By Bob Allen
A Baptist minister involved in a faith-based LGBT equality education campaign in Mississippi describes his participation as an expression of neighbor love.
Stan Wilson, pastor at Northside Baptist Church in Clinton, Miss., said he welcomes the “All God’s Children” initiative launched this week by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest civil-rights organization dedicated to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.
“I welcome the Human Rights Campaign to Mississippi,” Wilson said Nov. 11. “They are helping us recognize our own gay and lesbian neighbors. How can you love your neighbors if you don’t even know them?”
Wilson appears in a series of TV commercials starting this week aimed at putting a human face on homosexuality in a state described in a 2014 Gallup study as the nation’s most religious, where an estimated 55 percent of the population is Baptist.
“LGBT people are just like everyone else,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “They go to church, volunteer in their communities and want to build a better future for their families. Most importantly, they’re born and raised in the state of Mississippi, and they want to help make it a more inclusive place to live for everybody.”
In the first spot, Mary Jane Kennedy, a Southern Baptist mother who has taught Bible study and Sunday school at her church, introduces herself as “a Bible-believing, born-again Christian” and describes through tears her family’s struggle after learning that their middle son is gay.
“One of the main things that I want to happen is to open the arms of Jesus Christ to people that have been pressed out of the church,” Kennedy says. “We’ve closed our doors to people that need us the most. God called us to love each other.”
Mississippi Baptist Convention spokesperson William Perkins, told the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., that he believes the vast majority of the state’s 2,200 Southern Baptist churches “would be very opposed to what the group is pushing.”
Perkins, editor of the Baptist Record newspaper, told television station 16 WAPT the $310,000 price tag for the four-week campaign “is a lot of money to waste on a project that is doomed to fail.”
Chas Rowland, pastor of Bovina Baptist Church in Vicksburg, Miss., told Baptist Press the HRC campaign is an attempt to use spokespersons claiming to be Southern Baptists to “normalize” homosexuality in a way that does not align with the majority view.
“There is no doubt where Mississippi Baptists stand,” said Rowland, a board member of Mississippi Baptists’ Christian Action Commission. “We affirm biblical marriage.”
At their recent annual convention meeting, Mississippi Baptists passed resolutions describing the traditional family as “the basic unit of human society” and affirming “God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not one’s self-perception.”
Other personalities featured in upcoming television spots include Alyce Clarke, the first African-American woman to serve in the Mississippi legislature, who attends a Baptist church and has a gay son; Sergeant Justin Kelly, an openly gay Iraq War veteran; and a lesbian couple who are raising two children but under Mississippi law are not legally recognized as a family.
“Let’s listen to, and learn from, and love our neighbors, and we will be a better state for it,” Wilson said.
Wilson, a former board member of the Alliance of Baptists and current member of the coordinating council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi, was pictured this spring on the cover of Human Rights Campaign’s magazine Equality for a story announcing the launch of Project One America, an $8.5 million effort to advance LGBT equality in Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama.
In March, Wilson joined pastors Bert Montgomery of University Baptist Church in Starkville and Rusty Edwards of University Baptist Church in Hattiesburg and two Methodist pastors in an open letter opposing a portion of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act allowing businesses to refuse services to the LGBT community on the basis of religious freedom.
The HRC press release said passage of the law was part of the motivation behind the “All God’s Children” campaign. “Considered by many as a license to discriminate, the law’s passage — and the governor’s signing of it surrounded by staunch opponents of equality — was a sign that Mississippi could be moving in the wrong direction on LGBT issues,” the release says.
The campaign also coincides with a recent lawsuit filed in U.S. district court challenging a 2004 amendment to the Mississippi Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman. A hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction is scheduled Nov. 12.