(Photo:Javier Torres Studios Cornerstone Church of San Diego)
A new campaign calls on evangelicals to affirm that gays, undocumented immigrants, liberals and unbelievers as individuals made in God's image in order to replace uncivil debate with a conversation about God's love instead.
The Imago Dei project (Latin for "the image of God") was launched by Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), along with other prominent Christian leaders, earlier this week.
"We should be known not by what we oppose, but rather by what we propose," said Rodriguez, in a statement. "Through this campaign we want to reconcile the message of Jesus as affirmed by Billy Graham's transformative message and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historical march for justice."
Rodriguez says the goal is to also change the narrative of the church's engagement in political issues pertaining to traditional values.
Although the campaign's mission statement urges members to repudiate bullying and discrimination, organizers and supporters say they will not shift their stance on traditional marriage or begin to condone homosexual behavior.
"When we recognize that the image of God is in all of humanity, it helps us understand that our mandate is to honor everyone and respond to those who oppose us in love," said James Robison, president of LIFE Outreach International and supporter of the movement. "This does not mean we can't have firm convictions; but if our actions don't reflect Christ-like character, then who will listen?"
Part of the campaign also challenges signers to acknowledge that each foe, stranger, acquaintance, oppressor and those that "slander and persecute us" deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, has also joined the project and believes the movement can produce "profound consequences" if all Christians embrace it.
"In the blogosphere and social media culture where people are dehumanized, bullied, and slandered, and where political rhetoric has polarized the populace, the Imago Dei in every person compels us to love and respect all people, including those who disagree with us," said Staver.
The launch of the campaign marks perhaps the first time that influential Christian leaders, who oppose gay marriage, unanimously affirm that members of the LGBT community are created in God's image.
In 2012, Rodriguez along with Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family and Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, began the conversation of Imago Dei.
In a collaborative article published on CNN's Belief Blog, all three emphasized the consequences that result from "rhetorical pornography" or name-calling caused by Christians and non-Christians alike towards individuals who differ from them in race, sexual orientation and creed.
"What each of these instances has in common is that the words are being used to deny the innate humanity and dignity owed every individual," they wrote. "The Jesus we follow did not just die for those who believe in him; his father created each one of us in his own image."
"That means that as Christ breathed his last on the cross, there was as much love in his heart for the homosexual activist, the Mexican national who is not a citizen and the atheist as there was for us," they added.
Rodriguez hopes the campaign becomes an international movement and has already started work with supporters involved in the project.
A part of their effort includes spreading the word through social media platforms to engage millions in the cause. They will also take the message to Christian and secular airwaves and billboards, in addition to promoting through apparel merchandise. All proceeds are planned to go towards ending human trafficking.
Imago Dei is also supported by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, award-winning Hollywood television producers, Mark L. Williams, bishop of Church of God International, Deacon Fournier, Editor in Chief at Catholic Online and others.
For more information on the Imago Dei campaign, visit www.imagodeicampaign.org