A Pretoria church is at the centre of controversy and is the subject of an investigation into why it included “homosexuality” on a list of afflictions it portrayed on a billboard, while inviting people to be saved.
The billboard, erected by the Light of The Nations Church at the corner of Solomon Mahlangu (Hans Strijdom) Drive and Bendeman Boulevard in Pretoria East, depicts a man ripping open his shirt as words like “drugs”, “lies”, “depression”, “porn” and “alcohol abuse” are written next to him.
Among the original words on the billboard – whose pay-off-line is “Whom the son sets free is free indeed” – was “homosexuality”, an inclusion which raised the ire of human rights groups, members of the gay and lesbian community and the general public.
Although the word was removed this week, several complaints had already been sent to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and an investigation into the allusion to homosexuality as a “sin” was launched.
“We have received complaints which deal specifically with the inclusion of homosexuality and are in the process of sending an enquiry to the church on the issue,” ASA’s manager for the dispute resolution unit, Leon Grobler, said.
Comments on social networks condemned the billboard and accused the church of using hate speech to promote its business. Some called the church dishonest, misleading and pointed out that homosexuality was not a disease to be cured. Bloggers said the advert discriminated against gays and lesbians, and, said Pierre le Roux, exposed the church as ignorant and intolerant.
“The failure to accept homosexuality is the illness, and the billboard only serves to alienate people from the church,” Dawie Nel, of the Lesbian, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender support group OUT, said on Tuesday.
The group’s director said the church was perpetuating an already difficult situation: “Right now they are in no way spreading the love of God. It would have done them good to consult people who know about homosexuality and related issues,” he said. The inclusion of homosexuality was labelled as a mean act, and according to David Richards’s post on facebook “the church has a responsibility to create a more tolerant environment, a more positive church society in which gay men and women of the congregation can come forward without fear of retribution”.
In the church’s defence, co-founder Dr Deric Linley said they had been trying to highlight the challenges of everyday life that people dealt with regularly, not “sins”.
He said: “Besides homosexuality, diets, rejection and depression are also listed. It was never (our) intention to discriminate against any group, but purely to offer a non-judgemental refuge for people.”