By Bob Allen
The interim pastor of a Southern Baptist church in North Carolina landed in hot water after reportedly telling graduating seniors at a public high school baccalaureate service that if they were gay they would go to hell.
Students and parents at Kings Mountain High School in Cleveland County, N.C., complained to Charlotte television station WBTV that a May 31 message by Scott Carpenter, interim pastor at Temple Baptist Church in Kings Mountain, was anti-gay.
Speaking at a Sunday night worship service sponsored by the Kings Mountain Ministerial Association, Carpenter preached a message Sunday night from Ecclesiastes 12:9-14, a passage that includes the warning: “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
Chuck Wilson, one of dozens of students and parents reportedly offended by the speech, accused the pastor of “bullying” and taking advantage of a “captive audience.”
Carpenter, a graduate of Gardner-Webb University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told the CBS affiliate that he doesn’t hate anybody and wasn’t trying to hurt anyone’s feelings.
“I just love them too much not to tell them the truth,” Carpenter said. “I simply had to do what I had to do as a Christian minister.”
School district officials told WBTV they provided the venue for the service but had no part in planning it, and students were not required to attend.
Simon Brown, assistant director of communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in June 3 blog that graduation season typically means an uptick in church-state separation issues. Brown said the district’s hands-off attitude doesn’t solve constitutional problems with a public school hosting a religious service.
“The district can’t pretend that it has no stake in this,” Brown said. “What if local religious leaders had picked a white supremacist to address students? Would the district react as casually to racist remarks as it did to homophobia?”
Brown said once Carpenter was selected, administrators should have asked him — or any other on-campus speaker — what he planned to say.
“Better yet, they should have cancelled the event,” Brown said.
Carpenter, whose daughter is a member of the graduating class at Kings Mountain High School, disagreed with those who said his message was inappropriate for a community event.
“I mentioned something that hit a nerve for a lot of people, and they reacted to it, but the argument this was not the place for it? In a religious environment, a venue like that, a baccalaureate — that was the place.”