A Christian Church Puts Up Billboard Apologizing to Gay People… But Is It Enough?

In response to all the Christian hate directed at gay people lately, it looks like a breath of fresh air to see the San Diego-based Missiongathering Christian Church‘s new billboard in North Carolina:

Before you get all excited like everyone online seems to be, here are two questions worth asking the members of this church:

1) Are gay people who act on their homosexuality going to hell? (In other words, is homosexuality inherently sinful?)

2) Does the church support same-sex marriage?

I can’t find the answers to either of those questions on their website and I suspect the answers are “Yes” and “No” — in that order. If that’s the case, is this church really worth praising?

I don’t believe they’ve earned our appreciation for apologizing for what other people have done if they ultimately believe the same things about homosexuals as those “other” Christians. Good for them for supporting equal rights — perhaps even civil unions — but if they would cast a vote against gay marriage or condemn gay people to hell for the “crime” of being gay, do you really believe they’re on the right side of this issue?

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the billboard. But I’m not yet ready to send a bouquet of flowers to the Christians who run that church.

For what it’s worth, I sent the lead pastors there an email with these questions yesterday morning. It’s been 24 hours and I have yet to hear back from them.

I’ll post an update if/when they respond.

***Update 1***: To those commenters who wonder why I’m asking these questions in the first place — Aren’t the answers obvious? Why are you just assuming the worst? — I don’t think it’s that obvious. There are gay-friendly Christian groups that go out of their way to hide the answers to those questions. In my opinion, they do it because they know answering those questions honestly (Sure, gay people are going to hell) would go against the very message they’re trying to spread. This isn’t trivial. I want to hear what the pastors at this church have to say about it. I still haven’t heard back.

***Update 2***: The church has responded to both questions. You can see their responses here.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Onamission5

    I am very interested in hearing about their replies. ‘Cause I want to be happy about this, but you make a good point about reserving judgment when one doesn’t have all the details.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jadelackey Jade Lackey

    Personally , I don’t see this as an apology to gays. Amendment 1 also hurt single moms and anyone not married. The words deceptive and manipulative actions, says they are apologising to the others hurt by this besides the ones “most” thought they were hurting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nelisp Cornelis ‘Nelis’ Potgieter

    The following link is a note on their Facebook page. Reading it, their theology supports same-sex relationships. I infer their answers to the above questions are (1) No and (2) Yes.

    http://www.facebook.com/notes/our-hearts-are-with-you/the-bible-homosexuality-the-basics-of-our-theology-on-this-topic/360997147289304

    • http://www.facebook.com/jadelackey Jade Lackey

       I never even thought to look that up, good on you man.  I was born and raised in rural NC (moved away 1 yr ago) I felt truly ashamed of my state when this passed.  Good to see some of the bible belt is letting out a notch. :)

  • Sackbut

     It would be certainly interesting to get answers to the two questions posed, but based on the billboard, my guess would be that the answer to the second question is “yes”.

    I disagree about the “condemning to hell” business.  While it would be very nice if the members of various religions modified their doctrines so that gay people were not considered to be hellbound, I think it is far more important that these church members keep their religious doctrines out of state business, and vote to grant rights based on secular principles.  Given a choice between them: (a) voting against gay marriage, but changing doctrine so that gay people are not thought to be going to hell; or (b) keeping the doctrine, but deciding that religious views don’t belong in the marriage debate, and voting in favor of gay marriage, I would pick (b) without a moment’s hesitation.

    We all need to be able to grant rights to people to do things that we find immoral or inappropriate but which harm others not a bit.  Here is a case where we can encourage religious people to do that, and where we, by acknowledging a right to believe heinous things so long as those beliefs are not used to deny rights to others, can do that ourselves.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

      “While it would be very nice if the members of various religions modified
      their doctrines so that … people were not considered to be hellbound”

      FIFY.

  • Tracy

    I
    think it is enough, even if the answers are “Yes” and “No.”  I
    respect that people have the right to believe what they want to,
    including thinking I or someone else is
    going to hell. I certainly think many judgmental things about those that fall into the “narrow-minded bigot” category. But I
    really truly believe in “live and let live.” If they think gay people
    are going to hell, and they don’t want them to get married, but they are
    still willing to apologize for legislation against it, calling it
    narrow-minded, judgmental, deceptive, manipulative, denial of rights,
    and non-representative of God, I wouldn’t ask for more without expecting
    them to change their beliefs, and I do not have the right to expect
    that.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

    You’re just guessing their views based on past experiences with other churches.  It’s not a new data point until there is new data.  Also, check out their facebook page:

    The point of our apology, then, is to say, “we recognize that people have used the Name of God to defend their positions that deny you rights and deny you equality. We recognize that people who identify with the Christian Faith have told you that you are, in some respect, a second class citizen, a miserable sinner, a danger to society, and/or an abomination. But please hear us when we say that NOT ALL FOLLOWERS OF JESUS feel this way. Please believe that God, as we understand it, loves you and created you just as you are.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

      They put up a similar billboard apologizing for Proposition 8 in their (my) home state of California.

  • Carrie Cadwallader

    You’re making some pretty big assumptions there with no information other than the fact it’s a Christian church. Your prejudice is showing there, Hemant.

    • Patterrssonn

      Not an unreasonable assumption though is it, and all they have to do to prove him wrong is to answer the email.

    • Vicki Williams

      I agree.  I think Hemant’s position in the atheist community has resulted in him hearing about a lot of the terrible things some christians do.  This is hardly the first time he has seemed quick to assume the worst.

      There aren’t enough, but there are many churches who fully support gay rights.  I go to church with my (christian) husband.  Two of our three pastors are homosexuals and we (as a church) fully support equal rights. It MIGHT be the case that this is a love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin church, but given the strong wording pointing toward other christians suggests that they aren’t.  Also, the use of “rights & equality” in speaking about gay marriage – makes it seem clear that they do support marriage equality.

    • Pedro Lemos

      I wouldn´t call it a big assumption, considering christian churchs have a historical millenar tradition of gay people condemnation, and he actually asked them their position in this matter, just didn´t get an answer for the time being.
       I´d call it a justified assumption, logical based, that can be proved wrong anytime.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

    I think supporting same-sex marriage is kind of a low bar to be an ally.  But with churches, they have to be on the defensive to even go that far.  This will always put them behind, as they don’t have the space to address more complex issues.

  • linford86
  • http://profiles.google.com/davydd.norris David Philip Norris

    Actually, Hemant, this church sounds pretty “welcoming and affirming.” I’m fairly familiar with the “emergent church” and its “doctrines” (if you can call them that), and they tend to be laissez-faire and even liberal on social issues (thus earning the ire and scorn of conservative Christians). They still bother with the original sin nonsense, but value relationships above dogma and will rethink the Bible before they condemn someone.

    As they write in the “core values” section of the website, “we strive to be a community where everyone is welcome.” They claim to be driven “not by dogma and creed, but by a welcoming Christ.” From what I know of Emergents, they probably really mean it. However, rather than apologize to me and to the rest of the GLBT community they should be telling conservatives to shut up and mind their own damn business.

  • http://saganist.blogspot.com/ Saganist

    I’m not sure why you would assume the answer to #2 is No when the whole point of the billboard seems to state the answer is Yes.

    • Vicki Williams

      Because Hemant is biased.  It wasn’t that long ago that he called an adult refusing medical treatment “child sacrifice.”

  • Jkcerda

    King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
    For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
    if you DONT live by MY standards, then what is the problem? live YOUR life according to YOUR beliefs, or lack there off, be happy, stop giving a crap because someone else doesnt “like” or “approve” of YOUR lifestyle :kiss:  jkcerda here, just I have faith and no, you are NOT going to hell because YOU dont believe as I do.

    • Baby_Raptor

      I’ll stop complaining that people don’t “like my lifestyle” when they stop advocating my death and I have full rights. But thanks for the condescension. 

  • alconnolly

    Anyone who puts here personal beliefs aside and votes for the rights of others to do things that they consider immoral, but that hurt no one should be commended. That they went further and apologized for others who did not do so is all the more commendable.

  • Chupper

    The text of the billboard makes it quite obvious that they are OK with homosexuality.  Hemant often calls out religious people, as should we all, for not publicly decrying the bad things done in their name.  This church has done that, and Hemant craps on them for it.  I don’t know what’s been going on in Hemant’s life, but for the past few months I’ve been feeling this site shouldn’t be called Friendly Atheist anymore.  

    You’re not going to replace Hitchens, Hemant, you don’t have the temperament.  This post just makes you look petty.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    It’s a good start, but only a start. If that’s as far as they go, then it’s only lip service to soothe their embarrassment about being associated with retrogressive bigots. If they’re only taking care of their own feelings, then it’s selfish bullshit.

    In addition to Hemant’s two questions, I would add:

    3. What real world actions are you taking to oppose the denial of rights for which you are apologizing?

    4. What real world actions are you taking to repeal Amendment 1?

    5. What real world actions are you taking to directly confront those churches and Christians who, in your opinion, are misusing the Word of God, and to convince them to change their minds and their actions?

  • http://twitter.com/Cleon Cleon


    There are gay-friendly Christian groups that go out of their way to hide the answers to those questions.”

    There are also gay-friendly Christian groups that don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin and support same-sex marriage. They’re generally called “Gay-Affirming” or “LGBT-Affirming” churches, and include a number of mainline Protestant groups.

    • Vicki Williams

      also “open and affirming”

  • Ulyanov

    Notice that apologies are almost always thrown back in the face of the one apologizing?

    No apology is ever enough.

    Atheists want believers wiped off the face of the earth, no doubt about it.

    Of course you will all deny it, but you know good and well that you want religion to end and you believe you are all intellectually and morally superior.

    In fact, as moral relativists, you are dengerates who have runs some of the most perverse governments in the history of mankind.

    I really believe that if atheists get control, they will kill me.

    • Patterrssonn

      Thanks for showing up Ulyanov, it looked like peace was about to break out.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

      If you’re lucky, they’ll just put you behind an electric fence instead.

    • Au_catboy

       Oh, can the fucking bullshit persecutions complex, you delusional asshat!  Oh, boo hoo, people don’t mindlessly trust anything you say, just because your cult has spent centuries oppressing and murdering people!  How horribly persecuted you must be!  Even though no one has threatened you, and your cult regularly makes terrorist threats even against children, you whine and scream and cry and piss yourself in terror at the thought that someday you might not be able to trample everyone else’s rights underfoot. 

      Ulyanov, you are a worthless lying sack of shit.  Fuck off.  You only make christians look like cowardly, hypocritical, sociopathic bigots.

  • Vicki Williams

    Hemant, they call themselves an emerging church.  Emerging churches generally don’t believe in hell, so it seems reasonable to assume (unless they state otherwise – I’ve no issues with asking the question) that they would NOT think homosexuals go to hell.  They also try hard to avoid doctrinal statements in general as a matter of principle (“It’s all about a relationship with Jesus”) so the lack of clarification on their website isn’t surprising to me.

    I will clarify – sometimes emerging churches will talk about hell as being real, but in a “there’s hell on earth” sort of way.  It isn’t the Dante version you are thinking of.

  • PageLeafer

    It’s still a step in the right direction.  They feel strongly enough about this issue to go to the expense of putting up this billboard.  They have probably already received a lot of feedback from it, and I doubt all of it was positive.  They had to have expected some kind of backlash for this, and were still willing to put themselves in that position.  I think their Church should get credit where it’s due.    

    • Vicki Williams

      They will clearly get a lot of criticism from the right.  It would be nice if they didn’t get criticism from the left as well.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MWL7JXLKOMXSN6DGOAVLNQOMMQ Andromeda

        I agree. 

  • Baby_Raptor

    Maybe it’s just cynicism getting to me, but…Even if their answers to those questions ARE right, I still don’t see anything worth getting excited over. Okay, one church has apologized. We don’t know who they’re apologizing to, and even if they’re apologizing to gays…So what?

    There are still people out there threatening to kill us, and even more out there advocating it. We’re still second-class citizens, and people, mainly of this church’s religion, are doing everything they can to keep it that way.

    Pat this church on the back. They made a nice gesture. What does it change in the grand scheme of things?

    • Kodie

      “We just want you to know, not all Christians are like that.” Basically. 

      • Au_catboy

         Wow, not all christians are theocratic bigoted sociopathic traitors with a fetish for torture!  Not exactly news.  And the fact that it needs pointing out doesn’t say good things for the reputation of christianity.  Now, if they could do something about the christians who ARE theocratic bigoted sociopathic traitors with a fetish for torture, that might be useful. 

      • Paul_Robertson

        Which is worth more than you imply. By publicly distancing themselves from NOM and the rest, they’re doing two things:
        1) They are reducing the power of the Chrisitan Right. Next time NOM or one of their mates points to the number of Christians in the country and claims to speak for them all, Team Equality can point to that billboard and reply, “No you don’t.”
        2) They are creating space for other churches to do the same. What they did couldn’t have been easy for them and undoubtedly they’ve lost parishioners for it. But having done it, they’ve blazed a trail for other churches who may be considering a similar action.

  • Miko

    Just in case the church does decide to respond and happens to check the comment section here before doing so, I’d like to apologize as an atheist for the stupid remarks by Hemant in this post.  As a community, most atheists value inquiry and I’m sure that many of us are as shocked as I am that Hemant would immediately jump to the conclusions that he did despite the utter lack of any evidence supporting them.

    • Vicki Williams

      Thank you.  I’m glad you said this.  I’m sorry too.

    • Patterrssonn

      As an atheist I’d like to apologize to Hennant for Miko calling his remarks stupid when at worst they were merely cranky. I’d also like to apologize as an atheist to myself for any responses by someone else that my post might elicit.

  • dangeroustalk

    I actually talked about a similar topic yesterday: Vicarious Apologies To Gays – http://t.co/ryXJxm8A
    I also posted a blog post today based on a conversation I had with a Christian over at “Think Christian” about this topic.

    • Patterrssonn

      Exactly, this whole vicarious apology business is entirely disingenuous and perhaps even insulting.

  • http://profiles.google.com/noadiart Sheryl Westleigh

    Hemant, you blew this one. You jumped to a conclusion based not on anything this church has said but based on other churches not directly connected to this one. As several people have already pointed out, the church’s own facebook page contradicts your assumption. You owe this church an apology.

    I’m all for calling out hypocrisy and bigotry in churches who deserve it.  However, while I may disagree with belief in God and Jesus, churches who are doing the right thing and being welcoming to all deserve praise for that.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    I think it is great that around 250 people in the Emerging movement in North Carolina have these progressive ideas. Now if only the rest of the Christians of North Carolina would get on board instead of actively or passively supporting “building an electrified fence around em who are for stuff we are again’ ” or voting to put their religious beliefs into law.

    P.S.  I’m just guessing on the 250.  Perhaps it is a bit more or less.

  • Patterrssonn

    Of course it’s great that here are churches that are open to the LGBTQTS community. Do they deserve kudos for doing the right thing? I don’t know, personally I think doing he right thing should be the bare minimum.

    What I don’t think they should be doing is apologizing for someone else’s behaviour. I think a simple statement against amendment 1 and the churches that support it would be much more effective. After all if you apologize for something you didn’t do it’s not really an apology at all is it.

  • Sixninecat

    What in the world do you expect from people? Surely one can’t expect people to change their views simply to suit others? And this, “Is an apology enough?” garbage must cease. Stop and check your own attitude before you post this as an article. Atheists DO NOT witchhunt, hound or harrass, ok? I myself am atheist and I’ll speak up to defend the rights of even the religious with whom I have near zero agreement. They apologized publicly…that isn’t enough for you?

  • http://CoffeeShopAtheist.com/blog Patrick

    Missiongathering’s website states that they are Emergent, which is an umbrella term for a movement whose theological convictions are generally extremely fluid.  Also, assuming they mean what they say in their “What We Believe” section on the bible, the bible is God’s word, and always has been (including, but not limited to, Leviticus and Paul’s proclamations against homosexuality).

    I think these questions need to be answered head on: Is it or is it not a sin to be attracted to someone of the same sex, and how do you reconcile this with your stated belief about the bible as God’s Word?

    However, on deeper investigation, the denomination they claim seems to support homosexual marriage in at least one congregation:

    http://www.disciples.org/tabid/58/itemid/904/Disciples-congregation-votes-to-change-its-policy.aspx 

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

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    I turned the ideas in my earlier comment into an email to the Missiongathering Christian Church:

    I sincerely commend you on your billboard in North Carolina
    apologizing for the denial of people’s rights done in the name of God. I’m
    certain that taking such a stand took courage and integrity. Thank you.

     

    Please forgive me for
    asking for more.

     

    An apology is a very good start, but it is only a start. If
    that is as far as you go, then it will simply be filed away with the other
    empty gestures that several churches and individual Christians have done,
    basically to soothe their embarrassment at being associated with oppressive,
    retrogressive bigots. If it does nothing more than to take care of your own
    feelings, it is essentially a selfish act.

     

    Your public apology on behalf of other Christians is taking
    a public stand. That is wonderful. Now please don’t just stand there with your
    stand. Go somewhere with it. Bring about actual change.

     

    What real world actions are you taking to oppose
    the denial of rights for which you are apologizing?

     

    What real world actions are you taking to repeal
    Amendment 1?

     

    What real world actions are you taking to directly
    confront those churches and Christians who, in your opinion, are misusing the
    Word of God, and to convince them to change their minds and their actions?

     

    I do these things. I put time, work and money into these
    things. I write articles and letters, I talk to people face-to-face, I march in
    demonstrations, and I donate quite a lot of money to groups that fight such
    oppression. But I am only one person, and my efforts come from the point of
    view of being an atheist and a humanist. Because of that, most of the
    Christians to whom I’m appealing immediately dismiss my arguments out of hand. However,
    I won’t give up.

     

    You as Christians have much more clout with the Christians about
    whom you’re apologizing. Being in a position of greater influence brings with
    it greater responsibility. Please follow through with your public stand and take
    real world actions to bring about real world change.  Again, I thank you for your courage and integrity. Keep
    going!

     

    With respect and gratitude,

    Richard Wade</blockquote

     

  • dantresomi

    I think Hemant Mehta is asking the right questions. Thats what we skeptics do, right? 

    I don’t think its because of what Mehta has “heard” Christians have done either, you just have to read the Bible and come to that summation (let’s not even talk about the rash of videos that have come out by Evangelicals who are calling for the genocide of people who don’t think or act like they do). 

    And that’s the problem with it all. Many of us left these institutions because when we challenged their doctrine we were run out instead of allowed to explore and stretch the boundaries of that dogma. 

    Let’s be real, most churches are losing membership. Sure, there are quite few megachurches with large numbers but the average church has a problem filling their pews. Unfortunately the church, like most old and large institutions, are slow to change. 
    I see their numbers continue to dwindle because of this slow change. 

    Should this church be commended for their billboards? Should I be commended for paying child support? 

    • Paul_Robertson

       I think Hemant Mehta is asking the right questions. Thats what we skeptics do, right?
      The questions are fine. The guilty until proven innocent, less so.

      Should this church be commended for their billboards? Should I be commended for paying child support?
      No, but you should be commended if you pay your deadbeat cousin’s child support. There’s nothing to suggest that this church had anything to do with Amendment 1 and every reason to believe they didn’t. It’s not fair to blame them for actions they took no part in.

      • dantresomi

        I didn’t blame them for supporting any gay marriage ban. My point is that we shouldn’t make a big deal out of it, just like we shouldn’t make a big deal out of someone paying child support. 

        And yes, outside of being a skeptic, I am wary of their motives. 

        and just because one congregation out of a 100 supports gay folks, doesn’t mean i should let all of them off the hook. 

  • http://smoothjazzradio.podbean.com SpitefulFox

    Sheesh.  A church tries to do something nice and they get painted as a closet bigot group anyway.

  • Kodie

    “Our hearts are with you”? Like, in the voting booths, or just something you say?

  • Paul_Robertson

    I can’t find the answers to either of those questions on their website and I suspect the answers are “Yes” and “No” — in that order. If that’s the case, is this church really worth praising?

    I’m going to respond with a strong, “Yes!” You seem unprepared to accept anything less than the church adopting full “atheist morality”, even though you would be hard pressed to find any two atheist who can agree on what that means. The church has publically extended support to the cause of marriage equality. That’s more than nothing. In fact it’s everything that we have any right to ask of them. By publically apologising for Amendment 1, they are giving their full support to secular marriage equality. Let’s take a hypothetical situation where that church does privately oppose homosexuality despite this public show of support; that would make their stand even greater. If a church is prepared to take a stand for the separation of church and state, should we repay them by breaching that same barrier ourselves by trying to push our morality into their church?

    I’m aware this is something of a moot point given the church’s response, however I believe it is still worth arguing this point.

  • C Davey2008

    I agree that Christians need to apologize to the gay and lesbian community for how the church has treated these people as a whole. I believe these people are entitled to their equal rights just like everyone else. But, that does not mean that the church has to sit back and just accept gay and lesbian behaviour as being right just because society says its ok. Their behaviour is sinful and it always will be. Anybody with half a brain in their head who reads the Bible can figure that out.   

    • phantomreader42

      The bible is a poorly-written work of fiction. Anybody with half a brain in their heads who reads the bible can figure that out.


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