Late last week a church in Wilmington, North Carolina posted a sign claiming that God loves gay people, but not what it called their “perverted lifestyle.” The sign outside Seagate Community Chapel sparked a Sunday morning peaceful protest by Wilmington Pride that was undermined when someone later returned and destroyed the sign with a hammer.
Pastor David Heuring stated that he stands behind anything church sign-maker Anna Benson chooses to post as long as it is scripturally accurate. The scriptural passage Ms. Benson references at the bottom of the sign is Romans 1:26-27. Although this passage is not actually quoted in the sign itself, it is often cited as evidence that God condemns LGBT people. The broader context of the passage, however, is primarily concerned with Paul’s denunciation of idolatry and pagan religious rituals. Taking this passage out of context in order to paint LGBT people as “perverted” is poor biblical scholarship. It ignores historical context and uses “literal” interpretation, which was not a part of Christian tradition until the early 20th century, to assign modern understandings of sex and sexuality to writings that are thousands of years old.
While Ms. Benson and Pastor Heuring may claim that they “love the gays,” the sign’s final threat of eternal damnation belies any claim that they love LGBT people. Furthermore, their “turn or burn” rhetoric has fallen out of favor as many Evangelicals have realized that these types of dire warnings do not work well as methods of evangelism. People who do choose to join a faith community are drawn to messages of love, acceptance, and hospitality, not condemnation and the need for repentance. In response to the sign, Seagate’s Facebook page has been inundated with critical messages from Christians who are angered at seeing their religion used as a weapon of intolerance.
Responding to anti-LGBT rhetoric with violence, however, is also not productive. Soon after police ended Sunday’s peaceful protest, a man returned to Seagate and destroyed the sign before driving away in a silver station wagon. Actions like this do not help to change the hearts and minds of people who use the Bible to condemn the LGBT community. Instead, violence and property destruction can serve to strengthen their resolve and reinforce their perception that those working toward LGBT equality are “violent radicals.”
GLAAD’s primary work is around the public perception of LGBT people. Actions like the destruction of public property do not help that public perception and give fodder to those who oppose equality. GLAAD supports those who have peacefully and reasonably stood up to Seagate’s message and hopes that no further acts of violence or vandalism will be made against the church. We hope that members of the LGBT community in Williamburg will help police to catch those who destroyed church property. We also hope that Pastor Heuring and Anna Benson realize that condemnation have no place in a message that claims to be loving. Threats do not change hearts and minds; acceptance and understanding do.