The City of Ferndale has been abuzz this week — both on social media and in the quaint streets of the “Cream City” — with talk about the message currently posted to the illuminated sign outside St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.
“Hurt by LGBTQ culture?” the St. Mark’s sign reads. “Healing here.”
The sign has confused some and angered others.
“I would love to know what the thought behind that was,” one local resident said on Facebook. “Hurt how?”
“I am absolutely disgusted by this,” another commented. “No love, healing or growth was ever built of the foundation of hate.”
Photographs of the St. Mark’s sign received dozens of shares and hundreds of comments on social media, and reactions have been popping up around town as well.
One local business, Mind’s Eye Coffee Lounge, drew a rainbow flag in chalk outside its front door on Main Street and uploaded a photo with the message, “Love will always win.”
Our Savior’s Lutheran Church on Shaw Avenue, just a few blocks away from St. Mark’s, adorned its own sign with an apparent response to their neighboring house of worship. “We welcome everyone!” it reads. “Jesus said all are precious in his sight. Love is always the answer.”
On Wednesday, Our Savior posted a photo of that message to its Facebook page with the caption, “Need we say more!”
While both St. Mark’s and Our Savior are Lutheran churches, they’re aligned with two distinctly different sub-denominations that have opposing views on same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ issues.
Our Savior belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a mainline Protestant denomination whose assembly, in 2009, voted to allow gays and lesbians who are in committed, monogamous relationships to be ordained as clergy. Since then, the ELCA has appointed a gay bishop and ordained a trans pastor, and its clergy are allowed to officiate same-sex marriages.
St. Mark’s, meanwhile, belongs to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), a “traditional” denomination that categorically condemns “homosexual lusts and acts” as profoundly “unnatural.” Members of the LCMS church believe they’re called upon to help such poor souls “to overcome the temptations which beset them.”
“[H]omosexual behavior is contrary to God’s Word and will, and the LCMS seeks to minister to those who are struggling with homosexual inclinations,” the church says on its website.
The Outpost left voicemails for both St. Mark’s and Our Savior Friday morning. We also sent an email to St. Mark’s and within an hour received the following response from Reverend Tyrel Bramwell:
We received your phone call and email regarding the sign. What questions would you like to ask?
We sent along a list of questions about the meaning of the message and the community response but by the time this post was published, nearly five hours later, Rev. Bramwell had not responded.
The Ferndale community has been roiled by a number of public controversies over the years. In 2007 a recently arrived psychotherapist was subjected to homophobic interrogations in municipal meetings, and the Ferndale Planning Commission denied him a home occupation permit — apparently due to his sexual orientation.
In 2011, Ferndale High football players and fans were accused of hurling racist epithets at an opposing team, resulting in the Wildcats squad getting placed on probation for a season.
Last year, a Ferndale couple got mostly positive responses to an anti-racism display in their front yard, but in December, a billboard just outside town reading “Welcome to Ferndale; Hate has no place here” was vandalized to convey the opposite message.
The vast majority of responses in this latest controversy have rejected the message outside St. Mark’s in favor of love and inclusion.
One commenter on the Ferndale Community Page on Facebook suggested responding to the St. Mark’s sign by displaying rainbow flags in town. “Beat hate with LOVE!” she urged. Sure enough, a short drive through Ferndale on Friday revealed a number of rainbow flags flying.
Caroline Titus, editor and publisher of the Ferndale Enterprise, said attitudes in town have changed for the better in the decade and a half since the big kerfuffle over a gay psychotherapist.
“I am so proud of our community and so relieved that I don’t have to be the one writing editorials and getting threats,” she told the Outpost via phone Friday afternoon.
A Pride celebration scheduled to begin at noon Saturday got a last-minute change of location. Attendees are now being invited to meet in front of St. Mark’s before marching through town.
“Come in your loudest rainbow attire and with flags,” reads an announcement on Instagram. “Love is love.”