Things were expected to get ugly outside Mars Hill Church's new Portland, Ore., location this Saturday, as gay rights groups planned to protest the megachurch's move into the city for their stance against homosexuality. Fortunately for Tim Smith, a Portland native and the pastor of the new branch of the church, he was forced to postpone the first service due to parking issues, buying him some time to address those who criticize his doctrine.
On the Portland branch's blog on Thursday, Smith wrote, “Mars Hill is without a doubt a 'single-issue' church. But, contrary to how many have been quick to portray us, that one issue is not opposition to any particular political, moral, or social issue.”
The only reason the church exists, he says, is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
The church's first gathering, which was scheduled for Sept. 10, was postponed due to the Belmont Street Fair in the community where the church's facility is located.
“We really want to be good neighbors and there is no way to avoid a major parking mess under these circumstances,” he wrote.
A number of pro-gay organizations caught word of the church's move to the city, and, according to a Facebook event page organizing a protest against Mars Hill, a number of “Radical and not so Radical queer groups are calling for a Dance, March, Demo, Protest, Kiss-in, Embrace and Solidarity upon the Anti Gay Mega-church in SE Portland on their opening day.”
Despite the opposition from some groups, Barbara McCullough-Jones, executive director of Q Center, says she met with Smith and another church member and isn't opposed to the church moving into the city.
“In fact,” she says, “we committed to continuing that dialogue on a more formal basis, and to just get to know each other as neighbors a little bit better.”
Q Center is a nonprofit organization that celebrates and promotes awareness for Portland's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community. She stated that both the Q Center and Mars Hill Church have similar goals, both being concerned with the health and well-being of the city, and says that there's room for their differences.
She says that she tried to help Smith understand that LGBTQ people have been persecuted by the church for a long time, and are angry because of it.
"His challenge moving forward is to embrace that anger and want to learn about why that exists and how being part of a religious institution has gotten people to that place."
Although Smith still affirms his belief that homosexuality is a sin, he says that his church will not take the Gospel and “force it down anyone's throat.” He also notes that his church has something in common with the gay community, having been protested by Westboro Baptist Church and “the religious right” for serving the community and their lack of political advocacy.
“You will not hear us preach that we are the good guys and the sinners of Portland should be more like we are,” he wrote. “If you want to come and hear what we have to say, you will hear that Jesus is so loving and gracious he can even save sinners as awful as we are and make us more like himself.”