By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
FERNDALE – On April 18, the Rev. Mark Bidwell arrived at Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit to an email box filled with hateful messages and an answering machine spewing similar insults and threats. The messages were the result of an email sent by the American Family Association to its lists and posted on the group’s website that encouraged members to contact the Ford Motor Company and complain about their sponsorship of the upcoming Motor City Pride in Ferndale. In the process they were also able to link to MCC of Detroit via Bidwell’s email address.
In the April 18 email from AFA, which as of April 27 was still posted to the group’s web site, the AFA, a self-styled Christian organization, wrote, “Showing contempt for the concerns of traditional families, Ford has agreed to sponsor the ‘Family Area’ at the Motor City Pride Event June 2-4 which will feature a homosexual marriage ‘commitment ceremony.'”
Despite the fact that the AFA message urged followers to contact Ford and never mentioned contacting his church, Rev. Bidwell said that he began receiving emails from AFA followers on April 18. As of April 27, Bidwell said that he had received well over 300 emails. Approximately a dozen of the messages were statements of support. Of the others, “Some of them are swearing at me, cussing me out, calling me an abomination,” Bidwell said.
For the past two years, Rev. Bidwell and Ferndale Mayor Porter have conducted a commitment ceremony on the steps of City Hall the Saturday prior to Motor City Pride.
While the majority of the emails received by MCC of Detroit and reviewed by BTL refer to the standard Bible verses used as a reason to discriminate against LGBT people, others take a more threatening tone.
Under the subject line “You fag loving BASTARDS,” one AFA follower sent this message of Christian love to Bidwell, “Pull your head out of your ass and any thing else you have up there and forget about this ass humping doughnut pumping fag and lesbo bull-shit.”
But while emails can be responded to or deleted, phone calls must be answered – or not – which was the course the MCCD church decided to take when the AFA-inspired phone calls came in on April 19 & 20.
“This is disrupting our ministry, Bidwell told BTL on April 20, “we’re unable to answer the phone because we’re not going to debate with people and we don’t want to subject ourselves to the mental, physical and spiritual abuse.”
“The language that they’re using – I just think it deplorable, that they’re connected with supposedly an American group and a Christian group and a family group and yet they use language like that,” Bidwell said. “I know not everyone agrees with our understanding of the Scriptures – and we’re not asking everyone to agree with it – but we’re certainly not asking people to tie up our phone lines and our email with this type of hatred.”
One caller, who identified himself as Steven, left at least five messages. During one call, transcribed by MCC, Steven said, “There’s a band named Queen – 4 men, but yet with a female title – why, because they’re sodomites, they’re effeminate. Freddie Mercury used to prance on stage saying: ‘When I’m on stage I am a devil.’ What did he die from Mark? He died from AIDS. Why? Because that is God’s judgment on sin, exceeding sin. Sodomy… Sometimes the judgment of God comes in this life – doesn’t wait until eternity that’s why y’all are dying so rapidly from AIDS.”
“What they [AFA] do on one hand is they continue to expose their own lack of integrity, first of all, and the fact that they are just so driven by their hateful messages that twisting truth and actually lying comes naturally to them,” said Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of Triangle Foundation, which hosts Motor City Pride. “The other part of that is that what they’ve done is set up … a situation where a minister is now getting inundated with, I have to believe insulting and denigrating messages – and [the AFA] is an organization that is supposed to be very mindful of religion?”
“This is another incidence where they are behaving absolutely like the Taliban. If you don’t go with their orthodox, fundamentalist view, they attack you and make your life miserable,” Montgomery added.
Neither the AFA’s national office nor its small Michigan chapter returned calls from BTL requesting comment on the AFA email or their follower’s attacks on MCC of Detroit.
In another section of the AFA email message, the group claims that its re-instated boycott of Ford has been met with success.
According to the AFA message, “Since the boycott began, Ford stock has fallen seven percent and Associated Press stated that Ford sales were down five percent in March…It appears that Ford is more willing to face bankruptcy than ending their support of homosexual groups and causes.”
“Accuracy is not their strong suit, obviously,” said a national marketing expert consulted by BTL. “Some people will take credit for the sun coming up in the morning.”
“Ford’s issues in the market are totally unrelated to anything AFA is doing – no serious business analyst believes there’s any connection between the two circumstances,” he said.
Citing Ford’s reliance on low-mileage SUV’s, the analyst said, “Have you checked out the cost of gas lately? No wonder people aren’t buying them.”
The analyst provided BTL with evidence that other major companies targeted by AFA – Disney, Proctor & Gamble, Kraft and Walgreens – have all showed increased profits.
Kathleen Vokes, a Ford spokesperson, confirmed that her company is not involved with the mass commitment ceremony that has earned the Ferndale Christian church so much condemnation from AFA followers.
“Ford is sponsoring a children’s play area,” she said in an April 27 email to BTL. “Ford is proud of its tradition of treating all with respect, and we remain focused on what we do best – building innovative cars and trucks worldwide.”