I have friends and family who grew up in Greensburg, Indiana. They scratch their heads in trying to explain the hate that seemingly permeates the Decatur County community southeast of Indianapolis. Most people I have talked to have never heard of the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle, a Christian church nestled near the town’s sole movie theater….until…the video. An unidentified boy who looks about 4 years old sings before a congregation at the church, “I know that the Bible’s right, somebody’s wrong — Romans 1 and 27, ain’t no homo gonna make it to heaven.” The crowd erupts into cheers, with some people giving him a standing ovation. “That’s my boy,” someone off-camera crows. Better said…that’s Greensburg’s “boy” because, like it or not, perception is that Greensburg is a bastion of hate and intolerance.
Since the video was posted May 29 on YouTube, it has been viewed more than 790,000 times and has been covered by major media outlets, including CNN and Time. It’s also drawn small protests, and reportedly sent the preacher on vacation to an unknown location. About 40 to 50 people gathered June 3 at the church, 1114 W. Westridge Parkway, during the first Sunday service after the video was posted. Another protest is planned for Sunday, the day after Indy Pride wraps up its eight-day Circle City IN Pride Festival, the state’s largest pride festival. “I just feel like it’s brainwashing a child to be biased his entire life,” said David Stevens, 39, who will attend the protest. “They’re just breeding more of that.”
Sunday’s protest, starting at 8:30 a.m., could be much larger. Daniel Collins, the primary organizer, had invited more than 3,700 people via Facebook, and as of late Friday afternoon, 245 had confirmed their attendance. Another 186 indicated they might attend. While protestors may be ready to voice their opinions, Greensburg residents don’t seem as eager to do so. “It’s all been pretty quiet,” Allen said. “People are pretty much keeping to themselves.”
One middle-aged couple, heading to dinner Wednesday evening with their two boys at Buffalo Wings and Rings, a restaurant bordered by a Holiday Inn Express on the same street as the church, was uncertain about discussing the church. “I’d rather not,” the woman said quickly. “You’d rather not?” replied the man. “I’ll talk.” “Don’t,” she responded, shooting a stern look at him. He asked, “Can I be anonymous and tell the truth or give my name and not?” Ultimately, he decided not to talk.
Greensburg, the seat of Decatur County, is a town of about 11,500, according to 2010 Census data. Its claim to fame is its county courthouse, which has had at least one tree sprouting out of the roof of its tower since the 1870s. But the courthouse tree, considered a “rare freak of nature” by residents a century and a half ago, may have been bounced from its position as the town’s most famous feature since the church video went viral. Still, people who aren’t near the church haven’t been affected by the media attention or protests, said Tuttle, 21. “But I mean, it’s the talk of the town right now,” he said.
15-year old Billy Lucas hanged himself in his families barn two years ago after being bullied at Greensburg (Indiana) High School.
In some parts, anyway. Tina Ashley, 40, was also heading Buffalo Wings with Shelley Bailey, 36, but said she hadn’t heard much about the church apart from reading a couple news articles. “I haven’t talked to people that it even fazes,” she said. Bailey suggested it may be discussed more by churchgoing people in town. The church, too, has been quiet. Its website posted a message on May 30 including the statement, “The Pastor and members of Apostolic Truth Tabernacle do not condone, teach, or practice hate of any person for any reason. We believe and hope that every person can find true Bible salvation and the mercy and grace of God in their lives.”
The church’s pastor, Jeff Sangl, did not respond to interview requests from The Star. An interview request was refused by a church member Wednesday evening about an hour before a Bible study was to begin. “We’re hoping that it’s something that is going to die down,” said Decatur County Sheriff Gregory Allen. The sheriff, who took his position in January 2011, said he hasn’t seen this much press covering a Greensburg incident. A church leader also told CNN that the church had received threats, but Allen said Thursday the sheriff’s office has received no threat reports. He said he spoke with Sangl on June 1, at which point the pastor had received no specific death threats. While Sangl didn’t mention leaving town, Allen said he didn’t seem to be in the area as of Thursday.
Greg Lambert, 52, an Occupy Indianapolis member who helped organize the upcoming protest, said he was more shocked by the church’s assertion that it doesn’t condone hate than by seeing the singing boy in the video, considering, he said, that the song had a clear anti-gay message. But the debate over whether the boy’s song was a message of hate, or one supporting the Word of God, continues among the public. Ron Allen, professor of preaching and New Testament at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, said diverse beliefs exist among Christians regarding whether homosexuality can be in accordance with God’s will. This disparity can cause rifts in denominations and congregations.
Five to seven biblical passages directly deal with homosexuality, depending on how people count them, Allen said. “It’s just a tiny, tiny fraction of the Bible,” he said. With President Barack Obama’s recent statement supporting gay marriage, Scott Seay, associate professor of the history of global Christianity at the Christian Theological Seminary, said he noticed the issue has flared up. “This is a glaring example of how the church is allowing politics and the larger culture to determine what questions it should be asking and how it should be answering those questions,” he said. “If the church allows itself to be manhandled by the political life of the nation, we’re in trouble.” Seay doesn’t expect the Christian debate over homosexuality will be resolved anytime soon. Likewise, Tuttle, the Greensburg resident, said Apostolic Truth Tabernacle’s newfound notoriety won’t easily be forgotten. “I mean, it’s probably not going to blow over,” Tuttle said. “It’s always going to be brought up some way.”
There are some well-meaning folks in Greensburg, without question but this desire for things to “die down” is concerning. The subject of homosexuality dies frequently in this rural farm county. It died with Billy Lucas, a teenager who hanged himself in his families barn a couple of years ago after being bullied, kicked, punched and tormented at Greensburg High School and now, the folks of Greensburg want us to ignore the cheers and applause some in their community provided for a 4-year old singing about…hate.