• 59°

Preaching not racism, but could it be gentler?

The group says its demonstrations are not racially motivated, and the fact that they show up outside the local cinema often, regardless of what is playing, reinforces that.

But surely the group — which is mostly white — understands why demonstrating outside the theater when “Black Panther” — a movie with a majority black cast — is showing could be taken as racist. It was interpreted that way by people who witnessed their demonstration.

“I was going Friday no matter what was playing,” said Rev. Terry Bonin of Bethel Word of Life in Brookhaven. Bonin is one of the leaders of the group.  “Most of the time I don’t even know what’s on the screen.”

Brookhaven Police Chief Kenneth Collins agreed.

“They’re out there most every Friday night,” he said.

Bonin says they are there to preach the Gospel, and they target the theater because it draws a lot of people. It’s usually a small number of demonstrators but Friday’s gathering attracted 41 people, according to the group. That’s an intimidating number of people, especially when they are shouting and carrying signs.

“If you’ve got 30, 40, 50 people (who are) all white, saying you’re going to hell, yes, it looks like racism,” Pastor Philip Sterling of Grace Community Church said. “None of this would have occurred if they’d just held the signs.”

Bonin said they don’t single anyone out with their message.

“We are loud,” he said. “They call it screaming. We believe that it’s preaching.”

The group has a First Amendment right to demonstrate or protest from the public space just outside the theater’s parking lot. And while we support everyone’s First Amendment rights, there has to be a better way to reach people than shouting about hell across the parking lot, especially when children are present.

If it’s the Gospel they hope to spread, they might be better off looking to Jesus as an example and not an Old Testament prophet.