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02-16-09, 07:55 PM #1
Sex and the sermon: Pastor in Gardens strips away taboos
PALM BEACH GARDENS — At first glance, the billboard over Interstate 95 that says "stripped: naked truth on sex" looks like an ad for a place to go on a Saturday night.
But the sign actually points the way to a local church on Sunday morning.
Palm Beach Community Church's billboard promotes sex and relationship sermons, which run through March 1.
Palm Beach Community Church put up the billboard near PGA Boulevard to advertise a series of sermons on sex and relationships running through March 1. Senior Pastor Ray Underwood, who founded the church more than two decades ago, said he wants to focus on the positive aspects of sex.
"You tend to hear about the 'Thou shalt nots,' " Underwood said. "We want to talk about the 'Thou shalts.' "
Underwood isn't pushing the envelope quite as far as the Rev. Ed Young of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, who made national news in November when he urged his members to reinvigorate their marriages by having sex for seven straight days.
But Underwood is one of a growing number of church leaders willing to take on a topic that was once off limits. People have real questions about how to keep their marriages strong, how to talk to their kids about sex, what to do with desire and how to recover from adultery, he said.
"I think we should be more aggressive and upfront about talking about critical issues in people's lives. In the past, I think we were embarrassed and unsure about ourselves."
The nondenominational church, which moved into its new 500-seat auditorium on PGA Boulevard in March, attracts a wide variety of Christians, including lots of young couples. Underwood often preaches in jeans, and the church's services feature video, drums and electric guitar. Though the church's style is edgy, he said, its message is more conservative.
Underwood gave his first sermon, "Hot Monogamy," a PG-11 rating and suggested that parents take kids under that age to the child care center. A video projected on the church's big screen said, "so ... sex in church? Are we really going to talk about this? We need to." Though it could be kind of weird, the video warned — "like seeing a nude scene with your parents."
Underwood's message was that sex isn't bad, and it isn't just for procreation. It unifies couples and helps them to stay together. But real marriages aren't the sex-fests that many people expect, Underwood said — it takes effort from both parties to keep things interesting.
Other churches also have used provocative marketing strategies to attract new members.
NewSpring Church outside Orlando attracted attention to a series on sex and relationships in September with a billboard with the Web address Ihatemymarriage.us.
And in Coral Springs, the Church by the Glades raised eyebrows in January 2007 with a billboard that showed two sets of feet hanging off the edge of the bed. Some criticized the church for going too far, but others say the signs served their purpose, which was to get people in the door.
Underwood said he talked a long time with his church elders about how to strike the right tone.
"We try to stay real, but this is a little more on the edge," he said. "Hopefully we won't fall off a cliff."
The billboard has sparked a spike in traffic on the church's Web site, Palm Beach Community Church. And members say they spotted some new faces in the church's auditorium, the Bruce E. Borland Center for Community Enrichment.
Erik Johnston, 30, attended the Hot Monogamy sermon with his wife, Paulina, and their 2-month-old son, Hendryx. Johnston grew up Mormon, and his church leaders "encouraged big families but didn't really talk about sex." Paulina was raised in a Catholic family, where the topic was also taboo. Both liked the sermon.
"I think people would have to intentionally want to misinterpret it for it to be taken in a negative way," Erik Johnston said. "I loved it."
Church member Jacqueline Travieso, 26, said the series gives people a safe environment to discuss the topic.
Lately, she's been telling her friends: "Have you seen the 'stripped' billboard on I-95? That's my church."
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