Clearwater Church Under Fire For Sign That Promotes “Extreme Vetting”

The Countryside Baptist Church at 2525 N. McMullen Booth Road in Clearwater, Florida has come under fire for a message posted on a church sign on their property.

The sign which reads, “Heaven has a wall a gate and extreme vetting”, has social media users posting negative one star reviews on the church’ s FaceBook page and expressing displeasure with what they say is a poor decision by church leadership to take a political stance as a house of worship and for being a “poor example of Christianity”.

The sign appears to be a show of support for President Donald J. Trump’s recent measures to curb illegal immigration from Mexico by building a border wall and his legally-contested executive order that called for extreme vetting of citizens from seven predominately Muslim countries prior to entry into the United States, although posts from the official church FaceBook account have indicated that the sign is spiritual in nature and not meant to be political.

One review posted by FaceBook user Amy Rouse Ousley says, “John Steven Connell, you should be ashamed of yourself! Your version of Christianity has NOTHING to do with Jesus Christ!”

Another by user Amy Lewis, quotes Matthew 25:40 from the Bible, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

A review posted by Lisa Brugge which says in part, “God tells us to love our neighbors and not to judge. I’m very saddened to see this level of politics and hypocrisy in one of my neighborhood church’s. There is no sanctuary here”, has generated 80 comments so far, including replies by Dr. John S. Connell, the Senior Pastor at the church.

In a reply to Brugge’s review, Dr. Connell says, “This sign is not political but spiritual. See Revelation 21:10–14 and John 14:6. Its design is to make a person think,” and later defends the church by pointing out that they have three ethnic congregations that share the church’s space and operate a food pantry and clothes closet.

In a video posted on the same page, Dr. Connell is seen talking about the use of “shock and awe” in literature, but it is not clear if he is referring to the church’s sign or the response by members of the community on FaceBook.

Dr. Connell became the Senior Pastor at the congregation in January 2015 and his bio on the church’s website says he earned a Masters of Divinity and Doctor of Theology from New Orleans Baptist Seminary.

So far there have been a dozen one star reviews posted on the Countryside Baptist FaceBook page.

EDIT: It appears that the phrase on the sign was lifted from the title of this CPAC panel held last week. I’ll follow-up this story soon.

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