Tragic story behind viral sign
RADICAL Aussie Priest Rod Bower is far from your average man of the cloth.
His liberal views on gay rights, asylum seekers, Islam and treatment of indigenous Australians have seen him accused my some believers as a traitor to their idea of Christian values.
And, we're not just talking about a few nasty comments from his tens of thousands of followers on social media.
Some of these extremists regularly send death threats and they have even invaded his church on NSW's Central Coast to terrorise him and his worshippers on two occasions.
Ahead of the launch of his autobiographical book, Outspoken - which will be released this month - he told news.com.au about his anger over the double-standards of so-called Christian politicians like Scott Morrison and how Christianity in Australia has been hijacked by right-wing extremists.
But life wasn't always like this for Fr Bower, who believes his life has made him able to see life through the eyes of the marginalised. In his new book, he describes how feeling "out of place" manifested itself in his mind as he grew up in NSW's Hunter Region with his adopted parents.
He says it was this underdog spirit was which propelled him to fight for social justice later in life when he found his Christian calling.
"Being adopted, I remember as a young person that feeling of not really belonging. I had a wonderful family but I had that experience of being marginalised and feeling I am an outsider," he said.
He describes struggling to cope with the loss of his father at a young age, leaving school to become a butcher when he was 16 and the painful search for his birth mother.
However, Fr Bower's life-changing moment came when he randomly made a last-minute decision to go to church when he was hungover on Christmas Day in 1984.
And, his life was transformed once again almost 20 years later when he created a sign outside his Gosford church, which would make the world sit up and take notice.
The story behind Fr Bower's infamous "some ppl are gay" sign began on July 23, 2013 when he got a phone call from a woman whose brother was dying.
"She asked me if I could administer the last rites at his home," he wrote in his new book. "At the agreed time I duly presented myself at the door in order to administer the sacrament.
"The man was unconscious, lying in a hospital-type bed in the living room of his well-appointed apartment."
Mr Bower met the dying man's sister, and when he received some awkward answers to questions about the man's love life - he guessed what was going on.
"The assumption was that the church - and therefore, the family had figured, me as the church's representative - was unable to accept a same-sex union as valid," he wrote.
"I was deeply disturbed by this and incredibly troubled as I drove back to the church. The adrenaline was surging through me for a long time afterwards."
He wanted to show the world he was supportive of LGBTI people. He turned to the sign outside his church and used the power of social media to spread his message.
It read: " Dear Christians. Some ppl are gay. Get over it. Love God."
He describes the "terrifying" feeling pulsing through him as the sign went viral on social media and transformed his life forever.
Looking back, Fr Bower told news.com.au he believed the sign resonated with so many people because it put a human face on something which was not openly discussed before.
"It was a stark realisation for me that the things we say and the way we do things add to people's experience of exclusion," he said.
"I certainly didn't want to be part of that any more and that's why I put up that sign."
He called that moment, when he was being asked awkward questions by a dying man's family, the "straw that broke the camels back". He was filled with rage.
But now he had a platform to express this rage and he used it to champion three major issues: marriage equality, asylum seekers and climate change.
But many other issues enrage Fr Bower on a day-to-day basis, including Peter Dutton's decision to grant au pairs "humanitarian" visas while leaving children to rot on offshore detention centres.
"It exposes the moral bankruptcy of the man," he said. "It's the height of hypocrisy."
He also turned his ire to Prime Minister Scott Morrison - saying he should practise what he preaches in terms of his devout Christian faith.
"To claim to be a follower of Jesus, while at the same time as being implicated by the United Nations and Amnesty International as an abuser of human rights (as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, overseeing Nauru) seems to be the definition of contradiction.
"If he claims to be a Christian, then he should take it seriously and repent."