CRESTVIEW — The Christmas parade on Main Street Saturday featured 125-plus groups that celebrated the holidays with floats spanning themes Biblical — Noah’s ark, angels — and traditional — Christmas story time, Island of Misfit Toys — along with guest appearances from popular children’s characters like Hello Kitty.
However, one parade participant, representing Save Me from the Fire ministry, drew criticism from a number of parade-goers for denying Santa Claus’ existence, shouting disparaging remarks about homosexuals and telling people they were going to hell from a megaphone.
Brian Gaines, the ministry’s founder and a student at a Pensacola Christian college, drove the truck while recording video footage for the organization’s website. James Forrester preached from the truck.
Following the parade, a number of attendees commented on the News Bulletin's website and Facebook page expressing their displeasure.
"What control do the organizers have over the entries?" Tina Bannon said on crestviewbulletin.com. "I was very upset with the man on a (megaphone) saying, ‘We are living in a sin-filled world … this world is going to burn.’”
“He said he hated to crush our dreams but Santa wasn’t real. My daughter was devastated,” Emily Self Hayes said. “You can’t say that at a Christmas parade where kids are there celebrating and waiting to see Santa.”
The ministry — which has participated in “a dozen parades in the area” since May, said Gaines, who defended the group’s message — plans to return next year and, in its own words, more negative than ever.
“Maybe I should have preached more negative. You didn't like that it made you feel convicted about your sins. You hate God and you hate his holy book. Don't worry, I will be back next year,” Forrester said.
The truck, which displayed a sign that said, “I am a King James-only, Bible-thumping, fundamental, pre-millennial, Baptist, Heaven-Hell-Hot-Sweet Street Preachin’ Believer,” presents the Gospel, the ministry stated.
"I suggest they ask why they were offended of the truth," Gaines said. "I don't think anything that was said that night wasn't true."
Some residents said they supported the ministry’s right to preach, regardless of its message.
“This is the United States of America; we have a First Amendment right to say what we want. I don’t agree with the way this gentleman did it, but I also don’t want to be told I can’t voice my beliefs,” Tony Rowell said.
The Main Street Crestview Association hadn’t received calls concerning the preacher, as of press time, Main Street Crestview Association President Ellis Conner said. However, he apologized on the association’s behalf for those offended. "We don't want anyone to leave the parade offended," he said.
The issue was to be discussed at the association’s Wednesday meeting, when the group would review the parade’s positives and negatives.
"We try to screen each of the participants," Conner said. “Twenty to 25 percent of the participants are church organizations. They will continue to be part of the parade."
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Matthew Brown at 850-682-6524 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnbMatthew.