Darian Aaron was driving down Cobb Parkway when he noticed a digital billboard featuring the pride flag with the message, “Proud To Be Delivered.”
It was the day before the start of June’s Pride Month, a time to celebrate LGBTQ+ history, inclusion and diversity. At first glance, the advertisement appears to be celebrating the LGBTQ+ community for pride month; however, the opposite is true.
“I immediately asked myself, ‘Delivered from what?’ Gay people need to be delivered from our identity? I don’t believe that at all,” said Aaron, director of local news U.S. South for GLAAD, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.
The messages were placed by Worship with Wonders Church on Powder Springs Road in Marietta. The church, which is nondenominational, is led by co-pastors Myles and DeLana Rutherford.
In a Youtube video, the Rutherfords describe their intent to spend pride month highlighting testimonials of those who have rejected homosexuality in favor of Christianity. The church issued a statement via email.
“As Christians, we understand that God’s word is the infallible truth, and that it is possible to affirm the truth of the Bible and still love people as well,” the statement says. “Worship with Wonders Church is committed to discipling those who are seeking freedom from a sinful lifestyle and praying with those who are believing for the freedom of loved ones.”
When asked about why they chose to utilize LGBTQ+ imagery, which typically denotes an acceptance of that community, the Rutherfords responded that the billboards feature the “7 colors of the original rainbow, indicative of the covenant God made with man in Genesis 9:13, not the 6 colors used by the LGBTQIA+ community.”
They did not address questions about cost for the billboards, how long the campaign would run or future plans.
The church created a website, www.proudtobedelivered.com, featuring testimonials from individuals who have rejected homosexuality. Many of the testimonials equate gay marriage with sin and evil and say they have been “set free and delivered from homosexuality.”
GLAAD’s Aaron and Ross Murray wrote in a recent article in the Georgia Voice, an LGBTQ+ media site, that the billboards “performed a bait-and-switch. The ‘ex-gay’ testimonials on the accompanying website and the Marietta church behind the billboard are less subtle in their hostility and condemnation of the LGBTQ+ community online and within the walls of their church.”
In a counter-protest Sunday, GLAAD representatives drove around near the church in a billboard truck, displaying pro-LGBTQ+ messaging, including “Proud To Be Delivered From Oppressive Theology.”
Credit: Provided by GLAAD
Credit: Provided by GLAAD
A letter was circulated denouncing the billboards and signed by several faith leaders, members of the LGBTQ+ community and advocates.
“There is this spiritual arrogance that operates from the assumption that LGBTQ people are not people of faith,” said Aaron, who pointed to the number of LGBTQ-affirming churches that have sprung up around metro Atlanta. He said people are attending those churches because they don’t feel welcome in others.
How the faith community addresses full inclusion and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community has been a divisive and complex issue for years.
The United Methodist Church in Georgia, for instance, is experiencing the loss of hundreds of churches largely over the issue of same-sex marriage and the ordination of non-celibate gay clergy.
Georgia megachurch pastor Andy Stanley received criticism for a 2022 sermon that went viral online when he said that gay individuals who attend church have “more faith than a lot of you” because of the obstacles they face.
In rebuke of the Worship with Wonders billboards, GLAAD’s CEO Sarah Kate Ellis issued a statement reiterating that many in the LGBTQ+ community are also people of faith.
“To assume that LGBTQ people need to be saved and are not already people of faith is the epitome of spiritual arrogance. LGBTQ people are your neighbors: we are your family, friends, colleagues, and fellow worshippers,” she said.