A pastor in Sacramento, California with a track record of making controversial statements said former basketball player Kobe Bryant’s Catholic faith prevented him from going to Heaven.
In a video published in late January, Verity Baptist Church Pastor Roger Jimenez made the comments after playing an excerpt from an ABC News broadcast that announced the death of the former Los Angeles Lakers basketball player.
“He was very famous, he was very wealthy, he was healthy, he was strong, he was successful,” Jimenez said. “He was someone the world would probably look at as a success story.”
Recorded the same day as his death, Jimenez said the point of the video wasn’t to discuss the slain basketball player or his teenage daughter, who was also on board the helicopter that crashed near a Los Angeles suburb, but to discuss whether Bryant’s good deeds and wealth were enough for him to find eternal salvation.
“As far as whether Kobe Bryant’s in Heaven or Hell, obviously we don’t know that for sure,” Jimenez said. “Several sources have stated he was a Catholic, and if he believes what Catholicism teaches about salvation, there’s no way he’s in Heaven.”
Jimenez didn’t cite the specific Catholic teaching that were at odds with his beliefs. He has previously delivered sermons at Verity Baptist that were condemning of the Roman Catholic Church.
In recent years, Jimenez has emerged as a controversial religious figure in Sacramento over his comments made about various news stories and social positions.
— Matthew Keys (@MatthewKeysLive) June 14, 2016
In 2016, his church was kicked out of an industrial park after Jimenez said he was disappointed that a man who carried out a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida didn’t kill more people.
“The tragedy is that more (gay people) didn’t die,” Jimenez said. “I’m kind of upset (the shooter) didn’t finish the job.”
The following week, Jimenez thanked the news media for their “free publicity,” saying attendance at his small church had doubled after his comments went viral. His landlord evicted the church a few days later.
Last year, Jimenez said he generally found media coverage to be unfair, painting his church as a “cult,” but said it was nonetheless welcomed because it helped amplify his brand of Christian teachings.
“Even when these articles are written, and they’re made to make us look bad, the Word of the Lord is still magnified,” he said.
Religious leaders say Jimenez twists Christian scripture in a way that allows him to back his brand of hate mongering.
“It is the heart of Jesus to save, heal, and deliver,” Rev. Samuel Rodguquez, the leader of the New Season Church in Sacramento, said in a joint statement with William Jessup University President John Jackson in 2016. “Christian leaders lead people to the love, grace, truth and healing hope of Jesus, not to insensitive judgment.”