When Kelly Pope answered the front door, a policeman from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office stood there. He said he was investigating a burglary at First Conservative Baptist Church. And he also asked after Pope’s cats … “I know way more about you than I should,” Pope recalls the Officer “Nick” remarking.
“What burglary? What are you talking about?” Pope recalls asking.
Officer Nick said someone had stolen letters from the message board marquee in front of the First Conservative Baptist Church on Old St. Augustine Road in Mandarin. They’d also anagrammed the sign from reading, “Homosexuals Need To Repent or Will Go To Hell” to “Homo Sex Is Good For All,” according to a police report. (Although it didn’t account for the magic appearance of the letter “F” in “For.”)
Pope was taken aback. First, how did a JSO officer know anything about the 25-year-old Mandarin resident’s domesticated felines? Pope had joined weekly Sunday protests at First Conservative Baptist and shot a couple of selfies with the church’s marquee in the background in June (and posted them as Facebook profiles), but Pope knew nothing about missing letters or the hijacked messages. It had been a month-and-a-half since the message incident, and JSO was still investigating? And the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago dropout was a suspect?
“I didn’t take the letters, but I think that’s really hilarious,” the Douglas Anderson grad recalls saying of the letter scramble. “I wish I’d thought of that.”
Church pastor Gene Youngblood called JSO at 10:40 p.m. on May 10 to report someone had scrambled the letters of the church’s message board.
“Mr. Youngblood was very disheveled and belligerent, stating that he wanted the record to state that he has a firearm and will shoot anyone that tries to do this again,” Officer T.L. James wrote on his incident report.
Pope balked at the threat.
“Very Christ-like. Good job,” Pope said. “I think he read the book.”
The First Conservative Baptist Church has been running an information campaign on the marquee warning homosexuals that they are going to hell. In a statement to the media, Youngblood explained he hoped his messaging would reach just one homosexual who’d repent and be saved [“Hatred Is Perverted,” Folio Weekly, June 24].
Youngblood’s messages change weekly, but the theme is consistent: “You Can’t Be Right With God If You Are a Homosexual,” “Keep Marriage Pure Not Perverted,” “Demonstrators Cannot Change the Word of God – Homosexuality Is a Sin,” “Homosexuals Need to Repent or Will Go to Hell.” “God Is Not Mocked. Whatever You Sow You Will Reap Gal. 6:7” and “Homosexuals Are Fighting Against God Not Man.”
Pope questions the strategy. “LGBT people do not respond positively to shame,” Pope remarked. “[Youngblood] might want to consider revising that approach to maybe accepting that we are normal, naturally occurring people. There have always been LGBT [people] regardless of what we call it.”
Four days after reporting the letter scramble, on May 14, Youngblood again notified JSO that he had received threatening messages and emails. Officer B.R. West referred the case to the detective division for further investigation.
Around that same time, Mandarin resident Cate Dobbins began weekly protests at the church and began a change.org petition to convince Pastor Youngblood to remove the sign. She says she never made any threats. And she knew nothing about the marquee letters.
“I am very careful,” she said, adding she had also received threatening messages after her protest went public.
Meanwhile, Pope says the visit with JSO went well. The detective assigned to the case, Nick, ended up talking about vegetable gardening and cats. Officer Nick explained he’d also done protests, at abortion clinics. But the conversation remained amiable even with that revelation.
“It’s funny; I know more about the JSO detective than I know about the pastor at the church,” Pope says. “I didn’t grow up in churches, but I imagine pastors like to speak to community members and like to make their points heard. But I would never go over there. I just don’t want to be subjected to what he is going to say to me to dehumanize me.”
Meanwhile, Pastor Youngblood expanded his marquee message from trying to convince homosexuals to repent to insulting Islam. “Jesus Is Sinless Hebrews 4:15 – Muhammad Was Sinful Surah 18:10,” read the message for the week of July 14.