Hundreds, not thousands, attend Dayton 'Gay Day'

DAYTON, Tenn. (BP)--Attendance was far less than expected, but an inaugural "Gay Day" celebration went ahead May 8 in the town that is better known as the site of the historic Scopes Monkey Trial.

An estimated 450 people attended the "Gay Day in Rhea" event in Dayton, Tenn., which was held in reaction to a resolution passed and later rescinded by Rhea County commissioners. Organizers had hoped for more than 3,500 people.

Participants picnicked, played volleyball and listened to speakers encourage political activism.

Area churches, meanwhile, viewed the event as a way to take a stance for the truth and to take the Gospel to the homosexual community.

"I'm convinced that this has happened as part of God's plan to bring His people to an awareness of their responsibility to minister to individuals -- regardless of their present circumstances or the lifestyle that they're living," Mike Justice, pastor of Dayton Church of God, told Baptist Press. "I feel like that we responded very well to that."

In the days leading up to "Gay Day," the Dayton Ministerial Association -- an alliance of local evangelical churches -- brought in speakers from Exodus International, which is an organization dedicated to helping people come out of homosexuality.

Alan Chambers and Randy Thomas of Exodus spoke to pastors and youth leaders, and then spoke to the community in an open session at the local high school.

"All of the events went very well," Justice said. "... I think it's been uniting in the churches."

In March, Rhea County commissioners passed a controversial resolution pertaining to same-sex "marriage." Making his motion, Commissioner J.C. Fugate said that "those kind of people cannot live in Rhea County or abide in Rhea County." If caught, the motion stated, they could be "tried for crimes against nature."

While the motion seemed to be aimed at homosexuals in general, commissioners later said they thought it was against same-sex "marriage." They quickly gathered to rescind their motion.

With the story gaining national attention, Dayton's Kristi Bacon, a homosexual, helped organize the May 8 event.

Justice said the Dayton Ministerial Association sought to provide a balance between those accepting of homosexuality and those preaching an over-judgmental tone. The day before the event a small group of pastors, led by Frank Raddish, director of Capitol Hill Independent Baptist Ministries, held a rally near the courthouse. Justice distanced himself from the rally, saying it was "judgmental" of both homosexuals and of pastors not at the rally.

"[T]his is a wonderful community," Justice said. "It is a God-fearing community. It doesn't mean that everyone fears God, but there is a strong faith element in this community that is not a gay-bashing element. They love God and they love people and they despise sin."

J. Milton Knox, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dayton, said the ministerial association gathers most often for fellowship.

"[But] when this issue came up it was something that we were all facing, and we joined our hearts and minds together in prayer," he said. "The Lord has done some awesome things."

Knox said the association did not compromise on the truth.

"We just tried to preach biblical messages that helped people to understand that we need to first and foremost present a witness of redemption and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ," he said. "That's what we tried to emphasize."


(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SUPPORTERS, LIKE-MINDED and AN OPPORTUNITY.

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