Church billboard backs 'No' vote, sparking backlash
A BILLBOARD outside a Brisbane church has sparked outrage ahead of the same-sex marriage vote.
The Bellbowrie Community Church posted the sign: "God designed marriage between a man & a woman".
It was condemned on social media, and critics took to the church's Facebook page to object.
"Hopefully there are churches in the area that cater to ALL Christians and not just the ones who fit in the narrow minded view of this "Church of God". I'm sure Christ would be very disappointed in your view of Christianity," one post said.
Others started taking to the church's review section and posting one-star reviews.
"A closed-minded group which overtly discriminates against members of our valued community and their (very reasonable) quest for marriage equality," one woman wrote.
Cartoons of same sex couples and sailors waving rainbow flags were posted in the comments under unrelated posts by the church.
All the reviews and comments about the issue later disappeared.
At the weekend, someone also removed letters from the church's signage so it read: 'God designed marriage between a man & a man".
A spokeswoman for the group 4070 Says Yes said the message on the church sign was not representative of the majority of residents.
"Our community has implored the church to remove the offensive sign, making phone calls, writing letters, emails and meeting with officials to point out the damage and distress it is causing," she said.
"The church, self-appointed spokesperson of our community, has instead increasingly closed down avenues for feedback."
But Pastor John Gill said it was not a message of hate, and simply presented God's view.
"There are two sides to this debate so it was no surprise that some do not agree with the sign. But what did surprise me was the degree of malice expressed by some, which could only be described as hate speech," he said.
Pastor Gill said freedom of speech was important to Australians.
"This means gay people are entitled to speak their minds, and anybody who does not agree with their views should still respect them and not abuse them for expressing their opinions," he said.
"In a free country, Christians also have this right. They do not expect everyone will agree, but should they not expect the same freedom to speak and be given the same respect that they give to others?"
Pastor Gill said the Facebook activity had been "difficult" for many in the church.
"And as a result, many now realise that it is no longer easy to hold and express a Christian viewpoint in Australia," he said.
He said he had answered every negative email and extended an invitation to everyone who contacted him to meet in person.
"There have also been a few occasions where a protester with a signboard has protested on the street outside the church," Pastor Gill said.
"The beauty of a free country is that they are welcome to do this and we don't begrudge it. It can be hot out there, so we have tried to give any protester some bottled water when somebody has been at the church."
"There are however some in the community who are supportive of the sign and have thanked me for our stand, but are afraid to say anything on Facebook for fear of being abused," he said.
"But apart from Facebook, I have had more supportive emails, phone calls and visits than I have had negative ones."
Pastor Gill said his congregation is free to vote in the plebiscite however they choose.
"As a pastor, it is not my place to tell people how to vote," he said.
"Many of us have friends and family who are gay, and it is absurd to think we hate them. We love them very much. It is possible to hold different views, yet still love people. So this does not need to be a source of division throughout Australia. We can differ, yet still respect and care for each other and let the voting determine the issue."