(Photo: Courtesy of Pastor Keith Ogden)
A North Carolina pastor is being targeted by proponents of same-sex marriage for publicly taking a stance against homosexuality.
Keith Ogden, senior pastor of Hill Street Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C., said he's received four or five voice messages from angry people who called him a “hypocrite” and accused him of hating gays, a charge that he said is “so untrue.”
In addition to the voice messages, someone also taped a sign of protest to his church's marquee on Sunday.
Ogden recently began a sermon series called “Save The Family, Now,” in which he will preach about the Biblical view of family for the next several weeks. The title of the series was posted on the marquee.
After preaching the first message of the series on Sunday, Ogden returned to the church that evening to retrieve something from his office. When he arrived, he found a sign taped to the marquee that read, “Love your own family,” painted in the colors of the rainbow.
His outspokenness and willingness to speak to the press about same-sex issues, Ogden said, is what has drawn so much attention to him.
Several years ago, he and other local pastors led a fight against Asheville's city council, which wanted to offer benefits to gay city employees.
"I didn't think it was fair that same-sex couples get benefits, when those who are fornicating and shacking up – you’re not offering them any benefits," he said in an interview with the Christian Post on Tuesday.
He has also been an outspoken supporter of amending North Carolina's state constitution to ban same-sex marriages.
"We want to tighten up the law ... to make sure no liberal judges come back and try to undo the law," he said. On Sept. 13, the North Carolina State Senate passed a “Defense of Marriage” bill, putting the item on the May 2012 ballot to give the state's voters the final decision of whether or not to ban gay marriage.
Ogden also had a message specifically for Christian politicians, calling on them to remember the Bible while they are in office.
“If you are a Christian and you are a politician ... you are still held accountable even though you're elected to serve the people,” he said. “You cannot compromise your Christian values for the sake of being re-elected."
Ogden said Asheville, as a whole, is uncharacteristically accepting of same-sex practices.
Joe Hoffman, senior pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville, agreed.
“I think we are one of the most gay-friendly towns in North Carolina, if not the most, and I am proud of that,” Hoffman told The Christian Post. He said that, to his knowledge, about 12 percent of the city's population considers themselves to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).
In addition to his role as a church pastor, Hoffman is also the board chair of campaign for Southern Equality, an LGBT rights organization. Though he disagrees with Ogden's stance against gay marriage, Hoffman said protestors should be considerate in the way they approach their opponents.
"We need to honor the fact that we have differences, and I think people should be respectful in protest,” he said. “And yet I certainly feel like protest is appropriate when someone speaks out so strongly against basic human rights."
Hoffman says he's been on the other side of the issue, receiving mean-spirited phone calls from members of the Christian community, and said he hopes Ogden will see how what he says impacts others.
Though some have left messages criticizing Ogden, others have written letters of support, saying he is courageous for speaking out about such a divisive issue in such a public way.
“They appreciate my stance ... they appreciate the fact that I make a public declaration of what I believe,” he said.