A Christian church in Pretoria, South Africa, has sparked a debate on gay issues in the country after it included the word "homosexuality" on a billboard calling on people to break free from bad habits in their lives and be saved.
The Light of The Nations Church originally posted a billboard depicting a man ripping open his shirt through a cloud of words, such as "drugs," "lies," "depression," "porn," "alcohol abuse" and "homosexuality," among others. A byline for the poster reads "Whom the Son sets free is free indeed," suggesting that people should be working to free themselves from those things, including homosexuality, IOL News South Africa reported.
However, human rights groups and the gay and lesbian community have spoken out against the church, arguing that homosexuality cannot be considered a sin just like all the other sins, and that the billboard was promoting discrimination against LGBT people.
The advertising agency that originally approved the billboard has since removed "homosexuality" from the list of sins depicted on the image, a decision that is in compliance with the church's decision.
"We have received complaints which deal specifically with the inclusion of homosexuality and are in the process of sending an inquiry to the church on the issue," expressed Leon Grobler, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) manager for the dispute resolution unit.
IOL News South Africa has suggested that a number of bloggers and community members have gone on the Internet and social networking sites to express their disapproval of the billboard, saying that it is dishonest, misleading, and discriminating against gays and lesbians.
In 2006, South Africa became the first country in Africa to legalize same-sex marriage, and was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In response to the controversy, Light of the Nations Church has released a statement explaining that the intention of the billboard was to highlight the tensions that people face in their everyday lives, rather than to create a list of sins.
"You will notice amongst homosexuality, diets, rejection and depression are also listed. It was never the intention of Light of the Nations to discriminate against any group, but purely to offer a non-judgmental refuge, for people dealing with issues in their personal life," explains Dr. Deric Linley, Senior Pastor of Light of the Nations.
"Light of the Nations firmly believes in the grace of God, to release people, from any internal battles they may be facing and in fact, we are being Christ-like in saying that whoever needs help, we have an answer," he adds in the statement.
Light of the Nations also has listed on its website an ad for a new series on "what the church can learn from homosexuals."