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Calvary Baptist’s recent marquee messages have brought attention to Dade County as a place unwelcoming to gays. Other church leaders have a gentler message.

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.”

But draw 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.”  

In November, 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 said.

Wallace 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.”

He dismissed 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.” 

Wallace railed 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 said.

The preacher acknowledged, “God loves sinners, of course,” but said he was sick and tired of hearing that as an excuse for today’s “spineless, backboneless” permissiveness. 

Wallace told 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.

Rapture was 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.”

Meanwhile, 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.

But Cantrell’s own message is entirely different: “Jesus made it real easy: Love God and love others,” he said.

First Baptist 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.”

Cantrell 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.”

Cantrell denies 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 said.

But Fauscett 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.”

He explained 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 said. 

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.”

Dade County 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 live.” 

“We’ve got 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 hungry.”

Meanwhile, back 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.”                  

Visitor Comments
Submitted By: W Jackson Submitted: 2/6/2013
I grew up in Trenton and moved away but I can say I am proud to see my hometown stand up for what we were taught. If gays have the right to march, marry, adopt children and protest anything thats offensive to them, why doesnt this church have the right to say whats offensive to them? Is it a double standard?? If people want to be gay thats the lifestyle they choose and their right to do so, we all know the US Government proctects their right to free speech. Why cant the church have free speech? Do they not have the same right as gays?

Submitted By: Bonnie Z. Cayce Submitted: 2/6/2013
There is a separation of church and state for a reason. If this church is receiving tax exempt status from the government, it has no business having messages on its sign about political parties. Also, hate/fear mongering has no place on church signs or in churches. Churches/ministers should be so busy spreading the message of God's/Jesus' love that they have no time or inclination to promote such messages. I love Dade County, moved here many years ago. I know that this minister's feelings do not represent the beliefs of many residents. That said, when the media covers something like this, we appear backward and bigoted. About judging others, I believe Jesus said "Let him that is without sin cast the first stone." Being a Republican (that includes Tea Partier) , Democrat, Libertarian, or Independent, has nothing to do with what Jesus would or would not do. Actually, (and this is just my opinion) I don't think he would join a political party. This minister may be a fine and loving person, but that is not evident by some of the messages he has put on the sign.

Submitted By: K Bostick Submitted: 2/6/2013
I am ashamed to come from this town. Get with the times. Hate is bad-in all religions. I used to go to this church glad I do not anymore. I think it is distasteful to put that on the sign.

Submitted By: Jean Thomure Submitted: 2/5/2013
Love the sinner; hate the sin. God sees those He loves. But he also sees the sin they do. Elected officials see voters. I stand on God's word.

Submitted By: David Harris Submitted: 1/30/2013
Regarding Ms., Wallace’s story about the signs at Calvary Baptist Church. I was in attendance for this sermon, and as usual the media tells you about the "train wreck" rather than give you the entire story. We all know the three things you never talk about at work are politics, pay, and religion. We may offend someone and we end up standing for nothing. Billy Wallace has never said sinners are not welcome at Calvary Baptist. Every person is welcome at Calvary as evident by the increase in membership since his arrival. It’s easy to say what people want to hear so that they feel good. No one ever wants to hear about their shortcomings. Closing one eye or looking the other way to make ‘EVERYBODY” feel good makes us all weak. Eddie Cantrell works for the Southern Baptist Convention. I know Pastor Cantrell, but with respect, he toes the line the Convention establishes. Reece Fauscett admits in your story he is not going to make any stand without the approval from the UMC "Central Leadership". Commissioner Rumley gives a great “Chamber of Commerce” answer. However the dirty little secret for Dade County, as with our entire country, selective sinning is still sinning. You either believe what the bible says or you don't. I don’t have any ill will against the two pastors or the Commissioner. I realize if this even makes the website or print edition, I will be labeled as a person that “hates”. Most will discount my words. Everything in life is open to interpretation, I suppose. How terrible it would be to wake up after my last breath to realize I was wrong all because my feelings were hurt. Billy Wallace taking a stand that offends you does not make him wrong.

Submitted By: Lynn Broom Submitted: 1/30/2013
I love my church, Calvary Baptist and I love my pastor. He preaches the word as it is written in the Bible. I back him 100%

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