GULFPORT -- The Rev. Chris Ashley told his congregation Sunday morning at Cowan Road Baptist Church that he might as well just go ahead and address the elephant in the room.
The elephant being the sign in front of the church that says, "Jesus is God. Allah is Satan."
It stirred quite a reaction. He had just finished one television interview, he told the 35 worshippers gathered, and another is scheduled for Monday. Further, a representative from a Muslim group in Atlanta had called, wanting to challenge the pastor to a debate about the sign's message.
If he did not hear back within three days, the caller said, his group might visit the church and issue the challenge in person. The sign, the caller said, is "inflammatory."
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Ashley said he returned the call and invited the group to come on down. The debate is scheduled for Dec. 5 at the church.
And then the minister launched into his sermon. He wanted his congregation to know that the Christian God representing the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is the only God.
He told the Sun Herald after his service: "Any other God but that one true God is a false God . . . All these other false religions, when you strip it all away, it is ultimately Satan deceiving millions of people with other names -- Allah, Buddha, whatever it may be -- to deceive them so they won't follow the one true God of the Bible.
"Any other religion that follows any other deity besides the God of the Bible ultimately follows Satan."
But what about a commenter on the church's Facebook page who called him on the fact that "Allah" means "God" in Arabic? He said he used the word "Allah" because most people associate it with Islam.
Worshippers at an Islamic house of prayer on the Coast were saddened to hear of the minister's message, especially at a time when Americans, including them, are trying to come to terms with the mass killings in Paris and Syrian refugees left with fewer places to turn as a consequence.
Their message is one of acceptance, not only for their religion but others.
Fatima Bouras is originally from Algeria, but has lived with her family in Biloxi since 2002, after immigrating to America two years earlier. Muslims, she said, respect Jesus as a messenger of God.
"We all see God differently," said Artis Jackson of Bay St. Louis, a Muslim who also had a Christian upbringing. "I will pray for him."