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A Billboard Of Love

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I am a sucker for a great love story -- and, no, I am not joking. I was the large, bald, tattooed guy who saw "Titanic" four times in theater; that is more than 12 hours of my life I can't get back (as some have suggested). I also watched, on my own volition, the epic love story "The Notebook" three time in the theater; I had to excuse myself during the third viewing because I was that heavily tattooed man weeping so hard that people began to stare. Again, I am not joking (as funny as it sounds now). And just to clarify, in my humble opinion, which I respect, "Requiem For A Dream" is NOT a cerebral love story for the masses. Enough said. However, there is something to a story that unfolds right before your eyes, taking you, the viewer, on a journey through the unwavering obstacles of life, searching for the metaphorical rainbow that will be the reward at the end of all the shit that was just endured; that reward is love.

Though some may disagree with me -- and they have that right to be wrong (insert evil grin here) -- I think God's story to the creation is the ultimate love story. We, the creation, were made in the image of our Creator. And the Hebraic, Muslim and Christian Scriptures tells us in the creation narrative that we were not just made a good creation, but a really good creation (Genesis 1:31). When I try to engage Scripture as a whole narrative -- not as a piecemealed argument resource -- I am often reminded that we, as the creation, have been created in the eyes of our Creator as a really good creation, a statement that was never taken back in the scriptural narrative. With this concept at the helm of my engagement of Scripture, even through the painful obstacles of life, I comprehend that I am not alone and that God loves me. This realization that I am not alone and that my Creator loves me has not always been through my interactions with Scripture alone, but on the contrary, many times this realization has been enabled by the hands of those who have filled in the gap as ambassadors of love.

MissionGathering Christian Church, an emerging church in San Diego, Calif., has once again taken up the mantel of love this week and has become ambassadors to the LGBTQ community in North Carolina, letting them know that they are not alone and that God does love them.

With the passing of Amendment One, which banned same sex marriage in North Carolina, MissionGathering, as an act of love, bought a billboard (shown above) on Billy Graham Ave. stating this: "MissionGathering Christian Church Is Sorry ... For The Narrow-Minded, Judgmental, Deceptive, Manipulative Actions Of Those Who Denied Rights & Equality To So Many In The Name Of God."

Love stories are not always easy to watch, let alone be a part of, especially when the act of love is met with hate, name calling and sometimes violence. Neither are love stories easy to watch when the act of love is met with the loss of rights, shackling people to the gallows of inequality.

This interview is with the Senior Minister of MissionGathering, Rich McCullen. Rich shares in detail with us why MissionGathering has chosen to be these ambassadors of love to a community that feels alone and often are told they are unloved by God.

Why did MissionGathering decide to buy a billboard in North Carolina to apologize for those who voted for Amendment One?

Honestly, North Carolina chose us. After Amendment One passed in North Carolina, photos of the billboard that we posted after Proposition 8 passed in California began to resurface. HRC of North Carolina posted the photo, and we began to receive inquiries about the billboard -- was it up somewhere? Did we really post it? What was this all about? As the photos began to go viral again, we received e-mails and phone calls in support of the message of the billboard, people thanking us for the message. As a result, we began to think, "What if we put up the billboard again ... but not in California, but in North Carolina instead?" It made sense to us to post this in solidarity with the LGBT people of North Carolina and the progressive straight allies to say that some Christians don't speak for ALL Christians on this issue.

When Proposition Eight came on the ballot in California, MissionGathering, under your leadership did a similar billboard campaign to protest the "Prop 8." Can you please tell us a little bit about that billboard campaign and how is it different from the billboard that Mission Gathering bought in North Carolina?

The primary difference in the campaign is the actual language of the billboard. Prop 8 actually took away rights from LGBT people in California. Amendment One solidified the DENIAL of rights to the LGBT community (and those in civil unions or domestic partnerships) in North Carolina. That is the only difference between the campaigns. The root motivation is to say the some Christians don't speak for ALL Christians, and to tell the LGBT community of North Carolina and their straight allies that there is a community of faith across the country, and many in between, that stand in solidarity in saying that ALL people are created equal in the eyes of God, that there are faith communities that accept and support ALL people, and that this fight is not over.

What kind of response has MissionGathering received so far since the billboard in North Carolina has gone up?

The vast majority of the response that has been directed at MissionGathering has been positive, whereas the comments on the Facebook pages and websites of news stories have been vastly negative. We realize that the amendment passed by a majority and that North Carolina is a largely religiously conservative state. Regardless, there have been people from N.C., across the U.S., and around the world who have voiced their gratitude and support for this message.

Is MissionGathering planning to buy more billboards in North Carolina?

We will see how things go. We are not opposed to buying more billboards in N.C. or extending the life of this billboard. We also realize there are several other states voting on this same issue in the coming weeks and months. This message is going viral, and we are open to following where this message goes.

For those critics who are saying that MissionGathering should only be worrying about the law in California and not North Carolina, what is your response?

The reality is that this message started in response to Prop 8 in California. We addressed this when it happened back in 2008. North Carolina and the fight for equality came to us, and we responded.

Did the inflammatory sermons of Charles Worley prod MissionGathering to take action in buying the billboards?

The words of Charles Worley did not directly impact our action in purchasing the billboard. Plans were already in the works for the billboard when the inflammatory sermon hit the Internet. We certainly whole-heartedly disagree with the hateful and prejudiced words of that sermon.

Do you think MissionGathering will buy their next billboard in North Carolina across the street from Pastor Worley's church?

We will follow where the Spirit leads.

For you personally, why is same sex equality important?

All people -- men and women -- were created in the image of God. Just as we are. Justice and equality are at the heart of God's desire and plan for the kingdom. When you look at the message not only of Jesus, but the Old Testament prophets as well, justice for all people is close to the heart of God. All people should be treated equally.

In your opinion, how should the local and global church respond to the issue of same sex equality?

The local and global church should stand up for same-sex equality. It's not a social issue; it is a human issue. We must speak out for those who are oppressed and marginalized, just as Jesus did throughout His life and ministry.

I've heard you say before, "MissionGathering is not just open and affirming to the LGBTQ community, but it's open and affirming to everyone." What do you mean by this statement?

We are ALL created in the image of God. When we begin to define the body of Christ by demographics or social groups, we lose the reality that we are all the body of Christ and individually members of it. The beauty of the body of Christ is our diversity. We must welcome and embrace all people from whatever their place in or walk of life may be. In moving toward community we move toward the reality of God in our lives. That is the beauty and fullness of the Kingdom of God.

With us both being ministers for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), how do you think the issue of same sex equality will affect our denomination?

I would hope that our denomination is true to the reality of the centrality of Christ as our foundation. That being said, there has already been some backlash from some in our denomination for the statement that we have made. We have a history of fighting for everyone to have access to communion and the Scriptures. Why would we not continue to fight for everyone to have access to the sacrament of marriage? Grace is the foundation of the message, life and ministry of Jesus. That is our calling.

Last, but not least, if you had to go in drag to a party as one of the Spice Girls, which Spice Girl would you be?

Is Paprika one of the Spice Girls? Or Cilnatro?

Check out Rich McCullen's (Senior Minister At MissionGathering) podcast interview on The Whiskey Preacher By Clicking On The Whiskey Preacher Logo!
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To find out more about MissionGathering, you can click on their logo!
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To help fight for equality please visit "Our Hearts Are With You" on Facebook!