Iowa Christian Wedding Chapel Owners Turn the Other Cheek after Vile Response from Gay Rights Activists

( [email protected] ) Apr 14, 2015 01:31 PM EDT
Christian Wedding Chapel Owner Betty and Dick Odgaard of Gortz Haus Gallery
Betty and Dick Odgaard are a Mennonite couple who run the Gortz Haus Gallery, a 77-year-old Lutheran church building that hosts an art gallery and wedding ceremonies. With its religious decorations and architectural elements, the Gallery has served as an outward expression of their Christian faith for over a decade. (Photo: Becket Fund for Religious Liberty)

The Christian owners of a business containing a flower shop, restaurant and wedding venue in Iowa have decided to discontinue services related to weddings after facing a legal challenge for their refusal to host a same-sex marriage. That decision has led to vile attacks from some gay rights activists.

According to Billy Hallowell of The Blaze, the owners of Görtz Haus Gallery, Betty and Dick Odgaard, turned down a request from Lee Stafford and his fiancé Jared Ellars to host their same-sex marriage back in August 2013. Gay rights activists then turned their fury on the couple.

"It was just so hateful and so awful and personally, it took me down," Betty said. "I didn't want to be on this Earth anymore. It destroyed me."

Betty added that the public backlash made her "ready to quit" the business altogether.

"I wanted to ... move out of the town," she said. "I knew that this gallery that we had built together would never be the same again."

Hallowell reported that the emails sent to the Odgaards were quite rude and contained expletives. One of those emails came from a person named "Micky."

"Betty, you're very old and almost dead," Micky wrote. "How do you both feel, knowing that America, and the world, will be a better place without you?"

The couple told Hallowell that boycotts came along with the vile emails, which left them devastated. Betty was the daughter of a Mennonite pastor, and Dick is a practicing Lutheran.

"Psychologically, when you get beat up like we did ... it takes a lot of hugs to neutralize that," Dick said, noting that some in the community supported them. "As much as you appreciate [the support], what you remember at the end of the day is all the ugly."

According to Hallowell, Stafford and Ellars filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission against the Odgaards. Although the lawsuit was dismissed, the couple agreed to pay $5,000 to the gay couple under an administrative process after being found guilty of discrimination last December.

"The precedent had been set," Dick explained. "Obviously, everybody knew where we stood, so we would be targets for a sting type of a deal, so we just decided to get clear out of the business which was financially very hurtful - painful, but we just had to do it."

Betty noted that they operated their business in accordance to their Christian faith. However, the boycotts have taken a financial toll on them.

"Weddings were the larger income stream of course and now we have to just rely on lunches and flowers," Betty said. "The lunch business went down by about half when all of this came out, so that's been suffering quite a bit ... there were a lot of boycotts out not to come to our place."

In response to their traumatic experience, Hallowell reported that the couple started a nonprofit organization called God's Original Design Ministry. According to the organization's website, its main purpose was "to advance Christian teachings, Biblical ordinances and natural laws as God intended."

"I feel like God has just put a sense of no fear in us," Betty said. "He wins in the end, so what are we afraid of? And we would like for other Christians to feel the same way."

Dick added that their organization will focus on billboard and multimedia campaigns promoting their Christian worldview.

"We're extremely excited about it," Dick said. "The response we've gotten is fantastic. Things are going very, very fast."

Tags : Religious Freedom, Iowa, Christian persecution in US?, gay right, gay rights activist, same sex, Same-Sex Marriage, Görtz Haus Gallery, Christian business harassed, Christian business practices, Christian business, Iowa Civil Rights Commission, civil rights, God's Original Design Ministry, Midwest, LGBT rights, LGBT, religious freedom vs. discrimination, United States, gay rights