Photo: Marbella Edwards and Rachel Ward
Last Wednesday, at about 10:30 a.m., Pastor Michael Demastus placed the words “Gay is Not Okay ” on the marquee in front of the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ. About 100 protestors gathered outside the church on East Army Post Road yesterday from 8-11 a.m.
“I didn’t anticipate what ensued from the sign,” Demastus said.
Demastus explained that he had no regrets, but he believed people were reading the marquee incorrectly.
“It’s OK to call sin wrong,” Demastus said. “It’s not OK to demean or devalue another person. All sinners are created in the image of God.”
Demastus explained that he was not targeting homosexuals but homosexuality itself.
The marquee only remained for about 12 hours, but Demastus said he has received more than 2,000 “vulgar, hate-filled emails” since last Wednesday. He took it down and replaced gay with the word adultery when a particular email threat showed up in his inbox. The email stated Demastus’ name and address with the message, “I hope you feel safe at home.”
Demastus made only minimal changes to the sermon yesterday, adding a prayer for those who protested on the sidewalk outside his church. He also invited the protestors inside the church.
“I’m glad they came,” he said.
Demastus had hoped the marquee would spark “an open dialogue for those willing to have it.” He also noted that the listeners were respectful.
Demastus also said that he understood it was within the protesters’ rights to demonstrate on the sidewalk. However, it is the right of the church to be able to hold a peaceful service, he added.
“It’s important for the church still not to be bullied by those who don’t like our message,” Demastus said.
A picture of the marquee was posted on Facebook by Patrick Boltinghouse, a Des Moines resident. The message read, “Greetings from the south side of Des Moines, IA …. Just wanted you all to know Jesus loves you, even if it’s not ok to these biggots 🙂 xoxoxoxo [sic].”
Boltinghouse drove past the marquee the first time without snapping the picture. His immediate response was laughter.
“(It was) like watching ‘Family Guy’ except for it’s real life, not a cartoon, not being sarcastic and cynical,” Boltinghouse said. “They were being real.”
Boltinghouse said that originally, he was not going to take a picture and post it on Facebook. However, one day he was stopped at a red light and his past caught up with him. He remembered his family disowning him at the age of 13 because he was gay (later in life his family accepted him) suicide attempts, institutionalization, aversion therapy and his struggle with the haunting thought that, “God hates people like me.” He immediately drove back to the church and snapped the picture that went viral.
Janet Huston graduated from the Drake Law School in 1983, and she was amongst the protestors. She was there to honor the memory of her best friend who suffered greatly for being gay throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Huston said that on the eve of his 55th birthday, her friend committed suicide. Huston said she was also there to “celebrate with men and women here who hopefully won’t be as bullied.”