Putting Faith in America
do a defrocked Methodist minister, a furniture maker and a former, self-described,
homophobic, right-wing bigot have in common? A commitment to ending religious-based
discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Their
weapon of choice? Advertising.
"These ads are intended to start something - to provoke reflection and
conversation, in much the same way that ads draw attention to products
no one had thought of before. It's using the tools of marketing to try
to begin to change people's attitudes," said Jimmy Creech, the former
Methodist minister who now leads "Faith in America," the organization
spearheading the advertising campaign.
organization, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, is the brainchild of Mitchell
Gold, a businessman who founded a successful furniture company in Taylorsville,
North Carolina. Over the past several years Gold became more keenly aware
of the role religion played in justifying discrimination against GLBT
people, Creech said. Last year, Gold had the idea of using ads in newspapers
around the country to convey the message that religion has been used in
the past to justify slavery, racial segregation, to deny women their full
rights, to persecute non-Christians and Christians with minority beliefs
and deny them full rights.
"Most folks today don't argue with the fact that those religious justifications
are wrong and evil. The same misuse of religion is justifying discrimination
against GLBT people today and they are no less wrong and evil. That's
the message being put out in the ads to get people to reflect on history,
to learn from history and to being to think about how religion is shaping
their thoughts today," Creech said.
Enter Brent Childers - owner of a small ad agency in Hickory, North
Carolina. Two years ago, Childers described himself as a "homophobic,
right-wing Christian, Republican bigot," according to Creech. His epiphany
came during a dinner with his mother.
"He went on a homophobic rant after which she said to him, "Brent, your
attitude is not Christ like.' He reflected on that and thought about why
he thought as he did about GLBT people and the religious influences that
caused negative thoughts. Now he's very affirming of GLBT people," Creech
Gold approached Childers about an ad campaign asking him to create advertisements
that would have moved him before he changed his mind about homosexuality.
What he produced are a series of powerful ads, full of provocative images
The first ad that ran, called "Supreme Injustice," features a picture
of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Virginia with the
headline, "Offense Before God?" He is black, she is white. The ad makes
the point that the Thomas' marriage would not have been legal before 1967
when state laws against inter-racial marriage were struck down by the
Supreme Court. The ad notes that "opponents of inter-racial marriage cited
the Bible to justify this discrimination" and compares this injustice
in marriage to the injustice now being done to GLBT people who aren't
allowed to marry.
The ad proclaims: "Using Religion To Justify Discrimination Is The Real
Offense Before God."
The ad, sponsored by the National Black Justice Coalition, ran in Roll
Call, the Congressional newspaper in Washington, D.C. in January.
"Tucker Carlson saw the ad and had Alexander Robinson, the executive
director of the NBJC, on his evening program and just grilled him for
involving Mrs. Thomas in this controversy. Alexander said he was delighted
that Virginia and Clarence Thomas are allowed to marry and that's all
we're asking for same-gender couples," Creech said.
Another ad shows a Ku Klux Klan cross burning, asking "Remember when
the cross was used to promote discrimination against people of color?
Let's not use it today to promote that same attitude toward people who
Nine ads are available, and Creech hopes that they can form partnerships
with organizations and churches around the country to get the ads placed
in newspapers in every market, large and small. Faith in America supplies
the ads for free, depending on the churches and organizations to raise
the funds to place the ads. At the moment two campaigns are going one
- one in Indianapolis, sponsored by Jesus MCC, and another in the area
around Gold's factory in North Carolina.
"Mitchell feels strongly that if he's going to challenge religious-based
bigotry he needs to do it in his own neighborhood and be very open about
it," Creech said.
In addition to a four-week ad campaign in the newspapers, Gold also
sent a 3-page letter to all of his 750 employees telling them about the
campaign and why it's important to him. Gold's greatest fear was that
some employees would quit over the campaign, but so far, employees have
been "either very supportive or very quiet," according to Creech.
But, changing such deeply held religious beliefs about GLBT people is
no easy task, and it will certainly take more than an ad campaign. Creech
said he believes the underlying problem is millennia of anti-erotic and
anti-sexuality beliefs that are deeply engrained in both society and the
church. So, affirming GLBT people in both society and in the church is
an affirmation of sexuality in general - and that's a big step.
"When you talk about GLBT people immediately sexuality is part of the
definition. When you talk about people in general you can ignore the sexual
dimension of people. But to speak of GLBT people is to speak of sexuality
and to affirm them is to affirm sexuality - not as a mechanical act to
procreate, but a source of pleasure and an act of love and that is, I
think, in our culture very, very difficult. So, to truly affirm GLBT people
is to affirm sexuality beyond the act of procreation and that is troubling
within the conservative arm of Christianity," Creech said.
Creech hopes the ads, then, will begin a deeper conversation that will
have the same affect such conversations had on Childers - creating an
atmosphere of change.
"We suspect that most of the thoughtful people who are really going
to be impacted by these ads are not going to respond right away. It's
going to take some time for this reflection to happen. It won't be immediate.
We're hoping that the change of minds and hearts will happen over time."
organizations that are interested in partnering with Faith in America
to place ads in their area newspapers can contact Creech at email@example.com.
Visit the Web site, faithinamerica.info,
for more information and to view the ads that are available.
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