The ongoing and sometimes contentious debate in churches regarding homosexuality is back in the public eye in oversized print, thanks to 10 Toledo-area billboards proclaiming competing messages.
After Toledo's Central United Methodist Church posted a single roadside billboard in late April that said, "Being Gay Is a Gift from God," the Rev. Tony Scott of the Church on Strayer felt compelled to offer an opposing point of view.
The Maumee megachurch this week bought nine billboards that proclaim, "Being Gay is NOT a Gift from God -- Forgiveness, Love, and Eternal Life Are."
"I love everyone. There's nothing on that billboard about hate," Mr. Scott said in an interview. "I'm getting hate mail from lesbian and gay people, but my point is that I love them too much to let someone believe a lie. I love this city too much to let a lie be sown."
Lynn Braun, chair of Central UMC's lead team, said she was not surprised that another church is advertising a different theological opinion.
"I'm somewhat surprised it didn't happen earlier," she said. "We felt it important to express our faith this way. I think people have the right to express their faith the way they see fit, and I think it helps the community to know where churches stand."
Central United Methodist recently replaced its original billboard with one facing southbound traffic on I-75 near Willys Parkway that says, "Creating a Space for All God's Children Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity."
In recent years, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ have all approved the ordination of homosexual clergy and the blessings of same-sex unions. The United Methodist Church, Central's denomination, has not.
There has been no debate about same-sex marriage at the Church on Strayer, which belongs to the Church of God, Cleveland, Tenn.
"There has never been a discussion relative to any attempt at misinterpreting the Bible," Mr. Scott said. "What the gay organizations have done is they have misused the biblical passages, according to the experts."
Mr. Scott, who has been pastor of the 2,500-member church since 1974, said marriage is defined in the biblical book of Genesis and its story of Adam and Eve.
"God's definition of marriage is that he plumbed him and he plumbed her so that the two of them could procreate. Anything relationally between the sexes that does not have that potential, and that opportunity, does not come from God," he said.
Central, which has about 40 members and meets in Collingwood Presbyterian Church in the Old West End, was the first Toledo church to join the Reconciling Ministries Network, a United Methodist group that supports gay rights and welcomes lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender persons.
The Rev. Bill Barnard, Central's pastor, said the most surprising thing to him about the Church on Strayer's billboards was the financial commitment.
"My first thought was, 'Wow, nine billboards! That's quite an investment,' " Mr. Barnard said. "We just have one, and that's an investment for us. They must be really serious about this."
His second reaction, he said, was sadness.
"A lot of people talk about the gay lifestyle as if it were a choice, and seem to relate it to behaviors like stealing or something that will be fairly identified as sinful," Mr. Barnard said. "Well, sexual identity is part of the way we're put together. It's not a choice. Whatever scientific resources you consult, that question's answered."
Mr. Scott strongly disagrees. "All behavior is a choice. You choose your behavior. There are no credible tests that I have ever seen that say it's genetic," he said. "Why is it when you find twins where one is straight and one is gay you don't use the same principle of science? If it's genetic it would be one way or the other."
Mr. Scott said many people have been "delivered" from homosexuality, both at his church and at Mt. Paran Church of God in Atlanta.
In 30 years of counseling people, he said, he has never met a gay person who was happy with his or her sexual orientation.
"I've never had a gay person look me in the eye in a counseling session and say, 'I was born gay, God made me gay, and I'm glad I'm gay,' " Mr. Scott said.
The Rev. Cheri Holdridge, pastor of the Village Church and former pastor of Central United Methodist, said it's logical that gay people would be unhappy at the Church on Strayer.
"I'm sure there are gay people in his church who are unhappy because they're being told that they're choosing to be gay. The American Medical Association says they're not choosing to be gay, that it's genetic. We have a difference of opinion on some things. By the way, I have a list of happy gay Christians who would like to make an appointment with Tony Scott."
Dan Rutt, a member of Central United Methodist, said he believes his church's billboards have achieved the goal of promoting public discussion and dialogue.
"We certainly are aware that people disagree.
"We clearly believe that being gay is a gift from God and obviously other people believe that it is not. I'm pleased to continue the dialogue. But it would be nice to talk face to face instead of billboard to billboard."
Contact David Yonke at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.