By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
“I’m not trying
to draw attention to me or the church,” said Billy Wallace on Sunday from the
pulpit of Calvary Baptist Church. “The purpose is to call attention to the
trouble we’re in.”
attention Calvary’s pastor most certainly has, not just to himself and not just
to his congregation. Rather, as television cameras have arrived and posts
proliferated all over Facebook, the naked antagonism of the messages Wallace
has been posting on his church marquee have spotlighted Trenton and Dade County
as hostile to the gay population, a characterization not endorsed by all in
this traditionally friendly little community.
It was shortly
after President Obama’s second inaugural speech on Jan. 21 – the first presidential
inauguration speech in American history to mention gay rights –that Calvary’s
marquee sprouted an anti-gay message – again.
After Obama won
a second term in November, Wallace put up a message pronouncing gays the real
winners of the election, aborted fetuses the losers. Last week, this latest
message read: “Inauguration Homosexual Victory Day.”
the message was up only briefly; it went away by time for Wednesday prayer
meeting. Last week, the new message was
still up on Thursday when the Sentinel arrived to request an interview.
Wallace did not
return the Sentinel’s phone calls, but he took the occasion of his Sunday
sermon, which the Sentinel attended, to reiterate his fierce anti-gay stance:
God hadn’t tolerated homosexuality in Sodom or Gomorrah, said Wallace, and he
wasn’t going to stand for it here. “You know God’s going to judge America,” he
acknowledged the negative attention he’d invoked with his position. “We get
called bigots and inbred and that kind of thing. I don’t care,” he said. “This
political correctness is a rotten lie to Hell.”
He read the
congregation a letter he’d received protesting the latest anti-gay sign, from a
writer who described him- or herself as a “Christian bisexual Democrat.” “A
bisexual striving to be Christ-like?” said Wallace. “God help us.”
the writer’s claim of Christianity – “No way you can get it out of this Bible”
– and was unimpressed by a promise to pray for him. “I appreciate their
prayers,” he said. “It just ain’t going to get off the ground.”
against what he called today’s “weaker generation of Christians” that wouldn’t
take a stand against homosexuality. “They want a God that accepts everybody the
way they are. That’s a liberal God. That’s the kind of God America wants,” he
acknowledged, “God loves sinners, of course,” but said he was sick and tired of
hearing that as an excuse for today’s “spineless, backboneless”
the story of a woman in one of his earlier churches who was living with one of
the deacons. He had been urged to look the other way but had refused to abide
sin in his own congregation. “I’ll preach to a stump first,” he said.
coming, said Wallace, and he warned those who stood by the mollycoddling,
tolerant God they had made up themselves: “They’re believing the lie of the
devil and they’re going to Hell.”
across town, Wallace’s anti-gay sign has not failed to be registered by his
brother clergy. Eddie Cantrell, pastor
of Trenton First Baptist Church, was
careful to praise Wallace’s ministry and to offer no criticism of the sign.
“That’s between Billy and his church, how they present their message,” he said.
own message is entirely different: “Jesus made it real easy: Love God and love
others,” he said.
doesn’t have anything posted out front – he and Larry Moore agreed that the big
computerized sign across the street at Moore Funeral Home was more than enough
for one block, says Cantrell.
But if he did
have a sign, said Cantrell, what it would say is: “Sinners welcome.”
And what that
boils down to, by the church orthodoxy that holds that all humans are sinners,
said Cantrell, is that everybody can come in.
“I believe the
Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong, it’s a sin. But I believe the Bible
also teaches that pride is a sin, jealousy is a sin, gluttony’s a sin, lying’s
a sin – should I go on?” said Cantrell. “If I said Sunday, we don’t want you
here if you’re a sinner, nobody would be here. So what I say as a pastor is I
want everybody to come and feel welcome.”
explained that each Baptist church is independent and each may differ not just
in dress code – his church is casual, whereas as at Wallace’s women may not wear
pants – but even on some points of doctrine.
In any case,
said Cantrell, as a flawed human himself, he sees his role more to help people
than to dictate how they lived: “That’s God’s call, not mine.”
it was in reaction, but his decision to throw a “Celebrating Forgiveness”
party, inviting everyone, was contemporaneous with Wallace’s unfriendly sign.
“We read about
where Jesus went into the homes of sinners and ate with them, and I kind of got
to thinking yesterday that it would be neat to have a party where people come
in and say, yeah, I’m a sinner,” said Cantrell.
The bash will
be at the Trenton Civic Center on March 16. The theme will be forgiveness, and
Cantrell stressed that the only requirement for attendance is to be a sinner –
making the Sentinel more than welcome – and that he hoped people would bring a
covered dish for the “sinner dinner” around 5 p.m.
“This is not a
church thing,” said Cantrell. “I don’t want to make little Baptists out of
people. I just want them to come together and enjoy each other.”
Down the road,
Reece Fauscett, minister of Trenton United Methodist, said he’s careful to keep
his own marquee messages topical. “If you get much past ‘Church at 9 o’clock’
or ‘Sunday school at 10,’ you’re sort of hanging out there on the edge,” he
also wants his church’s primary message to be:
come in. “That is, I think, the core of being Christian,” he said. “It
has never been an exclusive thing. It has always been something that is
available to every human being.”
that Methodist churches are “connectional,” with central leadership and
policies that are debated and struggled over continually. As such, the UMC has
an official stance on homosexuality that Fauscett is not empowered to speak
for. “I’m not going to sit here and say one thing yea or nay about the practice
of homosexuality, other than all people are welcome in this church,” he
But he also
stressed that all human beings are flawed: “My joke is, if I find somebody I’ll
tell them, there’s going to be a big mob of sinners meeting at 10 o’clock over
at the Methodist Church, and one more wouldn’t hurt.”
Commission Chairman Ted Rumley did not wish to comment on the religious issue
other than to say that Calvary had the right to free speech.
But on the
subject of basic friendliness, he did say if the county had its own marquee it
would say: “Welcome to Dade County, finest place in the United States to
friendly, friendly people here,” said Rumley. “I guarantee you, if you’re
hungry, someone’s going to let you eat supper with them. You’re not going to go
at Calvary Baptist, Billy Wallace warned in his Sunday sermon against false
prophets, even in the clergy. Churches are too in love with the world these
days, he said, and pastors too prone to tell folks what they want to hear.
“One church in Dade
County has to stand for what’s right and what is true,” said Wallace. “There’s
coming a division in America but there’s also one in Dade County. You’re going
to have to make up your mind.”