A Florida pastor has defended a church sign that offended his community by warning that LGBT people would "go to hell" if they did not repent.
Pastor Gene Youngblood of the First Conservative Baptist Church in Mandarin told WKMG that he was exercising his right to free speech when he recently put up the words "Homosexuals repent or go to hell" on the church's sign.
"Because we love people (yet, as directed in scripture to hate the sin), we therefore want to warn them of the coming judgment of God on the sin of homosexuality (and any other sin that is NOT repented of)," Youngblood explained in a statement. "It is my sincere prayer that perhaps 'ONE' practicing homosexual will have read our sign and will REPENT before it is too late and they are cast into HELL."
Neighbor Cate Dobbins was so angry that she started a petition demanding that Youngblood take down the sign.
"I lived here almost 10 years and I never been offended by anything they ever had on that sign until this week," she recalled to WJAX. “I called the church and left my name and number and no one called me back."
Speaking to WKMG, another resident agreed: "I think it's very sad that people that claim to be Christians are hate-mongers. And why can't people mind their own business and let people live their life the way they want to live it? They're not hurting anyone."
WKMG reported that the words had been removed from the sign as of Sunday night. But Youngblood pointed out that the messages changed frequently, and he said that this message had been similar to many others.
"HELL is a real place and anyone not believing in the reality of HELL will not change the temperature of the FLAMES a single degree," he warned.
Watch the video below from WKMG, broadcast May 10, 2015.