Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church, opened his Mother's Day sermon with a joke, drawing laughter from more than 1,000 people packed into a rented high-school gymnasium for the first of two Sunday morning services. "We've been extremely busy this week," he said, alluding to the national media stir over his tactics in opposing statewide gay-rights legislation. "With Jesus Christ, you can just nickname me 'Ice Water.'"
Mr. Hutcherson, who accrued national prominence last year for organizing Mayday for Marriage rallies to oppose gay marriage, recently convinced the Microsoft Corporation under threat of national boycott to withdraw its support of a bill that would have barred discrimination based on sexual orientation. The bill failed by one vote last month in the state Senate.
But two weeks later, on the Friday before Mother's Day, Microsoft reversed its position yet again, this time caving to pressure from gay-rights groups and a negative media spotlight. The flip-flop drew little more than a chuckle from Mr. Hutcherson, who believes Microsoft's wishy-washy leadership will play into his hands in future battles: "What they have told me is the right amount of pressure at the right time will make them flip again."
Mr. Hutcherson, 52, did not use Sunday morning, however, to tell his church as much. Instead, the 270-pound former professional football player known as "Hutch" dove headlong into Matthew 15, expositing the text line by line as he does each week. "We don't deal with politics on Sunday," he told WORLD. "We teach what the Bible says. Monday through Saturday is to shake the salt out of the saltshaker." Ron Landon, a congregant at Antioch for 17 years, said such consistent Bible teaching is what has kept him coming back: "Hutch does not waiver. Every week, he tells me the truth regardless of whether I like it."
Protesters unhappy with the African-American pastor's anti-homosexuality message invaded Antioch's services wearing rainbow-colored armbands on May 1, but the services went on as scheduled: Antioch has learned not to let political controversy dominate its identity.
The fiery preacher reminded his congregation on Mother's Day that nothing should trump devotion to God, family, and fun. Mr. Hutcherson has four children and owns three horses, three Rottweilers, and a pet goat named Harry Potter.
Despite Mr. Hutcherson's jovial demeanor, some media sources have characterized him as an egotistical bully or a loudmouthed bigot. The Stranger, an alternative Seattle newspaper that originally broke the story of why Microsoft changed its position, featured a cartoon of Mr. Hutcherson holding a "Fags burn in hell" sign. He has not carried such signs, but the Alabama native was not offended: "Like water on a duck's back. I was groomed for this."
Mr. Hutcherson scoffs at the charge of bigotry. He is interracially married and has built his church with the specific aim of racial reconciliation in Christ. "I was attracted to the church because of the cross-cultural style," said Chuck Hammond, an Antioch elder for 20 years who is also interracially married.
The criticism Mr. Hutcherson finds more difficult to bear is that levied from fellow Christians. Some ministers have publicly questioned his political tactics, suggesting they drive a wedge between homosexuals and potential healing in the church. He says he never intended his threat of a Microsoft boycott to splash across headlines-but homosexual employees at the company leaked the story to The Stranger. Microsoft denied having been affected by Mr. Hutcherson's challenge.
Mr. Hutcherson has met with Microsoft attorneys since the company made its most recent reversal but has not yet decided if he will call for a boycott of Microsoft when the gay-rights legislation comes up again next year. What "Hutch" has decided is that political controversy will always surround him: "God called us to be the salt of the earth and salt irritates any open wounds."