“Muslims can convert to Christianity here!” read the sign Monday in front of the Congregational Church on Laurel Road.
It was an invitation that the church’s pastor, K.C. McCay, admitted he didn’t expect anyone to accept.
But coming on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it was bound to stir a response.
And it did.
“If church leaders are really interested in saving people, they would find much less offensive ways to do it,” said Ahmed Bedier, director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Religious leaders are adding fuel to the fire. It’s a shame.”
The group plans on taking photos of the sign to document the incident, as it did in 2003 when a Jacksonville minister posted a sign stating that the Prophet Muhammad advocated violence.
McCay, who has been a pastor at the church for five years, said 9/11 never entered his mind when he placed the message on the road-side marquee.
Instead, he was responding to a Texas man, whose name he said he did not remember, who recently called on Christians to convert to Islam.
McCay said he doesn’t expect any Muslims to take him up on his offer.
The church, which was founded by his father in 1977, has between 50 and 100 members, depending on the time of year. It is a conservative church that views Christianity as the only path to God.
“We will not vary from that,” McCay said. “If Muslims want us to water it down, that might be all right for you, but we’re not biting.”
But Janet Onnie, chairwoman of the Venice Interfaith Community Association, said McCay’s sign did more harm than good in the effort to bring people together.
Celebrating the commonalities between Islam and Christianity is a better way to bring people together, she said.