Friday, July 14, 2006

"Would Jesus Discriminate?"

Bias. Discrimination. Hate-speech. These are the words "progressives" use for people who take the Bible seriously. Check out Church's ad drive enlists Bible to fight anti-gay bias.

To wit ...

"Would Jesus discriminate?"

The question has been popping up on billboards, yard signs and in newspaper ads around conservative central Indiana lately in a new, Bible-based appeal for acceptance of gays and lesbians. It's a campaign organized by a predominantly gay and lesbian denomination, Metropolitan Community Churches, and a Jewish gay activist.

Organizers say the effort is the first in a planned series of campaigns across the country aimed at getting people to take a fresh look at the social justice passages in the Bible.

"Jesus taught us to love everyone, even our enemies and those who are different from us, not destroy and mistreat them," said one ad published in The Indianapolis Star.

"We want the dialogue to take place in every city that we operate, in some way," said Rev. Cindi Love, executive director of MCC, which has congregations in 240 cities, including Chicago.

Christians with conservative theological views believe gay relationships violate Scripture. They insist their outlook is based not on prejudice but on the Bible and 2,000 years of Christian teaching.

Liberals see the primary values of the Bible as being love and inclusiveness, with long-term gay relationships left unaddressed.

Though some are willing to start a dialogue, the discussion around Indianapolis hasn't always been friendly.

An independent Baptist congregation along a major thoroughfare posted the message "God Discriminated at Sodom" on its signboard. A Christian conservative group, the American Family Association of Indiana, distributed radio ads saying, "Not only did Jesus discriminate, he is going to discriminate again."

The MCC and the campaign's benefactor, furniture designer Mitchell Gold, are undeterred.

Gold, the North Carolina-based purveyor of chic furniture sold by the likes of Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel, is underwriting much of the $100,000 media campaign through Faith in America, a national group he formed to fight intolerance.

"I've suffered a good amount of discrimination by people holding up their Bible," Gold said in an interview. "The clock is being turned back, and I want to stop the clock from being turned back."

Gold, who is gay, predicted the campaign could change attitudes. "We can really be a guiding light in the world to what acceptance is really about," he told 400 people who packed the sanctuary at Jesus Metropolitan Community Church in Indianapolis recently.

Gold said the campaign debuted here because it's Middle America and the Indianapolis gay and lesbian community provides a good base.

Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute, which is not affiliated with the group distributing the radio ads, said he would welcome the chance to meet in a friendly forum to discuss what the Bible says about homosexuality, but he believes the MCC campaign has a different agenda.

"My sense of what's happening is the civil rights argument that the gay community has put forward is not resonating with the public, so now they're putting forward a different message," Smith said.

The meeting at Jesus MCC drew some conservatives. During a public comment period, Rev. Mike Kreps, pastor of Resurrection Outreach Community Church in Indianapolis, stood up.

"I believe homosexuality is a sin," Kreps said, citing passages from Leviticus, Romans and other biblical books. Afterward, he and Love had a long, courteous discussion of their opposing views.

Rev. Jeff Miner, pastor of Jesus MCC, wants more such dialogues but acknowledged the challenge his community faces.

"It isn't easy to get evangelical Christians into our house," Miner said.