Alliance of Baptists joins first faith-based challenge to gay-marriage ban

“It is … important that we stand with the United Church of Christ, our ecumenical partner in mission and ministry, in this bold action,” says Alliance President Mike Castle.

By Bob Allen

A national Baptist and Jewish organization have joined the United Church of Christ and a number of individual ministers and church members in the first faith-based challenge to same-sex marriage bans in the United States.

The Alliance of Baptists, a 123-church network that split from the Southern Baptist Convention in 1987, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the oldest and largest rabbinic organization in the country, are joining a lawsuit filed April 28 challenging North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage.

michael-castle“By the joining the lawsuit in North Carolina, we are living deeply into our Christian values and offering a clear, Baptist voice for justice and religious liberty,” Alliance President Michael Castle said in a press release June 3.

The Alliance of Baptists board of directors decided May 27 to become a party in the litigation, adding a collective voice to individual Alliance members already involved in the case and the UCC.

The Alliance and UCC established a formal ecumenical relationship in 2003. Several Alliance congregations, including Castle’s Harmony Creek Church in Kettering, Ohio, are dually aligned with both groups.

Individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., and Nancy Ellett Allison, a lifelong Baptist who graduated from Baylor University and earned the Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Employed as pastor of Covenant UCC in Charlotte, N.C., since 2004, Allison is a former missionary and chaplain ordained by Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas in 1981.

North Carolina law delegates the authority to conduct marriage ceremonies to ministers but makes it illegal for them to wed couples without a valid marriage license. Married spouses may file joint tax returns, receive health benefits on a spouse’s health plan, have special rights when a spouse is hospitalized and have certain automatic rights of survivorship upon a spouse’s death.

Same-sex couples — like two female plaintiffs in the lawsuit who are members of Allison’s church and would like for her to perform their wedding — cannot obtain a marriage license due to both statute and Amendment One, a measure approved by voters in 2012 that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

The lawsuit says with such laws North Carolina relegates the same-sex couples to “second-class status” and tells people who do not believe homosexuality is inherently sinful “that their religious views are invalid and same-sex relationships are less worthy.”

Castle, a 1991 M.Div. graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, left the Southern Baptist Convention for ordination by the UCC in 1997 after fellow Baptist ministers threatened to reveal to his congregation that he is gay. Today he and his partner have two children ages 11 and 6.

Castle has been involved in the Alliance of Baptists since 1996, serving on the board of directors, as vice president, hosting the Alliance annual meeting in 2004 in Dayton and chairing the annual meeting planning team for Louisville in 2011.

Castle said from the start the Alliance covenant has affirmed “the principle of a free church in a free state and the opposition to any effort either by church or state to use the other for its own purposes.”

In 2004 the Alliance went on record with a statement on same-sex marriage, specifically opposing “amendments to the Constitution of the United States and state constitutions that would enshrine discrimination against sexual minorities and define marriage in such a way as to deny same-sex couples a legal framework in which to provide for one another and those entrusted to their care.”

Castle plans to appear at a press conference Thursday at Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, N.C., alongside Alliance vice president April Baker, co-pastor of Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn.

The Tennessee Baptist Convention withdrew fellowship from Glendale in 2003 for calling Baker, a lesbian, as an associate pastor. Last year she and her partner of 25 years, Deborah Lynn, were legally married at the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America Peace Camp in Spokane, Wash.

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