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Friday, September 09, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Local Church's Sign Offends Evacuees

A confrontation erupted between an East Texas church and an evacuee from New Orleans. It centers around a sign out front of Woodland Hills Baptist Church on Old Jacksonville Road in Tyler, about a mile inside the loop. Some say the message is offensive.

"I drove by that sign and was just horrified when I saw that," says Kelly Jackman who now lives in Tyler but used to live in New Orleans.

That sign at Woodland Hills Baptist Church reads ,"The big easy is the modern day Sodom and Gomorrah."

Kelly along with her sister Robin Lafont, an evacuee from New Orleans, showed up this morning at the church to talk to the man who put it up, Pastor Wiley Bennett.

During a heated discussion, Robin asked, "What's the point of the sign out there?" Pastor Bennett replied, "The point of the sign is New Orleans, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and New York City are some of the most wicked cities in America."

Robin, who still has family members unaccounted for in New Orleans, is offended by the sign. "I'm telling you. This hurts. Why would you want to put more hurt, more salt in my wounds and why would you want to do this to me?"

Kelly adds, "And to go by and see this church saying that God did this to destroy these people and basically they're celebrating that by putting that sign up there saying look at what God has done. He has destroyed the city of New Orleans because it is evil."

Pastor Bennett says, "Anybody that's ever visited New Orleans, the very name its self - Big Easy - denotes that it's easy to find sin there."

Pastor Bennett says the sign, is a sign of the times. "The purpose of the sign is to wake American up to the fact that America is going away from God. New York City's 9/11 was a call of judgment and New Orlean's horrible incident was judgment on a wicked city."

Pastor Bennett was quick to point out that the church has helped evacuees by donating clothing, food and lodging, but their good will seems to be overshadowed by the sign.

"I'm not saying that you were evil and didn't have good intentions but it is hurtful. It's extremely hurt full. That's all I'm saying. I'm asking you to take it down," pleaded Robin.

"If I was doing it to hurt people I would take it down, but I'm not doing it to hurt people. I'm doing it to point out the sins of America," said Bennett.

Even after the sisters left the church, the confrontation continued in the parking lot. Kelly said, "That sign also says a lot about your character and your integrity and it's nothing good I assure you."

"They both called me an ungodly person with bad character and all that, and that's their right, but I have people that would say differently," Bennett told us.

Finally, the confrontation came to an end, but with no resolution. Robin tried one last time, "I'm asking you to take it down." Bennett said, "We can not go any further so we may as well go." Robin said, "That's fine. I need to go."

Robin and Kelly say they are going to spread the word of opposition to the sign and encourage people to contact the church. They hope the church will eventually take it down.

Since the sign went up, many KLTV viewers have e-mailed us with their comments. Wednesday night, a viewer named Tammy told us:

"Encouragement is needed, not more salt in the wounds... How could anyone see that sign as appropriate or bearing witness for Christ?"

We were at Woodland Hills as they prepared for Wednesday Night services.

They say earlier in the day, they were deluged with phone calls from people urging them to take the sign down.

But they say after our report, the response has been 100 percent positive. They began their service with a prayer for the people of New Orleans and Mississippi, and we spoke with many members including these who say they support the message on the sign.

Betty George has been a member for 23 years.

"Our pastor has a strong stand on the Bible and he preaches God's word, and he has compassion for America and the souls of America."

Randy Hays joined Woodland Hills in 1999.

"All our pastor was trying to say is that America is pulling away from God, and He wants America to realize that."

Pastor Bennett told us once again he has no plans to take down the sign right now, despite outcry from the community.