A controversial marquee posted outside of a church in Jacksonville, Florida, proclaiming that gays must "repent or go to hell," has yielded outrage among locals who fervently disagree with its message.
Pastor Gene Youngblood, who posted the proclamation outside of First Conservative Baptist Church, has said that the message is simply his exercise of free speech, despite the offense that some critics have taken, WKMG-TV reported.
Youngblood declined to appear on camera, but did offer WKMG-TV a long written response, explaining why he posted the marquee, which reads, "Homosexuals Must Repent or Go to Hell."
"Because we love people (yet, as directed in scripture to hate the sin), we therefore want to warn them of the coming judgment of God on the sin of homosexuality (and any other sin that is NOT repented of)," he wrote.
Youngblood also told the outlet that he is praying that at least one gay individual will see the sign and "repent before it is too late and they are cast into hell."
But angry residents are speaking out against the message. One critic described it as coming from "hate-mongers" and another called it "unloving" and "un-Christian." A petition aimed at urging the removal of the sign had attracted nearly 200 names as of Monday morning.
"In John 13:34, God said: 'A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,'" reads the Change.org petition description. "NOWHERE in the bible does it mention gays and hell in the same sentence. There is no place in Jacksonville for such an ignorant and hatred-filled sign- REMOVE IT IMMEDIATELY!!!"
This is not the first time that Youngblood has come under fire, as his signs aimed at Islam have also attracted attention over the years.