CENTRAL POINT, Ore. – A billboard proclaiming the pope is the Antichrist has unleashed the wrath of the Catholic community, sparked a debate over First Amendment rights, and led to death threats against the man behind the message.
The red, white and blue sign, located along Interstate-5 just north of Medford, Oregon reads, “The POPE Is The ANTICHRIST, Free Proof,” and provides a website address for more information.
Billboard along I-5 in southern Oregon sparking outrage, death threats. (WND photo: Joe Kovacs)
“It was like, ‘Oh my God, why would anyone want to do that?’” exclaims Rose Khng describing her initial reaction to the billboard. “It was very offensive, extremely.”
Larry Weathers, a 50-year-old barber from the small town of Talent, sponsored the sign. He says he has no intention of taking it down, despite a flurry of death threats.
“As long as they’re threatening this and not shooting,” Weathers tells WorldNetDaily. “And they’ve got to go through God [to kill me]. If He says it’s all right, then I can’t argue with that.”
Weathers has been flooded with reaction – both negative and positive – since an editorial published this week in the Catholic Sentinel urged the public to call for the sign’s removal. The Portland-based publication bills itself as the oldest Catholic newspaper on the West Coast.
“It’s just about 50-50,” Weathers says of the nature of the calls. “Many people tell me what my mother is for bringing me into this world.”
Meanwhile, officials with the Catholic Church are by no means turning the other cheek, and are encouraging the public to become more vocal about the billboard.
“By saying the pope is the personage of Satan, that really grates off on Catholics,” says Bud Bunce, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Portland.
Bunce is also critical of the company allowing it to be posted, Outdoor Media Dimensions.
“This is not a First Amendment issue; it’s not a free-speech issue,” Bunce tells WorldNetDaily. “It’s a matter of what kind of advertising that a media outlet will accept … [a billboard] is not a media outlet you can turn off like a car radio.”
Bunce says he has called Outdoor Media Dimensions on several occasions to discuss the matter, but has yet to receive a return call.
The company, when contacted by WorldNetDaily, would not comment on the matter.
A prepared statement reads, “The content expressed on billboards leased by Outdoor Media Dimensions does not in any way express the opinion or beliefs of our company or staff.”
“It’s no big deal. The sign’s been up for years,” says Alan Herson, Outdoor Media Dimensions’ attorney. Herson’s son served as president of the company until this month. The elder Herson explains the billboard company was sold to two Seattle residents, whom he did not wish to identify. Herson says the sale was unrelated to the uproar over the pope billboard.
Meantime, Weathers has been assured by the company that his sign would remain on display. The current billboard was erected two months ago, but a previous sign with a similar message had been up for two years.
“We had hoped that it would just go away,” says Bunce. “That hasn’t happened.”
When visitors log onto the website referenced on the billboard, they are greeted by a well-known piece of classical music, “Toccata and Fugue,” by Johann Sebastian Bach. Viewers are encouraged to leave their name and address to be sent a book at no charge.
The book, “National Sunday Law” by Jan Marcussen, is an examination of biblical prophecy, and makes the case that the pope is the Antichrist and a key figure in world events heralding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It purports that the American public may even expect laws to be passed enforcing the sanctity of Sunday, including possible bans on working on that day.
Weathers contends any examination of end-time prophecy will clearly demonstrate that the pope is identified in the Bible as the “man of sin,” “son of perdition” and “whore of Babylon.”
“I wasn’t looking to join a church, I just wanted to join the truth,” explains Weathers, who meets with about 40 people as part of The Rogue Valley Historic Seventh-day Adventists (which has no connection to, and is shunned by the more well-known Seventh-day Adventists.)
It was Weathers’ belief that the seventh day of the week, Saturday, is the Sabbath day of rest for followers of God that originally prompted him to post billboards. It has been a labor of love for him since 1993.
Despite the harsh rhetoric and threats against his life, Weathers insists he’s neither hateful nor bigoted in any manner. In fact, he believes he’s acting out of love for Catholics and the public at large. He likens himself to Noah of the Old Testament who warned of coming catastrophe unless people repented and followed God.
“I can’t see Noah saying ‘Forget about all those raindrops!’ as he’s shutting the door to the ark,” laughs Weathers. “Noah warned ‘em and that’s what we’re doing.”
“It’s no different from yelling ‘Fire!’ to save people from being burned,” he adds.
Rose Khng, a member of the Valley View Seventh-day Adventist Church in Medford doesn’t see it that way.
“If someone is yelling, ‘Fire!’ … everyone recognizes fire is a danger,” she says. “But if someone is yelling ‘The pope is the Antichrist!’ then they’re not going to respond in the same way. How are you going to reach someone by offending them?”
In the Sermon on the Mount recorded in the 5th chapter of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus told his disciples, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”
When asked if Christians should expect to hear statements that are offensive to them, Bunce at the archdiocese responded, “I don’t necessarily assume that because I’m a Christian, people will attack me.”
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