By Bob Allen
About 100 people attended a statewide rally Feb. 25 at a Baptist church to oppose an upcoming vote to ban gay marriage in North Carolina.
The gathering at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., was the first of three events planned by progressive Baptists to defeat Amendment One, which would add to the state constitution the words: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.”
“The classical argument for support of Amendment One is that it will strengthen traditional marriages,” said Ricky Woods, senior minister at Charlotte’s First Baptist Church-West.
“The greatest threat to traditional marriage is divorce, and the reasons for divorce most often have to do with infidelity and financial problems,” Woods said. “So let’s outlaw unemployment and infidelity.”
Stephen Shoemaker, pastor of Myers Park Baptist Church, framed opposition to the amendment in Baptists’ historic commitment to the separation of church and state.
“From the beginning of our nation’s history Baptists were among those who were very interested in writing separation of church and state into the law of the land,” Shoemaker said. “We had Baptist fingerprints all over the Virginia statute that later became the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
Shoemaker said the proposed marriage amendment conflicts with both the Constitution’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion and its ban on establishment of religion by the government.
“I agree with what has been said that this amendment would represent intrusion of government control into the exercise of religious conscience,” Shoemaker said. “I think a question is raised as to whether we are establishing one religious interpretation over another into the law of the land.”
Angela Yarber, pastor for preaching and worship at Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., said that it wasn’t until 1869 that the words “homosexual” and “heterosexual” were first used in public discourse, let alone in reference to the Bible and religion.
Yarber, a lesbian, described her “homosexual lifestyle” humorously as “my incredibly threatening regimen of waking up, exercising, going to work as a pastor, returning home to eat a vegetarian dinner with my partner, maybe watching ‘Glee,’ and going to sleep only to repeat this threat to traditional family values the next morning.”
“I believe that the time is past for the LGBT community to continue tolerating being treated like second-class citizens,” she said.
As a pastor, Yarber said she would vote against the amendment because of the effect it would have on members of her church ranging from a couple who risk losing their health insurance to a kid who gets bullied at school to a gay man kicked out of his home by homophobic family members after the death of his partner of 35 years.
Shoemaker said who should be allowed to wed is a matter of individual conscience.
“Freedom of conscience has been a Baptist principle and we defend the freedom of conscience for non-believers as well as for believers and people of all religious kinds,” he said. “I think people decide to be married for moral and spiritual reasons, whether they are religious or not or a specific religion or not, and I think the state is imposing their will on the freedom of people to make those decisions.”
The “NC Baptists Against Amendment One: Justice, Equality, and Personal Freedom” rally was the first of three events planned in a Many Voices, One Love campaign sponsored by the Alliance of Baptists, Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.