A Baptist church in New York City is facing backlash after they passed out flyers inviting children from a nearby public school to attend Vacation Bible School. Some neighborhood parents accused the church of being discriminatory because they oppose gay marriage.
The Vacation Bible School was hosted by Sixth Avenue Baptist Church – a week-long event featuring songs, games, arts & crafts and Bible stories. They were assisted in the event by a youth group from South Carolina that was in New York City doing missionary work.
Parents at P.S. 282 told local media they were outraged for two reasons. First, they said the church discriminated against homosexuals. They were also upset that the individuals handing out the flyers were white. The school is predominantly African-American.
“I know this church,” parent Ernestine Heldring told DNAInfo.com. “Every summer they truck these kids up to proselytize. It’s a grand of Christianity that’s homophobic and homogenous, and I find it oppressive to have three white guys standing there making it impossible for kids to pass without taking a flyer.”
Another parent was furious that the Baptist church would invite “outsiders” to come into the neighborhood to do missionary work.
“These outsiders from South Carolina are showing little respect for our school, our neighborhood, our diversity and our values here in Brooklyn,” one father wrote to the online publication.
Heldring also blasted the conservative Baptist congregation for their opposition to gay marriage – and noted that a number of students at the school have gay parents.
She accused them of practicing a form of Christianity that’s “exclusive” and “discriminatory.”
The New York City Dept. of Education said to their knowledge no formal complaint had been filed over the flyer distribution.
Richard Johnson, the pastor of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, told Fox News Radio he was surprised by the controversy.
“It’s really sad that a group like the gay and lesbian crowd that preaches a message of tolerance can be so very intolerant of somebody else that may happen to have a little bit of a different view,” he said. “There are some who are opposed to the message of Christianity and we understand that – but they took it to the next stop and verbally attacked us – when we did not pick a fight.”
Johnson said the church takes pride in being a Bible-believing congregation.
“We’re not trying to pick a fight,” he said. “We’re not trying to be offensive in any way. We’re just trying to love our neighbors.”
Johnson said the flyers were “very generic” and “non-offensive.” He said gay marriage had absolutely nothing to do with the Vacation Bible School event.
“The gay marriage agenda is the farthest thing from that particular series of events,” he said. “We decorated t-shirts, tie-dyed baseball caps and had Bible stories.”
He suggested that perhaps local gay and lesbian leaders had another agenda in attacking the church.
“In their determination, they look to exercise a choice not only for themselves, but for what other people should be able to have or not have,” he said. “Who are they to speak for the neighborhood as a whole?”
Johnson was also disturbed by the suggestion that having white individuals distribute literature at the school was someone racist.
“The racial makeup of our church mirrors the makeup of that school,” he said – noting that whites are actually a minority within the church membership.
Regardless of the controversy, Johnson said they will not deviate from their beliefs.
“We don’t deny the fact that we believe the Biblical definition of marriage is what it is,” he said. “I think American is quickly become a secular society – if we’re not already there.”
“We can’t allow some of the hate-mongering as they reject the Gospel to spill over onto us,” he said. “We still need to make sure we are gracious and loving. Our calling card is not to bash anyone else. We are out to stand for the love of Christ – the death, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the World.”