'It's time for churches to stand up' – meet the Aussie priest standing up for gay rights, US shooting victims and asylum seekers

When Father Rod Bower trained for the priesthood 30 years ago, how to deal with death threats was not in the Anglican Church manual.

But it's something the Australian priest has had to learn to deal with.

The 55-year-old is the brains behind a billboard in the New South Wales city of Gosford, that has drawn global attention for its messages on social justice.

The first post to go viral, and raise a number of eyebrows, read: "Dear Christians some people are gay. Get over it. Love God".

It followed Father Bower's realisation that a man he was giving the last rites to was gay, and did not want to tell him.

"I was so deeply affected by that," Father Bower says.

It has since spawned a number of domestic billboard messages that have gone viral, offering support to asylum seekers, same sex marriage, and Muslims.

But it was his commentary on gun control in the United States of America that propelled his billboard to international fame.

Father Bower's Florida shooting sign.

Father Bower writing in the wake of the Florida high school shooting that killed 17 students in February: "When will they love their kids more than their guns?"

It was mentioned in stories in the Washington Post and The New York Times, and the words adopted by rapper Eminem in a performance the next month.

The church's Facebook page now has tens of thousands of followers, while Father Bower says his posts often receive higher engagement than those of Australia's Prime Minister.

But his outspoken positions have also created some backlash.

Several members of his congregation have left, though he says he's "gained hundreds more" and has thousands who watch his sermons on Facebook.

More seriously, he has been on the receiving end of death threats, and groups attempting to disrupt his services.

Last weekend a several people from a far-right group interrupted a small Saturday night service, leaving parishioners "traumatised".

"Someone else had a sword, I worked out later it was a fake sword, but I didn't know that at the time," Father Bower told 1 NEWS.

"In my view it was an act of terrorism. It was politically and religiously motivated and it was terrifying and the congregation were traumatised."

He responded by putting up a sign reading: "We're in Hail Marys not Heil Hitlers".

Father Bower's ANZAC Day message.

He's also courted controversy over an ANZAC Day message calling attention to the plight of refugees held in Australia's offshore centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

A message in response to anti-gay social media posts from Wallabies fullback Israel Folau read: "Israel Folau has a right to be wrong".

Father Bower explaining: "Israel Folau's entitled to believe what he believes, he's entitled to his personal faith, he's entitled to his own opinion.

"But he's certainly not entitled to his own facts and what we know about human sexuality is it’s an integral part of who we are.

Father Bower's Israel Folau sign.

"We would say from a religious point of view that’s who we’re created to be ."

And he says if anything, the groups threatening and disrupting his work are only making him more determined.

"These people gain power through the manipulation of fear…. We can't stop, and I think the soul of our nation is really at risk here, and I think it’s time for churches to stand up."

A message as stark as those on the billboards that continue to create a global stir.

1 NEWS Australia correspondent Kimberlee Downs went to Gosford, to meet Father Rod Bower, who is fast becoming a political firebrand. Source: 1 NEWS

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