A California pastor who used his church signboard to “rebuke sin” is out of work. Earlier this month, Justin Hoke, pastor of Trinity Bible Presbyterian Church (TBPC) in Weed, California, posted: “Bruce Jenner is still a man. Homosexuality is still sin. The culture may change. The Bible does not.”
The message, which references the transgender individual now known as Caitlyn Jenner, sparked protests by LGBTQ supporters and divided Hoke’s congregation. In a January 12 Facebook post, the pastor announced he’d decided it was best to “part ways”—for the sake of the church and his family. Although Hoke “did not want to leave,” he was told he’d lost the support of the bulk of his congregation. All but one couple reportedly said they’d leave TBPC if Hoke remained.
The Reason Behind the Controversial Message
The sign’s “ultimate purpose,” Hoke says, “was to say that while the culture may change, the Bible does not. The culture is now demanding that we call ‘good’ what the Bible calls evil.”
For seven years, Hoke has used the signboard “to provoke reflection or make a strong point about a single truth,” he says. Yet few people have cared about messages that didn’t “rebuke sin or call anyone to repentance.”
About the Jenner message, Hoke says, “The church has lost its saltiness, and I fully expect to get as much or more [flak] from the visible church as I am getting from the world.” He adds, “The response we’re receiving from this sign proves that it was posted way too late. If a conservative mountain farming community is no longer a safe place to call sin, sin, then is anywhere in this country still safe for real Christians?”
On Facebook, the pastor writes that he’s received offers of financial assistance but doesn’t want to “capitalize” on his moment in the spotlight. “The Lord has taken care of my needs,” Hoke says. “Please pray that God would open more doors for me to preach the gospel.”
Protesters Call the Message Hateful
For two Sundays, protesters held signs outside TBPC, encouraging love and acceptance of all people. Organizer Amelia Mallory says, “We’ve really had to refine our message to be one strictly of love and support for anyone who feels like they are the target of the sign. Debating religion is unproductive, for one, and we also don’t want anyone to feel like we are against Christianity as a whole. People are welcome to their own beliefs but can’t be surprised if people take action against such a public display.”
Several protesters said the sign’s message could negatively impact young people. “Kids have a hard enough time growing up,” says teacher David Villarreal. “They don’t need to see a sign…putting them down.”
Charolette Kalayjian, another protest organizer, says the church sign doesn’t reflect the community’s values. “We’re all born with the right to be who we are without hate, judgment or ridicule,” she says. “Loving your neighbor means your gay, straight, Christian or atheist neighbor.”
After the sign was damaged—either by vandals or a windstorm—protesters raised money to get it fixed.