GRIMES, Iowa (Christian Examiner) -- They may have lost the battle for their beloved Görtz Haus gallery, flower shop and bistro, but Betty Odgaard and her husband, Richard, haven't wavered in their belief that marriage was designed by God to be for one man and one woman. Communicating that message is now the Odgaard's mission, through a new ministry and a goal of purchasing 1,000 billboards to promote traditional marriage.
The website for the Odgaard's new ministry, God's Original Design, says that the ministry's mission is to "advance Christian teachings, Biblical ordinances and natural laws as God intended."
The Mennonite couple recently shared a picture of the first billboard on their ministry's Facebook page with a caption that described the sign as a "14'x48' lighted beauty located on US 69/75 greeting north bound (sic) traffic 5 miles south of Durant, OK."
The billboard which reads "Marriage = 1 [man] 1 [woman]," and "Please...I need your help with this! = God," was funded by donors across the nation.
"We have come to realize that in a very short period of time, many of the faithful have wandered from the truth," Richard Odgaard, who goes by Dick, told the Christian Examiner. "With that, 'corrective' change will come only by influencing the hearts and minds of the faithful by reminding them what is right and what is wrong. That in turn will strengthen both spiritual leaders and policy makers.
"Our strategy with the billboard is to provoke 'drive-time epiphanies' with a simple message of truth and a touch of humor," Odgaard continued. "Our messages are not anti anything. They are, however, pro God's original design for marriage to be a union between one man and one women...with love."
From bistro to billboards
The Odgaards' trouble began when they refused to plan and host a wedding for Lee Stafford and Jared Ellers, a same-sex couple, on religious grounds. The couple filed a complaint in 2013 with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, and the Odgaards' responded with a lawsuit of their own, claiming that hosting a same-sex wedding violated their religious beliefs.
Betty Odgaard, 61, told the DesMoines Register she has "nothing against gays and lesbians," and she and her husband have hired and served gay and lesbian men and women at their venue and have close friends who are gay. "I just personally believe that a marriage is between one man and one woman. I don't condemn or judge anybody else for their beliefs and how they live their life."
Represented by the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, the Odgaards' argued with the ICRC that they had rights under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, but after six months of public harassment, challenges by ICRC officials, and the prospect of legal proceedings and legal fees extending into years, they settled the charges against them by paying the couple $5,000 in damages, and agreed to no longer host weddings at their venue, a primary revenue source for their business.
After closing their business in July, the Odgaards' told the Christian Examiner they are focusing on their new ministry but their excitement over the first billboard hasn't come without more challenges.
"After 13 1/2 years of' living a dream' of being forced to close the business we built from scratch is heartbreaking," Dick Odgaard said. "Our faith will get us through this."
Despite criticism, the Odgaard's have said they have nothing but good intentions.
"[The billboard] certainly isn't coming from a hateful place," Betty Odgaard recently told the DesMoines Register. "What I'm most frustrated with is that it's viewed as being hateful, and that's the last thing that I want to convey. It's just that we want to hold up the Biblical view of marriage."
The Odgaards hope that other Christian business owners won't experience what they have. When asked what advice they would give to others, Dick Odgaard recommended Christian businesses make efforts to formerly organize with other Christian business leaders and encouraged religious leaders to take the lead. He also wants to see more business leaders encouraged to run for office, "the most important being the school board to influence long-term change."