A pastor at an evangelical church in Brisbane, Australia, has said the church has received serious threats online, including one vowing to burn it down, after it posted a billboard defending the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
“On Facebook, a lot of the stuff has been quite vicious at times,” Bellbowrie Community Church senior pastor John Gill told the Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday.
“I mean quite physically threatening. That’s been scary for some in the church,” he added.
“One of the comments, for example, was a suggestion that people bring petrol down and set the church on fire.”
The church attracted controversy from LGBT activists after it displayed a billboard earlier in September reading “God designed marriage between a man and a woman.”
Others who took to Facebook to critisize the church’s stance wrote one-star reviews, which have since been removed. One comment read: “Hopefully there are churches in the area that cater to ALL Christians and not just the ones who fit in the narrow minded view of this ‘Church of God.’ I’m sure Christ would be very disappointed in your view of Christianity.”
Another woman argued, “A closed-minded group which overtly discriminates against members of our valued community and their (very reasonable) quest for marriage equality.”
Australia is engaging in serious debates on marriage in the face of a postal plebiscite vote on whether gay couples should be included in the definition.
The Roman Catholic Church along with evangelical churches such as Hillsong have all come out in calling on Australians to vote no on redefining marriage.
Gill said that the abuse his church has received stirs up fears that freedom of religion will be challenged if gay marriage is legalized.
“At the moment, we know we have that freedom but certainly down the track, we have serious concerns about whether we’d continue to have that freedom or not,” the pastor warned, adding that freedom of speech was important to all Australians. “This means gay people are entitled to speak their minds, and anybody who does not agree with their views should still respect them and not abuse them for expressing their opinions.”
The debate has affected prominent Australian figures and celebrities, including Margaret Court, a tennis legend-turned-Pentecostal pastor, who was recently dumped by her local tennis club because of her views opposing gay marriage.
“I think it’s sad. You don’t have the freedom of speech today to really defend yourself,” Court said after being dumped by the Cottesloe Tennis Club.
“It’s a sad day for our nation when it comes to that.”