Signs spark biblical debate about homosexuality

The billboard claims “Jesus affirmed a gay couple.”

A vandal’s own statement — the words “Lie, lie, lie” spray-painted in red — delivered an opposing view above them.

In some ways, the argument in giant letters above an Eastside street reflects society’s ongoing argument over homosexuality — on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to gay clergy.

The discussion just got more intense in Indianapolis where 22 billboards and 1,000 yard signs went up recently as part of a campaign based on the premise that the Bible approves of gays and lesbians.

The signs are part of a joint effort between Faith in America, a national gay advocacy group, and Jesus Metropolitan Community Church, an Indianapolis congregation rooted in the belief that homosexuality is acceptable to God.

Featuring portraits of Jesus and other biblical figures, the billboards and 1,000 yard signs in Indianapolis proclaim things like “Jesus said some are born gay” while citing Bible passages. Some billboards suggest that key Bible figures, such as David and Ruth, were involved in gay relationships.

The groups hope to change the public debate by citing the same book often used against them, with a contention that the Bible does not call on Christians to reject homosexuality.

“Most people right now think the debate over homosexuality is between those who love the Bible — conservative Christians — and those who want to throw the Bible out — godless homosexuals,” said Jesus Metropolitan pastor Jeff Miner, who is gay. “That is not reality. This is a debate between people who love the Bible.”

He suggests that the vandalism of two signs last weekend is “an indication of the power of the ideas we are sharing.”

The countercampaign

The Rev. Andy Hunt decried both the message of the billboard and the vandalism it provoked. “It ignites passions whenever someone brings a lie against the god you worship. But we can’t go down to their level,” said Hunt, pastor of Body of Christ Community Church on the Northside. “We have to be able to fight a lie with the truth.”

He said he nearly drove into a power pole the first time he passed a yard sign with the message: “Jesus affirmed a gay couple.” Then he cried.

The message is such a distortion of the Bible’s clear opposition to homosexual behavior, he said, that he has begun going to the signs and praying people won’t be misled. “That is an absolute affront against God,” he said.

Hunt is one of a handful of pastors commissioned by the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative faith-based organization opposed to gay marriage, to respond to the billboard claims with written counterpoints.

The institute plans to post the counter-arguments on its Web site. Given the expense, there are no plans to start a billboard war, said Ryan McCann, the institute’s director of operations and public policy.

The billboard campaign, which is scheduled to run on Clear Channel signs for 30 days, cost $42,502. It is a follow-up to a $55,000 campaign last summer that asked the question “Would Jesus discriminate?”

Faith in America has conducted similar billboard campaigns in North Carolina, where it is based. And it has run similar messages in newspaper ads in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and through direct mail in Colorado Springs, Colo., said Jimmy Creech, Faith in America’s executive director.

The other campaigns drew little public response. The organization’s goal, as stated on its Web site, is to educate people about “religion-based bigotry.”

The organization draws key support from furniture maker Mitchell Gold, who is gay, and two private foundations that support gay rights causes — the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund of San Francisco and the Denver-based Gill Foundation.

The group is putting up the billboards in major cities that have local congregations strong enough to support the efforts, Creech said.

Reading ancient texts

To that end, Miner’s Northeastside church is sponsoring what will eventually include 2,000 yard signs that support the billboard campaign: a Web site,, T-shirts and bumper stickers. All told, the billboard and sign campaign could cost $100,000.

A third blitz of billboards and signs in June will trumpet how the Bible has been used to justify slavery, opposition to women’s rights and taboos against interracial marriage.

Miner acknowledges it is difficult to convey theology in a few words on a billboard or a yard sign. But he hopes it provokes debate.

Miner has written a book on the Bible’s view of gay relationships, “The Children are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships.” He makes his case by looking at the wording in the original Greek and Hebrew, as well as cultural practices in biblical times. He said the Old Testament condemnation of homosexuality, for instance, was directed at the Egyptians and their practice of temple prostitution, not committed relationships.

When the New Testament tells the story of a eunuch being baptized, Miner said, it was done with a widespread societal belief that all eunuchs were gay. Thus, baptizing a eunuch with no reference to condemning his behavior would have been an endorsement of his homosexuality.

Others skeptical

Other ministers remain certain that the Bible consistently says homosexuality is sinful. In Genesis, the story of Sodom’s destruction decries homosexuality, said the Rev. Bob Taylor, of Colonial Hills Baptist Church, a Northeastside congregation. In First Corinthians, Paul says gays are among those who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.

One Jewish scholar goes further. Rabbi Arnold Bienstock, an adjunct professor of religion at Butler University, said endorsements of homosexuality can’t be found in the Bible.

The type of long-term, monogamous gay relationships Miner’s church supports didn’t exist in biblical times, Bienstock said. Homosexual acts were deemed unacceptable, as the oft-quoted passage in Leviticus — that homosexuality is an abomination — states.

The idea that Ruth was in a romantic relationship with Naomi is a “creative” interpretation that ignores the fact that Ruth wound up marrying a man named Boaz, Bienstock said. “He is simply twisting things inside out and around.”

Taylor agreed.

“It is just an outright lie,” he said. “They have just made a great leap in sound logic.”

The billboard campaign doesn’t worry him, though, Taylor said, because the Bible is so clear on the issue. “People will always find an excuse to do what they want to do.”

Sidebar: The Bible, billboards and homosexuality

Here’s a look at some billboards used in the campaign. Rev. Jeff Miner of Jesus Metropolitan Community Church in Indianapolis defends the claims. Rev. Andy Hunt of Body of Christ Community Church in Indianapolis offers an opposing view.

What the billboard says: “David loved Jonathan more than women. II Samuel 1:26”

How the verse reads: “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.” (New International Version)

Miner’s view: “As the story is told it becomes one of the greatest love stories in the Bible and it is clear that these two men had a deep romantic connection.” He adds: “When is the last time you heard a man say I love you more than anyone else in the world?”

Hunt’s view: “Biblically, love is always defined in three classes — brotherly love, erotic love and the highest of loves, agape love, or Godly love. What he said here is that his love for Jonathan is godly love, which surpasses erotic love — a love of loyalty and selfless devotion.”

What the billboard says: “The early church welcomed a gay man. Acts 8: 26-40”

What the passage says: To paraphrase, a disciple of Christ named Philip shares the gospel with a eunuch, a castrated man who served in the treasury of the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch comes to believe that Jesus is the son of God. Philip baptizes him.

Miner’s view: “Introducing yourself as a eunuch in the ancient world is kind of like today introducing yourself as a hairdresser from San Francisco. It is not that every hairdresser in San Francisco is gay but so many are that the two have become associated.” His point: The eunuch’s orientation wasn’t important to Philip, who welcomed him into the church.

Hunt’s view: Eunuchs were castrated to keep them from having relationships with women in royal courts, as in cases where they were employed to protect or serve a king’s wives. There is no Biblical or extra-Biblical evidence to show eunuchs were considered homosexuals.

What the billboard says: “Jesus affirmed a gay couple. Matthew 8:5-13”

What the passage says: To paraphrase, Jesus offers to come and heal the paralyzed servant of a Roman centurion. But the centurion said a visit is not necessary and asks Jesus only to speak words of healing. Jesus praises the centurion’s faith and heals the servant.

Miner’s view: The Greek word used here for “servant” was used in the ancient world to refer to one’s same-sex partner. Jesus encountered this gay centurion, healed his partner, praised him for his faith and assured him of a place in heaven.

Hunt’s view: The Greek word in question refers only to a servant or slave, without any gay connotation. “The only place where this word is interpreted as gay servant is on homosexual Web sites. It doesn’t come from any Greek scholar. It doesn’t have any basis at all.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday April 28, 2007.
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