A controversial sign was placed outside Rose City Park United Methodist Church in Portland, Ore., last week reading "God Prefers Kind Atheists Over Hateful Christians," and has attracted a variety of responses to the pastor's message.
The Rev. Tom Tate of Rose City Park UMC decided to put up what he calls a "non-churchy" message, the United Methodist Portal reported, and which he hoped would offer passersby a different view of atheist-Christian relations. The sign has garnered attention at a viral pace, thanks to a posting on the church's Facebook page, in which the photo appeared under the heading "This is how WE roll...how do you?"
The Rev. Tate commented on the sign the following day, writing on Facebook, "What's all the fuss about? That God prefers kindness over hate? I would think that's a given. Isn't that the meaning of one of the most often quoted parables: the Good Samaritan? As far as Jesus' crowd was concerned Samaritans were atheists. What was Jesus meaning? Did the Samaritan convert to the 'right beliefs.' Not according to the story. As a matter of fact, it was the teachers of law, those with 'right beliefs' who didn't get it; who 'passed by.'"
"As an atheist, I strongly appreciate this sentiment from you guys, but I am still an atheist. I am glad, though, that you acknowledge that there are a LOT of hateful Christians out there. Thank you Rose City Park United. I would expect nothing less from a Portland church but tolerance," wrote Valerie Kolm.
However, others were unsure of who exactly the Rose City Park church, a 385-member congregation, might have been referencing with "hateful Christians."
"Are people that have 'tradition' in their heart, and 'personal' responsibility in their mind, hateful? I'm unsure of what your definition of a 'hateful' Christian is?" asked Steve Jansen.
There were also many posts from Christians supporting the message, but also others who felt it was misguided.
"Mr. Tate is trying to combine two very different subjects into one. Kind atheists and hateful Christians. God loves the Christian who sins, but the atheist He doesn't know," wrote Chip Coun.
Kay Pettygrove, a church administrator, admitted that the church was taken aback by the amount of comments it received through phone calls and emails, but claimed that for every negative response there were 30 positive comments.
"I got an email from a young Mormon man saying, 'Thank you so much. It made me rethink how I treat people,'" Pettygrove said. "Many atheists have said, 'If there were more churches like yours, we would probably reconsider.'"
She admitted, however, that the Rev. Tate received one negative call from a Massachusetts man who said he was considering leaving the United Methodist Church (UMC) because of the sign.
According to the pastor, the message is part of the church's "radical hospitality" initiative, which seeks to reach out to those who feel pushed away from organized religion.
"Unless we find a way to speak to people of our time, we're not going to be around," the Rev. Tate said. He admitted to have seen the message somewhere else, which gave him the idea for the sign, but could not recall where.
"It is my hope from our little sign board in Portland, Oregon that perhaps some good discussion will take place among those of all faiths and no faiths. It is my hope in this world that treasures violence over gentleness, the love of power over the power of love, that we might behave a bit more kindly toward one another. God knows, the Christian church these days is taking a beating and needs to have some good publicity," Tate wrote on Facebook.
Rose City Park United Methodist Church did not respond to messages left by The Christian Post by the time of press.