Well, this is a PR meltdown.
For those just tuning in, it began this morning when Mars Hill Church pastor Tim Gaydos issued a statement celebrating his parish's new proximity to a neighborhood filled with AIDS. As he put it in an e-mail, "being closer to Capitol Hill is a blessing as we are serving and ministering to those who are infected with AIDS on the hill.” Asked at about 11:30 a.m. what sort of HIV/AIDS outreach they were doing—and how being one-third of a mile closer to a gay neighborhood empowered the church to conquer the disease—Mars Hill spokesman Justin Dean explained that congregants intended to teach to the neighborhood's "AIDS victims" about Jesus and the ministry was "at the beginning stages of volunteering with the Lifelong AIDS Alliance." Why would this estimable nonprofit associate itself with a church that won't even allow gay members?
And that's where the question stood until now.
It turns out, Mars Hill Church hasn't filled out any volunteer application forms or undergone a screening process to affiliate itself with Lifelong AIDS Alliance, Kelly Bray, a spokeswoman for the outreach charity, says by phone. She says, in fact, that the church has "no relationship" with her group. Mars Hill did call Lifelong about the possibility of volunteering last fall, but they hadn't heard again from the church until today—"around lunchtime," Bray adds. You mean, the church only touched base again with Lifelong after The Stranger started inquiring about the church's purported Capitol Hill AIDS ministry? "I think the timeline of that synced up," Bray confirmed. "We have not responded yet. We are still working out our response internally."
But would Lifelong even work with Mars Hill? After all, the megachurch conglomerate—which has 14,000 members in 11 branches—reportedly doesn't allow gay people to be members. (Asked why the church bans gay members, a Mars Hill spokesman didn't comment.) It seems a little unusual for a notoriously cultish and homophobic mission to target a gay neighborhood, weirdly brand the area as a hotbed of disease, and then telegraph its plans to use a well-regarded nonprofit as a vehicle for proselytizing their divisive version of Christianity, right?
"We don't discriminate against organizations that walk through our doors," Bray said. "If Mars Hill is interested in potentially volunteering, they would be made aware of what flies by us, the values we uphold, and individuals we work with. We would not put them in any position where they could proselytize." However, Bray was also noncommittal. "We do make some case-by-case evaluations... I can't say that we would be full speed ahead with bringing them on board, but at the beginning we will treat them the same as any other community group."