APPOMATTOX, Va. – "America: love it or leave it." That's the message outside an Appomattox church that's gone viral on social media and has received both support and criticism online, in the community and nationwide.
Friendship Baptist Church Pastor Earnie Lucas said he posted the message a couple of weeks ago on a sign outside his church to make a political statement.
Some of the critics are part of his congregation.
"It's hard for me to understand how folks can turn on a pastor after all those years," Lucas said.
The 85-year-old said around 20 people walked out ahead of church Sunday, either upset by his message or scared by threatening rumors. By the end, only ten people remained.
"The church might be burned to the ground by someone, I don't know who. And that the word also was out that I would lose my life that they would kill me too," Lucas said.
Downtown, some locals, like Charlene Rappleyea and Kim McGuire agreed with Lucas' sentiment.
"If you want to say things that are for the country, all of a sudden you're a racist or you're some other kind of 'ism'," said Rappleyea who lives in Phenix. "I think that's disgusting."
"How dare they suppress our speech but we're not allowed to criticize theirs," said Appomattox resident Kim McGuire.
One Appomattox man, who didn't want to talk on camera, said he supports the message but doesn't think it should displayed at a church.
Critics also took to social media.
Another church in Hopewell found itself caught up in the controversy because it goes by the same name and posted a response: "We are deeply saddened by the challenging matters taking place in our world, and ask that you join us in taking this opportunity to stop and pray for unity in our Country. 🙌🏿🙏🏿🙌🏿 #HopewellVA #Unity".
Lucas said he's waiting for this to blow over and in the meantime, he is not going anywhere.
"I am not leaving. And I'm not leaving now," Lucas said. "I'm staying until the Lord gets ready for me to leave."