Photo of producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett of the Bible miniseries.
Producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett attend 'The Bible Experience' Opening Night Gala. Courtesy Shutterstock,

Evangelical campaign says everyone -- even gays -- reflects God’s image

NEW YORK (RNS) A group of Christian leaders has set up a new campaign to emphasize that all people -- gay, liberal, undocumented or otherwise -- reflect the image of God.

Roma Downey and Mark Burnett with the cast and crew while filming "Son of God." Photo courtesy Lightworkers Media

Roma Downey and Mark Burnett with the cast and crew while filming "Son of God." Photo courtesy Lightworkers Media

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Six Christian leaders, including Focus on the Family President Jim Daly, "Touched by an Angel" star Roma Downey and her producer husband Mark Burnett, have created a coalition called “Imago Dei,” Latin for “image of God,” to encourage people to treat each other with respect.

“If we had the image of God in mind for every human being, we could change the world,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who is leading the cause. “I want Christians to not be known for what we oppose but for what we propose.”

The campaign, also joined by Liberty Law School Dean Mat Staver and Life Today’s James Robison, is intended to include all human beings, but it offers specific examples.

“For the image of God exists in all human beings: black and white; rich and poor; straight and gay; conservative and liberal; victim and perpetrator; citizen and undocumented; believer and unbeliever,” the campaign states.

Rodriguez said it's not intended to target a specific group or issue, even as the campaign has raised eyebrows for attracting the support of conservative leaders who have vocally opposed gay rights in recent years.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Religion News Service photo courtesy of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Religion News Service photo courtesy of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

“We intentionally listed groups to capture the idea that there’s no exception to the rule. Our emphasis is not LGBT or political ideology or color of skin,” he said. “It’s not germane as to whether or not people can change sexuality or not. It’s not about condoning a lifestyle, political ideology, worldview.”

Rodriguez said he got the idea for the campaign when he was at a restaurant with his family in Sacramento, Calif., and saw girls as young as 12 and 13 who he believed were involved in sex trafficking.

“I looked at my wife and said, 'That girl has the image of God,’” he said, before launching a sex trafficking ministry in his church and eventually in NHCLC.

The biblical emphasis of Imago Dei stems from Genesis, where God said he would make mankind in his own image. Evangelicals have signed similar kinds of statements in the past, but this campaign is more focused and simple, said Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family.

“If someone says something out of line, someone else can say, ‘Hey remember this, how you signed it?’” Stanton said. “Each one of us are image bearers in the sense that each one of us bear the image of God that others don’t.”

Rodriguez and Daly were included in a movement of religious leaders that created the Manhattan Declaration, a 2009 manifesto that emphasized protecting religious liberty and resisting abortion and gay marriage. The document included a section on the idea that humans bear the image of God.

“We shouldn’t forget that the doctrine of Imago Dei necessarily leads to other commitments, especially as it relates to life, marriage and religious freedom,” said Eric Teetsel, director of the Manhattan Declaration. “Christians have been emphasizing the Imago Dei for a long time. It’s often fallen on deaf ears. If this movement causes people to hear it for the first time, that’s a wonderful thing.”

Rodriguez declined to disclose how much money is involved in the campaign, saying they are creating financial support, eventually aiming to hire Danielle Jones, who currently leads NHCLC’s initiative on sex trafficking. He said Imago Dei plans to create wristbands and launch public service announcements next fall.



  1. With people/groups like Focus on the Family and Mat Staver (Liberty Law School) — known vocal anti-gay groups — joining into the effort, does this signal they are recognizing that being gay is not a sin and same-sex marriage is just as good and valid as any other, and that they will stop lobbying for legislation against us? I find it disingenuous that such people would be on board with a program that purports to recognize God in everyone, when they’ve done the exact opposite for years.

  2. Contra Rodriquez’s comments, pretty sure their aim is to put a positive spin on their view that gays and lesbians are sinners who can change their sexual desires with the help of prayer and Jesus. Hard not to see this as another form of “hate the sin, love the sinner.” A kinder, gentler evangelicalism that hasn’t really changed its views, and won’t

  3. It is true, all are made in the image of God. What I don’t trust is those leading this “campaign.” They will assuredly drop the other shoe and try to tell people who are gay that they somehow thwarted the image. Focus on the Family and the others all have an agenda and its NOT to share grace but damn certain people because they (Focus) have a single image of God and can’t see beyond it…

  4. Don’t be fooled. There is another not so well hidden agenda here.

    From Focus on the Family website

    Our Position
    Focus on the Family is dedicated to defending the honor, dignity and value of the two sexes as created in God’s image.
    by Focus on the Family Issue Analysts

    • Focus on the Family is dedicated to defending the honor, dignity and value of the two sexes as created in God’s image – intentionally male and female – each bringing unique and complementary qualities to sexuality and relationships.
    • Sexuality is a glorious gift from God – meant to be offered back to Him either in marriage for procreation, union and mutual delight or in celibacy for undivided devotion to Christ.
    • Revisionist gay theology violates God’s intentional design for gender and sexuality.
    • We affirm God’s design for sexual expression as between one man and one woman in the context of a lifelong, marital covenant.
    • We strenuously disagree with revisionist gay theology as plainly contradictory to Scripture, historic and traditional Christian doctrine and the Judeo-Christian sexual ethic.
    • We oppose the ordination of non-celibate, self-identified homosexuals and the celebration of homoerotic sexuality as one of God’s gifts.

    Religion is poison!!

  5. Unless Evangelicals are willing to throw out the Bible and its disgraceful verses about sex and love, they will be fundamentally saddled with the worst barbaric nonsense on those topics.

    We need to transcend the religious preachings and see these old myths for what they are: ancient superstition.

  6. It all comes down to saying:

    “We are not bigots. We just believe gays are worthy of denigration, discrimination, and ostracism from society”

  7. And that’s the issue regarding this evangelical campaign: some folks will fail to catch the message that Rodriguez and other evangelicals are trying to send, while others will understand the message and reject it anyway.

    The Bible is absolutely clear that everybody, all humans at all times, are created in the image of God. We’re all in the same boat, we’re all human, we’re all carrying the image of God, no matter what (Gen. 1:27).

    The Bible is equally and absolutely clear that homosexual unions and homosexual marriage is just plain sin, no matter what (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

  8. No amount of grace can make gay marriage anything other than a sin, an abomination, before God. The same Bible that teaches about God’s grace to all humans, likewise teaches that homosexual behavior is a direct violation of God’s design and intention for humans.

  9. The message is that outright bigotry brings social sanction, so best keep it out of the public (despite being one’s actual view). Rodriguez is intentionally trying to disguise his agenda with useless dishonest homilies.

  10. So you are saying Rodriguez is being dishonest. That he should not be talking about gays being in God’s image. He should be plainer about his religious based hate filled agenda.


    “…homosexual behavior is a direct violation of God’s design”

    What is this nonsense? First, it isn’t a ‘choice’ to be gay or not.
    Second, if it isn’t ‘god’s design’ how would you ever know that?

    Religion is a toy for Fascists.
    What a despicable philosophy that puts you in charge of pushing other people around! How dare you?

  12. This is an attempt of the Religious Right to window dress their increasingly unpopular positions by changing their messaging. It won’t work–it’s their malicious message that people reject.

    If Christians, like those in the Acts of the Apostles, were known for their acts of love, there would be no need for re-branding.

  13. Your misreading of 1 Cor. 6 aside, it is nice of you to prove the point most of us have been making.

  14. That’s exactly what he’s saying: “image of God” = “worthy of grace” = “repent now, pervs.” No way same-sex orientation could itself be part of the image of God, because some Israelite priests and Paul said sex with the wrong body is sinful.

    As bearers of the image of God we must keep our bodies free from sin and shame, and gay sex is sinful and shameful. I’ll leave you to figure out what part of the body thus must be protected from gay sex and therefore most represents the image of God, according to this theology.

  15. Thank you, Eric. Beats me how this is news. Who ever claimed that gays AREN’T created in the image of God??? Every human being ever born has been.

  16. Of course all people represent the image of God for all people are made in the image of God. That does not mean all the behaviors and choices people make are godly.

    The only way to argue that homosexuality is not a sin is to dismiss certain clear teachings of the Bible, so the questions I have for those who claim to be Christian but also claim homosexuality is a sin, how do you know some passages are more true than others? How is picking and choosing not just glorifying your own desires and your own desire to be god rather than just listening and trusting in God to tell you how it is?

  17. The short answer is this: everyone reads and interprets selectively. Everyone. Defenders of “traditional” marriage as much as advocates for gays and lesbians.

    The not so short answer: You only need look at the variety of forms of marriage and family in the Bible and at the history of marriage and family and compare them to the claim that “one man, one woman” is the unchanging, biblical ideal. If one is honest, one sees how much picking and choosing is involved, how many aspects of the biblical texts like polygamy, slavery, concubinage, barrenness, etc., are silently selected as irrelevant when describing the timeless ideal. You might as well ask the same question about people who “claim” to be Christians but also believe slavery is wrong. I’m not saying homosexuality are the same thing. Or even alike. I’m saying, again, that when it comes to determining what God wants, and using the Bible to help make that determination, Christians have always engaged in picking and choosing.

    The real question isn’t: how do you know some passages being truer than others. It is: what principles guide your interpretation? How do Christians determine what God wants of them in new, changing times? What criteria should Christians use when assessing different, even conflicting interpretations of the Bible? Or assessing biblical texts that conflict with each other or with other, biblical Christian values?

    I can’t speak for all Christian supporters of gays and lesbians, but I would point to the principle of love, as expressed by Jesus and developed into an interpretative criterion by Augustine, as that which guides my reading of the Bible. I’d also point out problems with assuming that texts like Lev. 18 and Rom. 1 are about “homosexuality,” but, again, the real rationale for accepting gays and lesbians comes from the principle of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self, and recognizing that sexual orientation is part of that self, that gays and lesbians are as capable of producing the fruits of the spirit as much as straight people.

    I admit that any interpretation of the Bible, or any argument about what God wills for Christians, is open to being merely self-serving. Any. Yet what’s the alternative? False assurance is the only thing that an inerrant view of the Bible, and its interpreters, gives you. Same thing with a naive notion of how God tell us “how it is.” Because you could still be wrong. Worse, you’d be attributing your error to the Bible itself. So we can’t avoid the risk of self-serving or less than perfect interpretation of the Bible, or understanding of God’s will. Yet that is part of the risk of faith, part of knowing through a glass darkly.

    And that’s why Christians interpret the Bible in light of other values and practices that make us who we are, the church, the Body of Christ.
    We discuss and debate what God wants of us as a community, trusting each other to tell the truth, and to listen. Trusting that we are led by the Holy Spirit, by tradition, by reason, to arrive at the path God wants. That’s how God tells us how it is. And if we come to realize that, in the present or the past, we’ve made a mistake, that we’ve not done what God would have us do, then we have a way to address our shortcomings: by confession, repentance, and forgiveness, all of which allow us to grow in grace and faith toward who God wants us to be. What is the Church but a community of forgiven sinners? What is the Church but a community that has learned to forgive and take risks, together, in faith?

    And how do we know if our choices are sound, that our interpretations are what God wants of us, here and now? Well, you will know us by our love, by the fruit we bear. I can argue up one side and down the other about what the Bible says about gays and lesbians, and you’ll likely still be convinced that I’m justifying sin. But if you look at the lives of gay and lesbian Christians, look at the love and commitment of gay and lesbian marriages, you’ll have to tell me where the sin is and why those lives are not evidence of a faith that bears fruit and bears witness to the love of God.

  18. HAL WATTS,

    You said, “If Christians, like those in the Acts of the Apostles, were known for their acts of love, there would be no need for re-branding.”

    But Christians make it sound so simple, as if love never existed before Jesus and as if ‘loving, kind communities’ are the best way to spread Christianity.
    It turns out that ‘love’ is not enough to make cooperation work between people – because love which is founded only on the dictates of a higher authority render the act of love meaningless.

    Despite 2000 years of Christianity there has been nothing but failure in building permanent ‘goodness’ from the dictates of the Bible. Belief in a God ruins communities as it empowers a ‘priesthood’ and disenfranchises the sheep. Real Life doesn’t work this way and it never will.

  19. “I admit that any interpretation of the Bible, or any argument about what God wills for Christians, is open to being merely self-serving. Any. Yet what’s the alternative?”

    How about just ignoring all of the “holy books” and using sound data and sound logic to develop positions? On occasion, the exercise might comport with a “holy book” and in other cases it may not. Regardless, it would be the most productive way to “pick and choose” from the books, and the resulting compilation would probably be very enlightening.

  20. I’m all for using sound data and logic, but ignoring the Bible simply isn’t an option for Christians. So the question, for us, is how best to read the Bible when developing positions on ethical issues. And I’ve given a thumb-nail sketch of an answer. As to why read the Bible, or be a Christian, at all, that’s a whole other set of issues.

  21. If people can’t ignore their (own) holy book, how about just using sound data and logic to determine which parts of the book merit attention? The vast majority of people do pick and choose from them. How would you recommend they do it?

  22. I kinda thought my longish post was an answer to that last question of how. I do think data and logic are crucial in reading the Bible. For example, I think the relevant data and logic show that biblical texts that discuss same-sex sexual acts have little to nothing to do with homosexuality. That would take some demonstration, from philology, history, anthropology, psychology, etc, but you see my point. The key to using the data logically is listening patiently to the texts on their own terms, to what they are actually saying and to what they do not say.

  23. Eric,

    Snap out of it!!
    You said, “ignoring the Bible simply isn’t an option for Christians.”
    What nonsense. Of course you ignore the Bible – you HAVE NO CHOICE. You can’t just go out and find a goat any old time you want one!

    You ignore:
    Leviticus, Exodus, Numbers, Chronicles, Deuteronomy… shall I list them all?


    EXODUS 34:1 The LORD said to Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.

    1. “I am making a covenant with you. “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land”
    2. “Do not make cast idols.
    3. “Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread
    4. “The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock. No one is to appear before me empty-handed.”
    5. “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.
    6. “Celebrate the Feast of Weeks with the firstfruits
    7. “Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD, the God of Israel. I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the LORD your God.
    8. “Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Feast remain until morning.
    9. “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.

    10. “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

    So are you going to admit that you ignore the Bible completely?
    Or do you need me to list the other thousands of things you ignore?

  24. So, let me get this straight: because Christians (and Jews) no longer practice animal sacrifice, we “completely” ignore the Bible?

    Usually I’m quire sympathetic to atheist critiques of religion and interpretations of the Bible. They often see things others miss. But I do get frustrated by the kind of Bill Maher/Richard Dawkins attacks that focus on the most reductive understanding of the Bible and religion itself. Get back to me when you’ve read some history and some hermeneutics.

  25. Eric,

    There isn’t a single book of the Bible that is without absolutely absurd nonsense. I am merely pointing out that you don’t believe in the absurdities and you deny that you are ‘cherry picking’.

    Every Christian must ‘cherry pick’ and if they are honest they will find that most of the Bible is just a bunch of rotten cherries. More bad than good.

  26. So even you think the campaign is full of crap. Good we can agree.

    Better to be open about your bigotry so people don’t confuse your position with something reasonable, as Rodriguez is clearly trying to do.

  27. Atheist Max,

    I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you didn’t read my long post up-thread, in which I explicitly said that everyone engages in selective, “pick and choose,” interpretation. That said, your view of the Bible seems to be a mirror reflection of fundamentalists assumptions, which is hardly a considered understanding. And if you think there is more bad than good in the Bible, that’s fine. But I am curious what “absolutely absurd nonsense” you found in, say, the Song of Songs.

  28. ERIC,

    “Song of Songs” like all other books in the Bible, is absurd because of its ridiculous context. A story of Sexual passions in the Bible force fits the sexuality into bizarre interpretations.
    Because it is claimed to be the ‘word of God’….
    it cannot just be a work of brilliant, ancient poetry. IT is FORCED to be a story of Christ’s love for his church or Yahweh’s love for Israel or some such foolish allegory.

    Context is THE PROBLEM.
    For example: Noah and the Ark is not a bad story. It is kind of a fun myth – until some wacko starts telling you that it ACTUALLY happened because it is IN THE BIBLE.

    Religion poisons everything and makes everything ten times stupider.

  29. Another example of hyperbole based on reinventing language to serve one’s own narrow needs.

  30. By refusing to accept a redefining of marriage one is “damning” others? Defend this nonsense if you can. Don’t bother to redefine terms in doing so, however; we’ve criticized this poor excuse of “rationalizing” frequently.

  31. Earold, I think Focus’s statement of principles calls for something stronger by way of response if it to be considered a meaningful attempt to advance discourse.

  32. Eric, you failed to point out that all the Biblical references you make have at the center of the illustrations a male-female union.

  33. You have a pitiful life, A-Max; trolling sites that proclaim the mercy of God so that you can give your viperous vitriol explains a lot about you and yours. Your hatred is exceptional.

    If you knew God’s word, you would consider the word of Christ:

    By the standard you measure others, you yourself will be measured.
    You are measured by your own standards and fall short of even your own expectations.

  34. You have a pitiful life, A-Max; trolling sites that proclaim the mercy of God so that you can give your viperous vitriol explains a lot about you and yours. Your hatred is exceptional.

    If you knew God’s word, you would consider the word of Christ:

    By the standard you measure others, you yourself will be measured.
    You are measured by your own standards and fall short of even your own expectations.

  35. GRACE MAX,

    You said, “You have a pitiful life, A-Max…. your viperous vitriol explains….and fall short..”

    I hate your RELIGION. I never said I hate the victims, such as yourself.
    Your RELIGION gives you permission to hate people.

    And that is why I am commenting here. YOUR RELIGION is a cancer to humanity.

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