A sign outside a Florida church that reads "Homosexuals must repent or go to hell," has outraged community members. The sign is posted outside First Conservative Baptist Church in Jacksonville, reports WJAX-TV.
The church's pastor, Gene Youngblood, defended his message in the face of an online petition to have the sign taken down. Community members told WJXT that they had seen previous messages they found objectionable on the sign, but they did not respond to avoid giving the church publicity.
Youngblood says he's simply exercising his right to free speech. "Because we love people (yet, as directed in Scripture to hate the sin), we therefore want to warn them of the coming judgment of God on the sin of homosexuality (and any other sin that is NOT repented of)," Youngblood wrote in a statement in response to an interview request from WJXT, the station reported.
The petition on Change.org calls for the sign to be taken down, calling it "homophobic and bigoted." As of Monday afternoon it had garned about 200 signatures. Some Jacksonville locals said they were appalled by the message.
“I was a little shocked, that they will deliver a message in that manner,” Evaristo Ghines, who lives near the sign, told WJAX-TV. “I'm a Christian and I believe that God loves everybody, and if you feel that homosexuals should adhere to something, that's not the way to do it. If the church wants to deliver a message and their goal is to save homosexuals, then you would do it with kindness rather than blurt out a message telling them they're going straight to hell.”
Youngblood explained his reasons to WJXT. "It is my sincere prayer that perhaps 'ONE' practicing homosexual will have read our sign and will REPENT before it is too late and they are cast into HELL," he said, according to the station. "HELL is a real place, and anyone not believing in the reality of HELL will not change the temperature of the FLAMES a single degree."
The Change.org petition said the sign does not follow the Bible's teachings, with one commenter posting it is not "Christian love."
"NOWHERE in the Bible does it mention gays and hell in the same sentence," the petition reads. "There is no place in Jacksonville for such an ignorant and hatred-filled sign- REMOVE IT IMMEDIATELY!!!"