A new gay rights campaign has been launched in Mississippi to specifically ask Christians to open the church's doors to "people who need us the most."
The campaign features a video ad called "All God's Children" that was created by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to encourage Christian churches to accept gay people into their congregations.
The ad showcases a 61-year-old woman named Mary Jane Kennedy who describes herself as a "Bible-believing born-again Christian." In the ad, she tells the story of her own son coming out as gay and how she dealt with it.
"Nothing in my life had ever prepared me for that," the woman said during the one-minute video ad. "I said, 'What's going to happen? This is going to tear our family apart. Your daddy will die.' It's hard to talk to somebody and tell them something that's going to break their heart. And it was the first time in my life that I'd ever seen him cry."
But Kennedy says that her husband embraced the news. "Well they're my boys, and I love them."
Kennedy went on to describe her wishes. "One of the main things that I want to happen is to open the arms of Jesus Christ to people that have been pressed out of the church; we've closed our doors to people that need us the most. God called us to love each other."
A second video has also been released this week showing State Representative Alyce Clark who describes her son's coming out as something that made her "a better person."
These videos are the first two of several planned testimonies from Mississippians that will be aired on local television over the next few weeks during the ad campaign. Others will include statements from an openly gay Iraq War veteran, a church pastor, and a transgender student.
A mission statement on the All God's Children website states that "We are Mississippians. We live here. We work here. We go to church here. Have children here. Pay taxes here. We serve in the Armed Forces. We volunteer in our communities. We are your neighbors, co-workers, friends and family.
"We are young and old, men and women. We are all God's children. It is only for God to judge, not us. We need to treat everyone with respect."
HRC Mississippi Director Rob Hill says that this campaign is the result of extensive research into better ways to engage Southerners on the hot topic of homosexuality and the church. The former United Methodist minister said that the response, so far, has been positive.
"More than four thousand Mississippians from all across the state joined our conversation, and their response to our work and this campaign was tremendously positive," he said.
"We feel truly blessed so many folks opened their hearts to us, and we're very encouraged to continue to share our message that we're all God's children, and that everyone in Mississippi should be treated with dignity and respect. We are promoting tolerance, mutual respect, and are asking Mississippians to keep an open mind about LGBT people," Hill added. "It was He [Jesus] who taught us that we should treat others as we wished to be treated."
But the conservative Christian group, American Family Association (AFA), has called the campaign a "war against the Bible in America."
"HRC is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside monies to undermine what Scripture teaches and to insult, denigrate and target those who hold to Scripture," AFA President Tim Wildmon said in a press statement. "For an organization that claims tolerance, HRC employs deceptive tactics and outright lies to attack those who respectfully disagree with them. This is hardly tolerance."
The $310,000, four-week campaign is part of a much larger move to help provide equal rights to the LGBT community in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama. "Motivation for this effort comes in part from the passage of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act earlier this year," the campaign's website says. "Considered by many as a license to discriminate, the law's passage -- and the governor's signing of it surrounded by staunch opponents of equality -- was a sign that Mississippi could be moving in the wrong direction on LGBT issues."