Martinsville pastor Thomas Farrell of Thou Shall Ministries, who paid for the billboard, said that the message to create it “came from God.”
When I was younger, my best friend was wildly obsessed with horror movies, especially from the slasher era of the 70s and early 80s. This led him to dabble in a lot of fringe cult cinema, and one particular movie that he found as a result was a 1976 film called God Told Me To, in which a police detective investigates a series of seemingly random murders with one thing in common — the perpetrators all tell arresting officers that their reason for committing their crime was that “God told me to.”
I couldn’t help but think of that old movie when I learned this week about the Martinsville man who paid for an anti-same sex marriage billboard in the Southwest Virginia city. The billboard, located next to the Social Security office on Martinsville’s Commonwealth Blvd, reads: “MARRIAGE is 1 MAN + 1 WOMAN.” In the background is an illustration of a man and a woman holding hands, overlaid by a faded image of the first page in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.
The man who paid for the billboard is Martinsville resident Thomas Farrell, president and CEO of Thou Shall Ministries. Farrell’s company appears to have no online presence, but there is a Martinsville PO Box listed at the bottom of the billboard.
Explaining the reason he posted the billboard, Farrell told the Martinsville Bulletin, “I have conversations with God.” He immediately followed that statement by saying, “I’m not crazy,” which shows he is at least sane enough to understand how such a statement comes off. “It’s very difficult to tell the difference between God and the Devil when communicating with the spirit world,” Farrell said, then went on to confirm his understanding that the instruction to post the billboard was divine in nature: “I know this one came from God.”
Farrell originally attempted to post the billboard through Fairway Billboards, who previously owned the Commonwealth Boulevard billboard that currently carries his message. Fairway refused Farrell’s request, but after the billboard was sold to Lamar Billboards, that company was willing to post the message.
Farrell told the Bulletin that the billboard had cost him $1700 for two months. “God owes me something, because that was more than my normal tithe to put that up,” he said. A tithe is a tenth portion of one’s income contributed annually to a Christian church.
Farrell went on to tell the Bulletin that, in his view, being gay is a choice. “Everybody has that same choice available to them,” he said. “You’re born black or white or yellow or brown, but you’re not born gay. You choose that. And I can back that up with a number of different references in the Bible.”
Quite a few people have expressed frustration over the billboard on social media, many referencing the city’s nickname of “A city without limits” in their objections. “I live in Martinsville which is supposed to be a City without limits,” wrote Twitter user Natasha Plaster in a tweet. “This billboard is bs and causing quite the controversy here and should be removed. Things like this add fire to a town already burning with hate.”
A GoFundMe has also been created to produce a competing LGBTQ Pride billboard. As of May 3, it has raised almost $900.
For Farrell, the objections to the billboard are irrelevant. Indeed, he breaks out an old but popular idea — that the people who have a problem with his billboard are REALLY the intolerant ones! “If they don’t tolerate that particular billboard, then it is they who are intolerant,” he told the Martinsville Bulletin. “This is not my opinion. This is God’s opinion.”
Here, Farrell brings to mind not an obscure 70s horror movie but a little-known yet important philosophical concept: the paradox of tolerance. Proposed by Austrian philosopher Karl Popper in 1945, the paradox of tolerance states that societies that are tolerant without limit are eventually taken over by the intolerant — and that, “in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance.”
So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Thomas Farrell. And let’s all look forward to the day when this billboard runs its course and comes down.
Photo via Natasha Plaster/Twitter