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UM church’s sign goes viral Sam Hodges, Mar 30, 2012
By Sam Hodges Managing Editor
The Rev. Tom Tate is always looking for an arresting, welcoming “non-churchy” message to put on the sign outside Rose City Park United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon.
This week he connected in a big way with “GOD PREFERS KIND ATHEISTS OVER HATEFUL CHRISTIANS.”
A photo of the sign has been spread around the world via Facebook, prompting hundreds of phone calls and emails to the church, from as far as Australia and Hungary.
“We’re just flabbergasted,” said Kay Pettygrove, church administrator.
She estimated getting 30 positive comments for every negative one.
“I got an email from a young Mormon man saying, ‘Thank you so much. It made me rethink how I treat people,’” Ms. Pettygrove said. “Many atheists have said, ‘If there were more churches like yours, we would probably reconsider.’”
Mr. Tate has fielded a few negative calls, one from a Massachusetts man who said he was considering leaving the UMC because of the sign. Another was from a woman in a small town in Texas.
“She said, ‘My son is an atheist and I’m scared he’s going to see this,’” Mr. Tate said.
Mr. Tate said he told her, as he has told others, that Jesus through the Good Samaritan story showed approval of caring people who are outside traditional faith.
Mr. Tate added that he considers the sign part of his church’s “radical hospitality,” particularly to those who feel alienated from organized religion. “Unless we find a way to speak to people of our time, we’re not going to be around,” he said of the UMC.
The message is not original, but Mr. Tate can’t recall where he came across it. Nor is it clear to Ms. Pettygrove who put a photo of the sign on the Internet.
“Our custodian saw someone outside taking pictures of it. We have no idea who it was,” she said.
Mr. Tate is in his ninth year at Rose City Park UMC, a 385-member congregation in residential northeast Portland. He’s always looking for a good message for the church sign, unless it is needed to advertise a church event.
But this week’s message has exponentially exceeded any other in response.
“It has touched a reservoir for people in a way that is very surprising for me,” Mr. Tate said.