Mars Hill Church held services in one of Oregon’s most liberal neighborhoods this past Sunday, drawing some unhappy neighbors in the southeast Portland area.
Fifteen minutes into the 10 a.m. service at its Portland location, a group of about 20 protesters, dressed in black arrived outside the church. The protesters took issue with the church’s stance on homosexuality, and carried banners and shouted obscenities at those in attendance as they exited the church. Then, after a request by a police officer, the protesters moved across the street from the church.
Lead pastor Tim Smith said Portland is a great city “known for many things, but the Gospel of Jesus is nowhere on the list.” The church is looking to change that with their new location.
The fast-growing church, which has already planted churches throughout the country, bought the 106-year-old church building in Portland’s Sunnyside neighborhood for $1.25 million in August. On Oct. 16, the new church held its first service in the castle-like building, reporting about 363 adults and children in attendance.
The sermon on Sunday was not directly about homosexuality, said Mike Anderson, director of communication for the church, but “Pastor Tim Smith did challenge the people to seek the welfare of the city, understand the city like Daniel and tell people about Jesus like Paul did at Mars Hill.”
The Rev. Chuck Currie, Portland resident and minister with the liberal United Church of Christ, said the new church plant has caused controversy in the city “because they (the church) announced they were coming to Portland to save the sinners of Portland.” He said that’s the wrong way to introduce yourself to the community.
Currie said the majority of people are not happy with Mars Hill coming to Portland, but said “they have the right to be here.”
The controversy has largely centered on Mars Hill’s stance that homosexuality is a sin. Yet Anderson said the church is really about another issue: “We want more people to know Jesus. There are many great evangelical churches in the city of Portland, and we're excited to join their efforts in telling even more people about Jesus.”
Smith said Mars Hill leaders have met with key groups around the city, including staff at The Q Center, a LGBTQ community center. He wants to have more discussions with those in the city as they learn more about their new location.
"It is a city that is intensely independent and values freedom above almost everything else," said Smith in a video from the church’s website. "It values sexual freedom as an end in itself, with a thriving sex industry that goes back more than a century."
Anderson said some good conversations happened with the protestors, “and if they decide to protest again, we'll continue the conversation.”