Earlier this evening, Patrick Boltinghouse was driving past the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ on East Army Post Road and snapped a photo of its marquee:
The message may be a teaser for church pastor Mike Demastus’ next sermon. On his Facebook page this afternoon, he wrote, “I am pausing my series on Moses this Sunday and addressing the issue of homosexuality from the pulpit…even though there is [sic] a lot of conflicting voices in our culture on the topic, God’s Word does not stutter, stammer or hesitate about what it has to say on the issue.”
And it’s no surprise: gay rights have been front and center in the news this week. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court in San Francisco struck down the state’s anti-gay marriage Prop 8. That same night, Rick “man on dog” Santorum — the favorite of Iowa’s premiere anti-gay activist Bob Vander Plaats — gave presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney his latest headache by sweeping Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri in the GOP primary. On Wednesday, Washington state legislators voted to legalize gay marriage.
Demastus didn’t endorse Santorum for the Iowa caucuses. But he played an active role in the process, touring the state with a group of pastors supporting Michele Bachmann, infamous in gay-rights circles for her husband’s pray-away-the-gay clinic in Minnesota. In his most recent blog post, titled “What’s at stake…” and written before the caucuses, Demastus warned that “Iowans like to see their babies dead” and claimed (falsely) that “the number one source of money for Planned Parenthood comes from the abortions they perform.” Then he reminded caucus-goers that Iowa “seems to have devolved into the homosexual version of Mecca.”
Surprisingly, Demastus also didn’t support Vander Plaats during his failed bid for governor in 2010. Instead, he donated $100 to the campaign of former Republican state Rep. Rod Roberts, who said that gay marriage would be moral if Iowans endorsed it in a popular vote. Demastus did, however, donate another $50 to, and ultimately vote for, independent candidate Jonathan Narcisse, who told the Progressive before the 2010 election that the Iowa Supreme Court was guilty of “despotism” for effectively legalizing gay marriage in the state the previous year. (More recently, Demastus gave $20 to the state senate campaign of fellow anti-gay — and Newt Gingrich-endorsed — pastor Jeff Mullen.)
When I contacted him at home this evening, Demastus wouldn’t discuss the marquee but said, “You can call me at my church office tomorrow.” I’ll update this story if he comments then.
UPDATE, Thursday, February 9 12:46 a.m.: Shortly after Patrick Boltinghouse posted the church marquee photo below on his Facebook wall, a “People against the bigots at Fort Des Moines Church of Christ” page was created, as was a sit-in protest event. Later, a commenter on Boltinghouse’s wall reported that the “sign has been changed to ‘Adultery is not okay’. We tried to take a photo, but a van started following us.”
UPDATE II, Thursday, February 9, 3:03 p.m.: Fort Des Moines Church of Christ Pastor Mike Demastus has confirmed that he put the words “Gay is not okay” on his church’s marquee around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, but “with all my heart I did not foresee or envision” such a negative reaction. He said he came up with the marquee idea after speaking with people about homosexuality a few weeks ago. “I realized — this is my naivete — it’s provocative, I might get an email, might get a phone call,” Demastus explained. “The statement was ‘Gay is not okay’ but how it was interpreted was ‘Gays are not okay.’ I’m preaching a Biblical message. They are in the image of the creator, just like me. They are no different than an adulterer, or cheater, or liar. They’re sinners, just like me…that was the intention of the message, but it got muddied up real quick.”
Before he changed the marquee about 12 hours later to read “Adultery is not okay,” Demastus said the sign was vandalized three times and the church’s Facebook page (since taken offline) was “inundated with vulgarities and vitriol and just tons of hate speech, which they were accusing me of.” He told me that he decided to change the marquee after receiving three separate messages with “my address and ‘Hope you feel safe at home,’” which was why he was hesitant to speak with me last night when I reached him at home.
Demastus told me that he has been in contact with Des Moines police regarding the threats, and next Sunday “we will have a number of police officers in the building to help ensure the safety and security of the people in the church” during a planned sit-in protest. “We are happy [protesters] are going to employ their First Amendment rights. They are, however, not welcome to do that in the building or on our property.”
One last note: Last night, a Des Moines resident posted an alleged screenshot of a Facebook message he received from the church’s account calling him a “little faggot.” “It is completely fake, and it’s awful that a person would stoop down to such a level,” Demastus told me. “It’s so wrong in every way.” The image appears to have been deleted from Facebook, but you can see it here. Its poster did not respond to a request for comment.
UPDATE III, Thursday, February 9, 8:00 p.m.: Out of respect for his privacy, the name of the individual mentioned in Update II below, who has informed me that he is a minor, has been removed at his request. The image he posted of the fake Facebook message (its font does not match Facebook’s typical font) purportedly sent to him by the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ is still available here.