Fundamentalist pressure shutters Illinois newspaper; prompts pro-gay book

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When Northern Illinois resident Sally Miller saw a local religious-based campaign blanket the region, one that was putting “Why God Hates Homosexuals” and “What the Bible Says about the Sin of Homosexuality” on the doorknobs and in the mailboxes of her small town, she knew some kind of response was in order.

As the publisher of a pan-denominational religious newspaper, she was in the perfect position to make that happen.

“I was a newspaper reporter in Wyoming when Matthew Sheppard was murdered and worked on that story,” she told O&AN by e-mail last week. “I actually met Fred Phelps and interviewed him. It opened my eyes to the pure hate people try to justify under the flag of Christianity.”

Miller had no idea, though, that an op-ed by a self-identified gay Christian would so quickly turn her readers, like fans of the Dixie Chicks, from supporters to propagandists who’d willingly stop at nothing to harm her livelihood.

“I reasoned that it was entirely appropriate for me to provide a forum for the homosexual community on this issue, considering I did own a Christian newspaper,” she said. “So I asked David, whom I knew to be a minister and a columnist, to write out his thoughts, and I gave him my column space for the month.”

David Shelton is pastor at the Christian Community Church of Clarksville here in Tennessee. According to Miller, he initially responded with a 3500 word article, far too long for her publication. The edited version that was published, along with the strong response from the community, convinced him to create a book length version. 

The backlash came immediately and internally, which is surprising for an industry so intent on maintaining editorial balance. “At the time,” she said, “I had a Pentecostal preacher working for me as a sales person. He quit without notice or warning and went back to his advertising accounts and told them he could not ‘in Godly conscience’ continue to ‘advance any paper that promotes an evil lifestyle.’”

“Within hours of the paper hitting the racks,” Miller continues, “phone calls and e-mails poured in damning me for ‘condoning evil’ and ‘propagating Satan’s agenda.’ Within a week, David and I began to joke about the ‘drive-by damnings’ that I was getting, people who would call and say, ‘I rebuke you in the name of Christ!’ then hang up. One church had a prayer-relay in which members took turns calling my office every hour during business hours to pray over the phone at me.”

This from a community—an exclusively religious community of readers—that had otherwise entirely embraced her and the newspaper. “The paper was successful up until then,” she said. “We actually broke even and started making a small profit the second month of publication. My goal was to create a thinking Christian’s paper. We didn’t take sides, we just presented the stories out there that the mainstream media was overlooking. Readers seemed to really respond to it.”

The paper, due to this controversy, is no longer in publication.

Miller reports the single upside to her experience. “In the midst of all that ‘Christian love,’ one quiet and short e-mail came through: a young man who wrote, simply, ‘Thank you. You have no idea how much I needed that column. You may have saved my life.’

“I told David, ‘Seriously, you wrote a book. You should publish it,’ said Miller.

David Shelton will read from and sign copies of his book, The Rainbow Kingdom: Christianity & the Homosexual Reconciled (Lulu Publishing, $12.95) at OutLoud! Books & Gifts, 1703 Church Street in Nashville, on Sunday, March 4, at 2:00 p.m.