A Northern California church put a provocative anti-gay and anti-transgender message on its sign for the New Year — and provoke it did.
“Bruce Jenner is still a man. Homosexuality is still sin,” read the sign outside Trinity Bible Presbyterian Church in Weed, California, not far from the Oregon border. “The culture may change. The Bible does not.”
On Saturday, Pastor Justin Hoke wrote on Facebook that he had parted ways with the church to avoid a split in the congregation over the sign, reported The Sacramento Bee.
On two successive Sundays, people from across Siskiyou County gathered at the church to protest the sign, viewing it as hateful and exclusionary.
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“As a community I hope that we can come together to show our love and support for the LBGTQ community in protest to the hate and slander that is being thrown at them,” organizers of the “Shastina Love Rally” at the church wrote in a Facebook event planning the Jan. 6 protest.
Another protest took place Sunday, KDRV reports — and now protesters will be raising money to repair the sign, which was broken in what Hoke characterized as an act of vandalism against his congregation. The protest will also raise funds for an LGBTQ cause, an organizer wrote on Facebook.
“They broke not only the plexiglas and stole some of the Letters, they also busted the power box,” Hoke wrote on Facebook on Wednesday. “I have not seen it up close yet as this picture was sent to me by a member of our congregation.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the sign was back up with the same message, Hoke said on Facebook.
Protest organizers said they don’t believe anyone associated with their group damaged the sign.
“While we all objected strongly to the message that they displayed publicly, we condemn the use of violence and destruction of property that this person responsible has chosen,” said rally organizer Amelia Mallory said, according to KDRV. “To our knowledge, nobody affiliated with our peaceful rally was involved, and if we do become aware of the culprit we will be informing the local authorities.”
Hoke said his congregants support the message, which the church posted in early January to spur reflection on the modern world, SFGate reports.
“The ultimate purpose was to say that while the culture may change, the Bible does not,” Hoke said, according to SFGate. “The culture is now demanding that we call ‘good’ what the Bible calls evil.”
Protesters said the sign conflicts with what the community as a whole believes.
“People say, ‘If you don’t like it, move,’” said Sharon LoMonaco, a Shastina Lake resident, according to the Siskiyou Daily News. “Well, I’ve lived here in my family home for the past 15 years and fully expect my granddaughter and her wife will live there after me.”
Hoke defended himself on Facebook, the Daily News reports. He also said his controversial sign is nothing new in the community.
“I have used this sign for seven years now to provoke reflection or make a strong point about a single truth,” Hoke wrote, according to the Daily News. “Such as this one: ‘The culture does not determine truth, God does.’ ... The funny thing is, I could have put those words up and no one would have cared. Why? Because it does not rebuke sin or call anyone to repentance.”
Hoke suggested the backlash to the sign meant his views won’t be welcome anywhere.
“If a conservative mountain farming community is no longer a safe place to call sin, sin, then is anywhere in this country still safe for real Christians?” Hoke asked, according to the Daily News.
One rally organizer asked Hoke to remove the sign, but he wouldn’t, the Daily News reports.
Mallory, another of the rally organizers, said the sign may have been damaged in a storm that rolled through the region Tuesday, SFGate reports.
“There are a few people casting doubt on whether it was vandalism or an act of God. We’ve had gusty winds the past few days,” Mallory said, according to SFGate.