A New South Wales priest who became a social media sensation for his thought-provoking church billboards has shared the heartbreaking story behind his viral message backing LGBTIQ rights.
Father Rod Bower created the sign that read “Dear Christians. Some ppl are gay. Get over it. Love God.” outside the Gosford Anglican Church on New South Wales’ central coast in 2013, and it went viral on Facebook.
In a new autobiography, Fr Bower explains that it started when he got a phone call from a woman whose brother was dying.
“She asked me if I could administer the last rites at his home,” Fr Bower wrote.
“At the agreed time I duly presented myself at the door in order to administer the sacrament.
“The man was unconscious, lying in a hospital-type bed in the living room of his well-appointed apartment.”
Mr Bower met with the man’s sister and when she gave him some “awkward answers” to questions about her brother’s romantic life, he was horrified.
“The assumption was that the church — and therefore, the family had figured, me as the church’s representative — was unable to accept a same-sex union as valid,” he wrote.
“I was deeply disturbed by this and incredibly troubled as I drove back to the church. The adrenaline was surging through me for a long time afterwards.”
Fr Bower said that moment was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and released he could demonstrate his support for LGBTIQ people using the sign outside his church and the reach of social media.
— Fr Rod Bower (@FrBower) August 30, 2018
He described a “terrifying” feeling as the Facebook post went viral, but told news.com.au he believed it resonated because it put a human face on an important topic.
“It was a stark realisation for me that the things we say and the way we do things add to people’s experience of exclusion,” he said.
“I certainly didn’t want to be part of that any more and that’s why I put up that sign.”
Fr Bower said he initially planned to use his billboards to focus on three issues — marriage equality, asylum seekers and climate change.
But in the years since he’s used them to have his say on topics including racism, mental health, domestic violence, gun control, the media and political figures.
The Anglican priest’s book is titled Outspoken: The Life and Work of the Man Behind Those Signs and is out this month.
“Why I’m outspoken is because there are some incredibly important things for us to think about as a people, as a nation, and part of the prophetic role in the church is to get people to think about that and to highlight those issues,” Fr Bower said.
“I’m passionate about human rights and so that’s what drives me out onto the stage.”
— Fr Rod Bower (@FrBower) June 22, 2016
— Fr Rod Bower (@FrBower) September 26, 2017
— Fr Rod Bower (@FrBower) April 25, 2016
— Fr Rod Bower (@FrBower) March 18, 2016
— Fr Rod Bower (@FrBower) August 12, 2017