Uniters not dividers

By Mark Follman

Published February 2, 2005 8:50PM (EST)

It was almost as depressing as it was hilarious to learn recently that Dr. James C. Dobson and his clan of family-values folks were doing their best to stick it to SpongeBob Squarepants, but some heartening news has been making its way around the blogs in recent days: The liberal wing of the Christian church is fighting back.

Whether or not the popular children's cartoon character is frighteningly tolerant of people's individual sexuality and, as Dobson & Co. suggest, is therefore a threat to life in America as we know it, the United Church of Christ is still welcoming the smiley yellow guy into the fold. From the UCC news:

"Joining the animated fray, the United Church of Christ today said that Jesus' message of extravagant welcome extends to all, including SpongeBob Squarepants -- the cartoon character that has come under fire for allegedly holding hands with a starfish.

"'Absolutely, the UCC extends an unequivocal welcome to SpongeBob,' the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, said, only partly in jest. 'Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we.'

"For that matter, Thomas explained, the 1.3-million-member church, if given the opportunity, would warmly receive Barney, Big Bird, Tinky-Winky, Clifford the Big Red Dog or, for that matter, any who have experienced the Christian message as a harsh word of judgment rather than Jesus' offering of grace."

Talk about the big-tent approach be sure to check out UCC's accompanying photo exposé, "SpongeBob goes to church." The pictures, as they say, are worth a thousand words, and the captions then some. Beneath one shot of the happy fellow poised outside the house of worship: "SpongeBob enters the UCC's Church House. Despite Cleveland's chilly temperatures, he knows he'll be greeted warmly inside."

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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