church in Durant, who has served as guest chaplain for the week at the invitation of Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate), delivered a sermon which was hateful and promoted his personal political agenda.

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.

The Senate Democratic Caucus calls on Pastor Ledbetter to apologize for his remarks. We also urge the leadership of the Senate to ensure that future guest chaplains are respectful when addressing the Senate.

‘That doesn’t sound like God’s grace to me’

Thursday was not Ledbetter’s first trip to the Capitol, nor was it the first time his preachings there had caused outrage.

Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, listened to a recording of Ledbetter’s devotion and cringed when Ledbetter ran through a list of natural disasters and mass shootings before implying that they are the result of “immorality” in laws.

“That doesn’t sound like God’s grace to me,” said Stevenson who identifies as a Christian. “That gentleman insulted a good percentage of the population of the state of Oklahoma and offended a majority.

“This is a political agenda. This is not a religious agenda. (…) To use the deaths of these folks to further that agenda is disgusting. It is absolutely disgusting, and it has nothing to do with God or grace. It’s absurd, it’s obscene and it’s gross.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat (R-OKC) said the Senate will be having conversations about “decorum” moving forward.

“We need to reinforce the importance of decorum among members, among entourages and among anyone who addresses the body,” Treat said. “We have had those discussions in caucus and with the minority party as well. We have gotten a little lax on some of the decorum over the last couple weeks when we don’t have a whole lot of bills on the floor.”

Calls by NonDoc and News 9 to Ledbetter’s cell phone were not returned by the publication of this post, but Ledbetter returned calls later in the afternoon. He noted that he quoted other faith leaders in merely asking a question and not proclaiming it as fact.

“I too am asking the question, ‘Is this something we need to think about?’ It’s different than saying something from the mountain top,” Ledbetter said. “The people that were offended I love with all of my heart. I love the American people and the Oklahoma people so very much, so I never want to offend anyone, but when you speak God’s truth that can sometimes be the reaction. But I sure don’t mean to.

“It’s difficult because I don’t want to offend anybody, but I don’t want to shirk my duty. I love them very much. So much.”

While the Senate apparently does not preserve its live streams of Senate proceedings for permanent recording, NonDoc and News 9 were able to obtain recordings of Ledbetter’s devotion by rewinding a live stream that had not been closed after the Senate adjourned.

“We want God to bless us, but God get your word off our Capitol lawn,” Ledbetter said toward the end of his devotion. “Oh, but by the way, God, please make us prosperous. Do we really believe that’s how it works? And so listen, God is loving and wonderful and gracious and good, and his long suffering with us is profound.”

A full recording of Ledbetter’s remarks is embedded here:

(Update: This story was updated at 3:15 p.m. Thursday, March 1, to include Sparks’ comments. It was updated again at 4:52 p.m. to include comments from Ledbetter.)