By Susan Parker and Angela Yarber
A few weeks ago we were invited to teach a class of clergy about North Carolina Amendment One, a measure on the ballot May 8 that would define marriage as only between one man and one woman. It was an honor to be asked, but not too surprising. We are, indeed, the only Baptist church in the country with two lesbians as head pastors.
Wake Forest Baptist Church has historically been an advocate for LGBT rights, and we lift up these rights in every part of our life together in community, from marching in Pride to offering an LGBT spirituality group for students not accepted elsewhere.
Like Pullen Memorial and Myers Park, we are a Baptist church that is actively working to overturn Amendment One by hosting classes, workshops and events. So, we understand why it makes sense to ask us to lead such a class.
In the class were clergy who are a lot like us theologically and politically. But there were also clergy who would unabashedly describe homosexuality as a grave sin, indicating that an LGBT person could not join their particular churches. Interestingly, some of these clergy were also Baptists. As we compassionately and calmly shared around the table, the Spirit began to move.
You see, we had tried to explain how there are Christians who have biblical and theological problems with same-sex marriage, but who could still feel a moral and theological obligation to work toward overturning this amendment. The progressives in the room were perplexed. They did not see how this could happen. We tried giving examples, explaining, elaborating to no avail.
Then another pastor spoke up. He was one of the clergy who said that homosexuality is a sin, but with passion in his voice he shared why he would never vote for this amendment, and would encourage his congregation not to vote for it either. He described growing up as an African-American man deprived of many rights and privileges extended to other citizens. He decried the denial of rights to any person or group of people for any reason. He elaborated upon why he felt homosexuality is a sin, but then he adamantly declared that he would never deny the rights of his homosexual brothers and sisters.
It was a holy moment for us as pastors and teachers. The man who called us sinners, who feels that we should not be ordained ministers because we are lesbian, had just explained why Amendment One is unjust, unfair, and un-Christian.
We share this story because we know that Baptist churches like ours are full of members who will not vote for Amendment One. We know that folks at the Alliance of Baptists, Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America are working hard to mobilize progressive Baptists in North Carolina to be advocates, allies and activists who decry the injustice of Amendment One.
But we also share this story because we know there are many different ways to be Baptist. There are countless Baptists in North Carolina who have the same theological and biblical perspective as the passionate preacher in the class we taught. Every Baptist has the freedom to interpret Scripture. It’s alright that we disagree. But every Baptist — no matter where they stand on the issue theologically — has a Christian responsibility to stand up for the rights of the dispossessed.
We’re not asking you to marry us in your church. We’re not even asking that you agree with us. We’re simply asking that you don’t vote to take away the rights of thousands of North Carolinians who are gay and straight, black and white, rich and poor, Baptists and non-Baptists.
Amendment One will not take away the right for LGBT persons to marry in North Carolina. We are already denied this right. Rather, Amendment One will prevent same-sex couples — and all non-married couples living in the same residence — from receiving domestic-partner benefits.
It will make adoption and child custody more difficult for non-married couples, whether they are gay or straight. It will limit protection of recipients of domestic violence who are not married, whether they are gay or straight. It will continue to tell LGBT youth that they are secondary citizens who aren’t worth as much as their straight peers. It will prevent progressive businesses that provide domestic-partner benefits from coming to our state and creating much-needed jobs.
You don’t have to listen to or agree with us lesbian pastors at Wake Forest Baptist Church. But we do ask you to listen to the wise clergyman who spoke so passionately in the class we taught. Amendment One is a matter of taking basic rights away from citizens. Baptists should never tolerate the denial of rights, no matter where you are on the theological spectrum.