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Equality in Faith Volume 4

Your latest edition of Equality In Faith
This bi-monthly presentation of stories and information is generated by EqualityNC's faith outreach program. We hope you will share by forwarding to friends, family, congregants and others to help us raise visibility of North Carolina's growing LGBTQ-affirming faith community.
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EQUALITY  IN  FAITH

Sharing stories from within North Carolina's
LGBTQ-affirming faith communities 

Monday, December 11, 2017
In this edition...
• Contrasts in faith and sexuality for Asheville artist
• Former Southern Baptist seminary official on religious liberty and lessons from SBC's past (Read his guest article on "Love Is Not Enough"
• Greenville S.C. man's experience signals changing religious attitudes
Holiday parade in Wilmington has LGBTQ-affirmng faith presence 
• N.C. Faith Forward coalition holds press conference to discuss U.S. Supreme Court's Masterpiece Cake case.
• Commentary: Subverting Religious Liberty From Friend to Foe.

Contrasting faith and sexuality:

In an artist’s work and her life


Cortina Jenelle Caldwell is pictured reading poetry at the 2017 Blue Ridge Pride in Asheville on Sept. 30. Caldwell currently serves as Founder of SOLEIL (School of Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Innovative Learning); Community Relations Director with LEAF Community Arts; and freelance consultant, speaker, trainer and writer. As a member of the LGBTQ community and being of West African and Iberian descent, Cortina is passionate about equality, equity and inclusion on community and global scale.

Contrast is a principle of art that often is applied across its many forms.

Cortina Jenelle Caldwell of Asheville understands that principle as an artist. She also recognizes the concept of contrast in her lived experience, particularly in the area of faith.

 “As an African-American living in a predominantly white community, lesbian amongst heterosexism, woman in male dominated society and my present spirituality contrasted with the faith tradition in which I was raised, I am constantly navigating contrasts,” says Caldwell.

Caldwell received her bachelor and master degrees from Liberty University.

That represents a rather stark contrast for her lived experience as a queer person of color – considering Liberty University was founded by the late Jerry Falwell, who had a primary role in establishing animus toward gay and lesbian people as a political tool for power and votes. He also had made a number of racist remarks, saying in 1958 that public facilities should be separate for blacks and whites.

The university is now under the leadership of Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr., who has aligned himself with hardline conservative politics on a number of occasions.

For Caldwell, the time she spent pursuing her degrees from Liberty University was a period that would shape her current sense of spirituality – one certainly void of the form of Christianity the university was founded upon.

It's a spirituality in which the lines of contrast are not sharp and rigid but one that blends teachings from a number of faiths to form a spirituality that offers Caldwell comfort and peace.

Peace is a word that Caldwell has not always associated with her spirituality, despite church attendance and church teaching being a large part of her life growing up.

“Growing up as black in the South, our culture and our history is very connected to the church,” says Caldwell. “That’s because of our history with slavery and because the church was a place of refuge and sanctuary for a lot of people for generations.”

Caldwell says her mother was not “super religious” and felt at one point she had to disconnect with the church and thereby religion. But she says her grandmother, grandfather and several of her aunts were very involved in the church. Her grandmother sings in the choir, was a Sunday School teacher and often goes on trips with the church. 

“She (grandmother) has been heavily involved and that is like her lifeline in some ways,” Caldwell says. “She gave me my first Bible.”

To continue reading, see CONTRAST  below.

Dear Black church
Thank God I never depended on you for my self-worth
My teenage mother and I would have been cursed
From the moment she let go of the after birth 
You would have prayed for both of our tainted souls and warned the nurse
Thank God I went to God with my problems and not you first
From the sadness and judgement, my heart would have burst
You pass around collection plates during the six hour services 
But when love and acceptance is all I needed, you kept your lips pursed
Thank God I didn’t end up in that hearse
You required my Sunday’s best but couldn’t cure my hunger and thirst
Fuck your testimony. Orientation cannot be reversed. 
Electro-shock therapy is humanity perversed
Thank God the storm is over and the cloudburst
You baptize me in holy water, headfirst 
But when I dance under the rainbow the water came from, you have an outburst
According to the pks, first ladies, church mothers and ushers, childplay has to be dispersed
Thank God my obedience got unreversed
But what do you have to say about the little boys that are being coerced
By the same preachers whose ‘catching the Holy Ghost’ is rehearsed 
Our ancestors were held captive by Massa
In order to believe in something...


...in the church they submersed 
Thank God our century is the twenty first
As you can probably hear, I am now well versed 
On how not to treat God’s children because I’ve experienced the worst
In all of my interactions with you, you made me pay the price 
But I have real information now so for the false education, 
I request to be reiumbursed.
 
By Cortina Jenelle (Copyright 2017)
Reprinted only with permission. 

About the book

Its author, Grace Lawson, is a lesbian, life coach, painter, writer and public speaker. She has two masters degrees in business and education and life coaching skills from Coaches Training Institute. She writes an ongoing Coming Out Coming Alive column for She Magazine.

"The book includes the following sections: Coming Out - Describes the coming out processand provides stories from the author's coming out process. Will be extremely helpful to those questioning their sexual orientation or gender and amusing to those who have already come out. Spirituality and mental health - Will be helpful to anyone who is struggling with their spirituality and the feelings they have about themselves. Love, relationships and dating - Provides practical tips and good advice. Life transformation - Provides the key steps that will help you transform your life."

Former Southern Baptist

seminary official looks forward

with lessons from church's past 



There's a historical church pew that adorns the Patterson, N.C. home of Art Sherwood. It's a piece of furniture that holds significance in Sherwood’s past experience with Baptist churches.

It perhaps speaks a message about the future as well.

The church pew came from the First Baptist Church of Washington, D.C. Upon church renovation, the balcony section pews were removed. The balcony section had served as the meeting place for a Sunday School class taught by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

President Carter was one of the most high-profile members of the Southern Baptist denomination, although he no longer claims association with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Neither does Art Sherwood.

The reason both longtime Baptists disassociated with the Southern Baptist Convention is grounded in an article written by President Carter In 2009 entitled “Losing My Religion For Equality.” Carter in the article outlined the Southern Baptist denomination’s subjugation of women as the primary reason for breaking his ties with the Southern Baptist denomination after almost 60 years. In the article, he wrote: “Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.”

For Sherwood, his break with the Southern Baptist Convention came much earlier in the late 1980s when the Southern Baptist denomination was experiencing a takeover by its more socially conservative churches. But it was the promotion of attitudes of inferiority toward women that also signaled Sherwood’s departure.

Sherwood, formerly of Texas, had served from 1979 to 1989 as a trustee at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary – one of the largest seminaries in the United States and also the world.

To continue reading, see SHERWOOD below.

Trans ministers take pulpit in

Hickory for launch of faith project
An inaugural TRANS-forming Proclamation was held at the Church of the Master United Church of Christ in Hickory Nov. 18-20. The three nights of worship services were lead by ordained trans ministers in North Carolina and culminated with a special candlelight service in conjunction with the national Trans Day of Remembrance. Below, music was provided in part by the Illumination Chorale, lead by Sanctuary Outreach Ministries Rev. Leslie Oliver, seated, of Charlotte. With her, left to right are Sheila Killian, Michelle Wyms and Shekema Killian.
Below left, Rev. Liam Hooper of Winston-Salem, stands with Rev. Patrick Campbell, pastor of Church of the Master United Church of Christ in Hickory. 

Rev. Liam M. Hooper of Winston-Salem understands well the tension between being visible and understood in a society in which a prominent faction promotes willful blindness and misunderstanding.

He’s also working to help resolve such conflict.

Nothing could be more telling about the misunderstanding and misinformation than a recent CNN news segment that featured the spokesperson for U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore. In response to a question about Moore’s past derogatory statements toward “homosexuals”, the spokesperson avoided the question and instead proceeded to speak about transgender people in restrooms being a threat to the safety of children.

While those who are now all too familiar with the anti-LGBTQ religious industry’s “bathroom safety” playbook, it would seem ludicrous to even consider the validity of such a nonsensical statement.

Unfortunately, many living in North Carolina during the previous two years know just how prevalent such disinformation and outright falsehood is among many in conservative evangelical churches.

"If we are all still willing to get up everyday and greet a world that doesn’t know what to do with us and sometimes hates us and wants us erased, then there is something enormously valuable in that for all of  us."
Rev. Liam Hooper, Winston-Salem
Ministries Beyond Welcome

Such hostility from North Carolina’s Christian population has created a dangerous social environment for transgender individuals.

Few people can know how that impacts Hooper – a North Carolina resident, an ordained minister in the Church of Christ denomination and a trans man.

Out of that impact, Hooper has formed an organization called Ministries Beyond Welcome. The organization developed a first-of-its-kind program last month in Hickory, N.C. by holding worship services over three nights in which trans ministers delivered spiritual messages.

The program flier stated the event was “one part revival and one part spiritual vision-crafting.”

The event, held at the Church of the Master UCC church in Hickory, averaged more than 20 attendees each night. Speakers included Hooper, Rev. Michael O. Slack of Durham and Rev. Dawn Flynn, Pastor Mykal Shannon and Rev. Debtra Hopkins, all trans ministers from Charlotte.

At the culminating Monday evening service, the program included a final candlelight remembrance of the 25 transgender individuals who lost their ives due to violence over the last year – attributed by many to the increased social hostility following the anti-LGBTQ religious groups’ efforts to portray transgender people as predators.

Hooper said he conceived the three-night of trans-led worship services as an opportunity to preach, teach and come together. He says he sees the program as a necessity. “We come together communally or we’ll perish collectively,” he said.

He said he was pleased with the program’s launch.

“Overall I was very pleased,” he said. “I think we showed up and did what we hoped to do – which was one present ourselves as trained professionals. Trans and queer clergy get held to a different standard. When we show up people except us to be better, to be really trained and articulate and gifted.

“I think we surprised some people. And that’s good.”

Hooper says the program will continue next year in other parts of the state.

While he understands the dire need for such efforts within faith communities, he also recognizes the progress that is being made,

“For a long time, trans people wouldn’t have even thought they could go to divinity school,” says Hooper, who graduated from Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity.

“When Wake Forest University not only accepted me but gave me a scholarship and then welcomed me and worked with me through transition, people can’t understand what that meant,” he said.

Developed to coincide with the national Trans Day of Remembrance, the Monday night service’s candlelight remembrance segment was poignant and deeply meaningful to Hooper and many others in the trans community.

“To us, it really, really is important for us to hold that remembrance for whom visibility has been costly'" he said. “We also need to celebrate the internal fortitude and personhood that lives in that visibility.

“The reality of our resilience and resistance as a people who somehow in the face of enormous adversity and hatred and misunderstanding and fear continue to show up and be who we are. And we have always been such people.

"But there is this tension with visibility – daring to be who you are puts you in danger. And the more markers of difference you bear on your skin, the more danger you are in. If you happen too be a trans woman of color, you are in enormous danger.

“The more out we are, the more danger we are in but yet somehow we just continue putting one foot in front of the other every day and try to pull together a life of meaning and thriving of some kind.

“We must find hope in that. If we are all still willing to get up everyday and greet a world that doesn’t know what to do with us and sometimes hates us and wants us erased, then there is something enormously valuable in that for all of  us.

“We can all, trans and nontrans, learn from that. And we can all see the sacred in that.”

DATA AND DEMOGRAPHICS

Nearly half (46%) of Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are religiously unaffiliated. Fewer identify as Christian. Only six percent of LGBT Americans are white evangelical Protestant, while similar numbers identify as white mainline Protestant (8%) and white Catholic (6%). Fewer than one in ten identify as black Protestant (6%), Hispanic Catholic (5%), or Hispanic Protestant (3%).

PRRI: America's Changing Religious Landscape, September 2017

Greenville, S.C. man wears his
First Baptist Greenville T-shirt proudly












Zachary Humphries of Greenville, S.C. is proud to call First Baptist Greenville Church his home church. You do not have to look far on the church's website to get the sense that the feeling is mutual. His church posts a very visible non-discrimination policy under its mission page that makes that clear.
 

Survey data shows that there has been a paradigm shift in religious attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and in terms of a religious perspective that accommodates and seeks to fully embrace and serve them.

The faith experience of Zachary Humphrey of Greenville, S.C. is somewhat emblematic of that culture change.

Humphrey was a participant at a recent meeting of affirming faith communities and individuals held in Asheville on Nov. 11 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The event was developed by the N.C. Faith Forward coalition which is comprised of seven organizations working within North Carolina’s affirming faith communities. Humhrey made the two-hour drive to Asheville that Saturday morning because he had seen a social media announcement from Believe OutLoud, one the organizations working with the coalition.

“I saw it as an event for LGBT people of faith and that is something I have very deep interest in,” Humphrey said. 

Humphrey was raised in a United Methodist Church congregation when young and then attended a nondenominational church until several months ago when he joined the First Baptist Greenville Church.

To continue reading, see Greenville below.

Affirming Faith Highlights
The N.C. Faith Forward Coalition held a press conference with the NAACP-NC and the ACLU-NC on Monday, Dec. 4 in Greensboro to discuss the Masterpiece Cake U.S. Supeme Court case. Oral arguments were heard the following Tuesday, Dec, 5 in which the owner of Masterpiece Cake argued he should be allowed to refuse his cake design services to gay couples because his religious beliefs say gay marriage is morally wrong. Religious leaders and LGBTQ advicates say a ruling in favor of the bakery will allow other businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian people under the guise of religious exemption. See the article from the Greensboro News and Record. Pictured right to left are Rabbi Andy Koren of Temple Emmanuel in Greensboro; Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the NAACP-NC; local business owner Margarita Delgado; Alex McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians; and Jessica Turner, with ACLU-NC. View the press conference here.

The N.C. Faith Forward coalition is comprised of Believe Out Loud, Equality North Carolina, Faith in Public Life, The Freedom Center for Social Justice, Many Voices: A Black Church Movement for Gay and Transgender Justice, More Light Presbyterians, and the National LGBTQ Task Force.
 
COMMENTARY 
The Masterpiece Cake case

Subverting religious
liberty from friend to foe

"And no one can have his or her civil rights, privileges, or capacities taken away or enlarged because of religious belief.”

From 5-2 Kentucky Supreme Court Gingerich v.
Commonwealth decision; a 2012 religious exemption case.

Let's hope enough U.S. Supreme Court justices have the wisdom of the 2012 Kentucky Supreme Court.

If a Kentucky Supreme Court gets it right and our U.S. Supreme Court fails to do so, then we will know something is terribly amiss with one our Constitutions founding ideals..

In simple terms, a favorable ruling for the owner of Masterpiece Cake bakery will mean religious belief has been elevated above civil rights in an area where it should not be – our open society.

For those working in the religious space, there is no astonishment in hearing that religion is justification for discrimnation. About 50 years ago, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 said religious organizations were indeed exempt from a large part of its prohibition on discriminaton.

Common sense says a Jewish church would not be in the wrong if it refused to hire a Christian to lead some area of the synagogue or vice versa. 
 

But such religious exemption largely has been confined to religious organizations. 

Churches and religious organizations are allowed to hire or not hire someone based on whether the person’s religious beliefs align with those of the church or religious organization. Allowing such an exemption to businesses that serve the public could negate almost any and all nondiscrimination policy and law.

Common sense – again – informs us as to the huge detriment that would be to our society.

It was the late U.S. Supreme Court Antonin Scalia who once wrote that such a move could lead us down a road to anarchy – where a person's religious beliefs could be citred as a basis for exemption from almost any law. His writing came in the Smith v. Oregan case – a religious exemption case that propelled us down the road of allowing religious exemption to escape the confines of religious organizations.

The Gingerich v. Commonwealth case involved a group of Amish who wanted to be exempt from state law that required an orange flourescent triangle be placed on the back of their horse-drawn buggies so that other vehicle drivers could better see them – especially in the dark.

Despite several Amish people being killed in car-to-buggy collisions, the Amish group said the orange color represented uncleanliness and the shape of a triangle represented the Holy Trinity – which they did not believe in.

Ironically, the ACLU represented the Amish group wanting the religious exemption and last week it was the ACLU arguing that the cake bakery owner should not have a religous exemption.

Fortunately, the Amish group lost that case. Let's pray the baker in the Masterpiece Cake case does as well.

That's because the case is not about anyone or anything infringing on the baker’s religious belief or practice. It’s about the anti-LGBTQ religious industry's continuing oppression and hatemongering. The baker is promoting hostility and making a mockery of Christian teaching – which should require the Christian baker to create for the gay couple one of the best cakes he has ever created.

And many Christians should be thankful for the Colorado commission for appearing hostile to a certain Christian belief that is subversive to peace and goodwill and therefere subversive to the faith itself.

The First Amendment was written to protect people who were being persecuted and discriminated against on the basis of religious belief. It has been a dear friend to all Americans and that includes LGBTQ people.

The anti-LGBTQ religious industry wants it to be our enemy.

Affirming Faith Highlights
PFLAG, LGBTQ-affirming faith makes debut in Wilmington parade
PFLAG of Wilmington, the NC Faith Forward coalition and Cape Fear Equality on Sunday, Dec. 3 joined together to honor the city's annual holiday parade with its first-ever LGBTQ presence. The group was met with cheers and adulations along the parade route lined with thousands of residents. 

Aleeze Arthur, president for PFLAG of Wilmington and who helped organize the event, said she was very pleased with the reception from the throng of parade watchers.

 "I was amazed at how well received PFLAG and NC Faith Forward were received in the Wilmington Holiday Parade," said Arthur. "The cheers from the crowd for our small group overwhelmed me emotionally. Two different people from the crowd ran up to me during the parade and asked when PFLAG meetings were held, so the visibility is definitely needed."

Arthur said other PFLAG members were excited about participated again next year.

She said a young man who had never met any of the other local advoactes saw the announcement on Facebook and decided to come out and walk in the parade with the group.

"I have to say, that the biggest highlight for me was making a new friend in the young man who showed up and marched with a group of people he'd never met because he was looking for LGBTQ community," she stated. "That is what it's all about. That is where my heart resides. That in itself made it totally worth it."
Encountering a disturbing view of the

Christian faith: "Love Is Not Enough"

By Art Sherwood
Originally Published July 2017

PATTERSON, N.C. – Last week was a wonderful week, celebrating the 241st birthday of the United States. It is always a good time to ponder enduring statements from our founders, such as “When in the course of human events …” and “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

But as John Adams said, it is not just a time for reflection about freedom and liberty; it is also a time for celebration! So, like lots of folk, we celebrated our nation’s birthday with family, as our daughter visited with three of our grandchildren. Enjoying the beautiful mountains of North Carolina under clear, blue skies included an adventurous trip to Tweetsie Railroad.

That is when our celebration was momentarily interrupted and again left me pondering. This time, it was about something as precious to me as my family and our nation – my Christian faith. As I was standing in line so the children could get their pictures taken with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I struck up a conversation with another grandparent doing what I was doing.

After a bit, she noticed the logo on the front of my shirt – “The Christian Left” – and asked me what it was about. I explained that it was a counterforce to the Christian right, who abdicated any claim to Christianity in the last election. I then showed her the back of the shirt, which says, “Love Thy Neighbor.” It goes on to list various groups of people, such as “LGBT Neighbor,” “Imprisoned Neighbor,” “Hindu Neighbor,” and so forth.

She then responded, “Love is not enough,” and entered into a rant about how if we don’t do something we will become like them. She protested that she was just an old-fashioned Bible-believing woman. About that time, the line opened up and we ended our conversation at that point.

I, too, am an old-fashioned, Bible-believing person, which is why I found her response so disturbing.

Love is enough. It is more than enough, it is everything. At least, that’s what it sounds like Jesus said in an exchange recorded in the Gospel of Mark (12: 28-34 NIV). Jesus was asked “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” But he didn’t stop there. He continued, “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

That’s it, Jesus says. Love. It is all that is required, and it requires all from us. It is required of all of us who claim the name of Christ.

The account continues, “Well said teacher. … You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

It’s also noteworthy how Jesus responded and how this exchange concluded: “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”

I however, continue to ask questions – of those who adhere to a very disturbing view of the Christian faith. Indeed, the brief encounter served to validate the point made by my friend Michael Barrick to me last week, when he said that in North Carolina our political divide is a proxy war of theologies – the theology of fear which breeds hate or the theology of hope which is the path to the love of which Jesus speaks. The former is exemplified by the Rev. Franklin Graham; the latter by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II.

As a lifelong Sunday School attendee in Baptist churches large and small from Texas to Washington, D.C., I am blown away that someone can say they are Bible-believing Christians on the one hand and say love is not enough on the other. I don’t see how they can ignore the entire New Testament that is all about love. Sadly, the tactics of fear used by so-called Christian politicians and their powerful pastor allies is working. It makes me question: What happened to trust in God? What happened to turn your cares to Jesus?

What happened is a terrible failure of teaching by our spiritual leaders who have abdicated their job to lead us to the love of God. This too seems to be clearly addressed in scripture: “Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock” (Ezekiel 34: 2b-3).

Based on my short conversation in a line at Tweetsie Railroad – and decades of service to Baptist churches and 10 years (1979 – 1989) as a trustee at Southwestern Theological Seminary – I would have to agree with what we read in Ezekiel. The shepherds are attending to their gods of power, money and sex instead of their flocks.

So, the poor and vulnerable are hurt the most, even though Jesus demonstrated preferential concern for them. I can’t quite figure out what’s being taught in Sunday School these days, but Michael and I have concluded that we are, indeed, witnessing a religious proxy war being played out in the North Carolina General Assembly. At the moment, the “Love is not enough” faction is winning

We can counter that. Take a moment to listen to “We Should Only Have Time For Love” by Claire Lynch. It’s worth a listen. Its message is timeless. And complete. We should only have time for love for one simple reason – love is enough. But we won’t know that until we try it. So it is up to us to keep proving it.

© Art Sherwood, 2017. 

This article was reprinted with permission from The Lenoir Voice.

SHERWOOD – from top of page

During that 10-year period, Sherwood saw fundamentalists within the denomination becoming a majority voice on seminary boards of governance. It was near the end of his tenure that he would decide to formerly break with the Southern Baptist Convention after observing a vote that denied a highly respected Baptist pastor a leadership position with the flagship seminary. The reason that the pastor was denied the position was because he favored allowing congregations to include women in the process of electing church deacons.

It signaled to Sherwood that the Southern Baptist Convention was taking a dangerous turn toward a form of Christianity that appeared blinded to the bigotry toward women, African Americans and lesbian, gay and transgender individuals. It wasn’t until 1995 that the Southern Baptist Convention released a reconciliation statement in which denominational leadership acknowledge its significant role in racial injustice.

And while the denomination in its 1995 statement apologized for “perpetrating individual and systemic racism,” it did not acknowledge that the perpetration of such racism and bigotry was justified and even promoted through the misuse of scriptural interpretation.

Almost 23 years later, Sherwood sees the results of that omission in the denomination’s continued subjugation of women and the hostile attitudes it promotes toward lesbian, gay and transgender individuals.

Such misuse of biblical interpretation was on vivid display during North Carolina’s year-long public debate over HB2, which stripped away cities’ ability to offer its lesbian, gay and transgender citizens nondiscrimination ordinances. It was more often than not Baptist pastors who misused the Bible’s creation story and the text referring to the creation of “male and female” to justify their bigotry, misunderstanding and cruel misinformation regarding transgender individuals.

Many see that same hostility toward lesbian, gay and transgender people in the religious exemption debate – another area where the Southern Baptist Convention has sided with other anti-LGBTQ religious organizations. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cake case – one in which wedding cake designer Jack Phillips of Colorado says he should not be forced by state law to design wedding cakes for gay and lesbian couples because he says gay marriage is morally wrong according to his religious belief.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Council filed an amicus brief in the case in which it argued that the cake designer should be exempted from Colorado’s nondiscrimination in public accommodation ordinance because it forces upon him a conflict between his religious views and his freedom of expression. The baker says he can’t use creative thought to celebrate a same-sex wedding without creating a conflict with his religious thought.

Two North Carolina groups closely aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention – the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of Charlotte and Samaritan’s Purse of Boone – signed on to the SBC’s brief in the case.

For Sherwood, and many other modern religious leaders, the entire religious freedom frame is a ruse. “I think that it is allowing a form bigotry to exist that shouldn’t and under the guise of religious freedom,” said Sherwood. “If you are in this business of serving the public you ought to do just that.”

That same sentiment was expressed Monday at a press conference in Greensboro by Rev. Dr. Anthony Spearman, who serves as president of the NAACP-NC and as president of the N.C. Council of Churches. “This argument does not fool the NAACP,” said Spearman. “Jack Phillips is not a victim. He is a purveyor of cakes and a purveyor of hate.”

Sherwood, who has seen the emotional, psychological and spiritual harm done to lesbian, gay and transgender individuals and their families by hostile religious attitudes, believes such harm is where the Masterpiece Cake case should be decided.

“Personal expression of religion is one thing but when it starts impacting others in a negative way then it is going too far,” he says.

Sherwood believes history should also be a factor in today’s public dialogue about religious liberty. “It goes back to a fundamental misunderstanding about the founding of our country,” Sherwood said.

He believes evangelical Christians, and particularly Baptists, should study that history and refresh their knowledge of how many of those who came to the early American colonies did so because they wanted to escape an environment in which they were persecuted because of their religious belief. The founding fathers never wanted to see religion being used as a tool of oppression – against those who practice religion and those who do not.

Upon revisiting that history, he hopes evangelical Christians will understand how those seeking to not serve or disassociate with lesbian, gay and transgender individuals are waging a form of persecution themselves.

“Baptist should know that Baptists were among the ones persecuted by other Christians who wanted to impose their belief structure on everybody,” Sherwood says.

“Even if you reject the behavior, you do not reject the person. That is very clear. Even if the mindset is that certain behavior is sin, if you are following Christ, you are not going to reject the person even if you reject the behavior.

“It is very hard to argue that you have the right to reject people in any sense, to be true to any form of Christianity that has any semblance of New Testament Christianity.”

 As the wooden pew in his home speaks to a time when the Southern Baptist denomination represented a different form of the Christian faith, Sherwood is doubtful the denomination will understand that history lesson any time soon.

Sherwood today is a member of Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill – one among a group of progressive Baptist churches that formed many years ago for that very reason.

A section on the Binkley Baptist Church’s website states: “A church that welcomes and affirms all without regard to sexual orientation, race, wealth, physical ability, political affiliation, nationality or gender.  We are convinced that everyone who walks through the doors is a child of God, infinitely loved and definitely welcome!”

Sherwood is hopeful that the statement speaks to the future of many more Baptist churches.

CONTRAST – from top of page

Attending church with her grandmother became an important part of Caldwell’s life as a young girl. “It was a way for me to get away from home and not deal with stuff at home.”

Middle school is a time when so many youth begin processing their sexual orientation and that was true for Caldwell. But it also was a time where she began to experience her own disconnect with her church family. “I didn’t really see myself at church and in people I respected,” she said.  “I started to question a lot of things internally.”

Leaving Morganton in 2004 to attend UNC-Greensboro, Caldwell like many college students would be free to live openly as lesbian. But for Caldwell, that freedom was restricted by her religious environment.

Caldwell had met a person with whom she would develop a close relationship –  “my first love.” They both were involved with a church in Greensboro that Caldwell today considers more cultish than spiritual. The church had a rigid legalistic side where simply not showing up for a service could bring forms of harassment.

It was not a setting in which the two young women could be open and authentic – not only in church but in other aspects of their social environment in which church interacted. “All that takes a toll on a person,” she says. “It really did some emotional, mental and spiritual damage.”

It would be religious teaching’s imposed incompatibility with sexual orientation that would lead to what Caldwell describes as the lowest point in her life – a point where she even questioned whether ending her life wouldn’t be preferable.

In 2009, Caldwell’s relationship took a serious turn as both young women moved to Raleigh. Her partner’s mother had come to realize that the relationship between the two women was more than just friendship. Her partner faced the excruciating dilemma that many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth face – leave “that lifestyle” or face the loss of all family support. Caldwell says she understands why a person would not want to lose support from family – especially the emotional support between mother and daughter.

It was a devastating experience for Caldwell. “I was heartbroken,” she says. “I was so invested in our relationship. I didn’t have the support system of a family. I felt incredibly sad all the time. I didn’t know what I had to live for. I had some abandonment issues from when I was young. It wasn’t a good place for me.”

Caldwell said she realized she needed a shift in her life at that point in 2010 and moved to Chapel Hill and immersed herself in her work. Less than a year later, she would make a decision to relocate to Asheville and come out to her family, one that she hadn’t spent a lot of time with during the previous several years.

“I made a decision that I wanted to redesign my life,” she said. “I visited Asheville. I brought myself up on Valentine’s Day 2011 as my Valentine Day date with myself. It took a lot of determination and strength but I did it and I fell in love with Asheville.”

She said she later called each of her family members and had a conversation with each of them about her sexual orientation. She said she was met with some surprising responses. “Everybody for the most part said that they already knew or that they loved me regardless,” she said.  “My grandmother, as religious as she was, was one of those people who just wanted me to be OK and loved me regardless. That was a point where I decided that life was not over but a chance for life to begin again.”

Caldwell says she also understands that when a person comes out to family, especially if misunderstanding and misguided religious teaching are present, that it is not “a one and done.”

“When I came out to my family members, it took them awhile to realize it wasn’t a phase and that there were some things about me that was going to change because I was evolving and emerging more authentically in terms of myself. I had to be comfortable bringing girlfriends or partners home. 

“Once I decided that I wanted to live out my life to the fullest, I made a conscious decision to live out loud.”

She said an important resource – one she says “saved my life” –  was a book entitled “Coming Out Coming Alive: A Lesbian and Life Coach’s Guide to Coming Out And Powerful Living.” https://www.amazon.com/Coming-Out-Alive-Grace-Lawson/dp/097952685X

“That started that paradigm shift for me,” she says. “No I don’t want to live my life closeted and I’m making a decision to surround myself with only those people who embrace who I am and are OK with who they are.”

Throughout that period, there was still something going on inside her heart and mind that centered on faith and spirituality. It seemed as though being honest about her faith was as important as being honest about her sexuality.  “I needed to know if it was going to be part of who I was or not,” she says.

“When I moved to this side of the state in 2011, it was with the intention to come out to family and to be honest with myself about my relationship with church and religion,” she said. ”I really went on this kind of spiritual quest and started researching and wanting to find out as much about different world religions as I could and to see if I could identify with anything other than being Christian because being Christian didn’t feel right to me.”

It was part of her reasons for pursuing her continued studies at Liberty University, “I knew in order for me to to do that I had to immerse myself in Christianity to really see if it was for me,” she says.

Her spirituality today is not Christian dominant – far from it actually. “I would say now that I don’t call myself a Christian but I do feel there is a part of me that believes in the core principles of Christianity and other religions that I’ve become familiar with.”

“I don’t feel like being gay or being lesbian or queer has to come at the expense of having a relationship with God or with a higher power or however you choose to name it. It took me a long time to be able to say that. I always felt like I had to choose one or the other. 

“I know there are others who feel that way. I want to find a way to reach those people.”

As a writer uses contrasts within prose to create positive thought, Caldwell has found beauty, peace and hope in the contrasts present in her lived experiences of faith and sexuality.

 “As a writer and someone who considers communication...and how we chose to live life as an art as well, I constantly find myself practicing authenticity as my response to the life I was ‘conditioned’ to live and the life that is true for me. I cannot give in to those things that are dominant simple because I'm the outcast and doing it differently. I have to stay committed to doing things differently and dancing with my edge in order to write a new narrative - both for myself and for others. And as someone who loves the art of communication, I can't imagine how I would rather be spending my time.”

At a poetry reading at the Blue Ridge Pride in Asheville this year, Caldwell was on stage to read a number of her works, including one entitled “Dear Black Church.” (See  the poem in its entirety below)

“You required my Sunday’s best but couldn’t cure my hunger and thirst” states one line in the poem.

Many might agree that changing the narrative represented those few words indeed would be something beautiful – and perhaps a degree of salvation for the church itself.

GREENVILLE – from top of page

For those familiar with the different Christian denominations and their stances on sexual orientation and gender identity, Humphrey’s journey from Methodist to nondenominational and then Baptist may seem odd. Many United Methodist churches no longer hold the traditional religious perspective on “homosexuality” although the national Methodist leadership does. Many nondenominational churches also embrace a new faith perspective on sexual orientation and gender identity.

First Baptist Greenville Church in Greenville S.C. is among a few churches who still carry a Baptist name along with the fact that they are fully affirming of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

You do not have to look very far on the church’s website to find confirmation. Under its mission statement, the church boldly showcases a “Non-Discrimination Policy” - whose website posting is somewhat of a rarity even among many affirming churches. It reads: “In all facets of the life and ministry of our church, including but not limited to membership, baptism, ordination, marriage, teaching and committee/organizational leadership, First Baptist Greenville will not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The church began distancing itself from the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and was vocal about the SBC’s stance on not allowing women to serve as pastors or deacons. It joined the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in the 1990s. It formally broke with the Southern Baptist Convention in 1999 when the SBC added a statement in its Baptist Faith and Message that said “a wife is to submit herself graciously” to her husband.

In its effort to be open and welcoming to all people, the church in 2015 adopted its current nondiscrimination statement on LGBTQ membership and service.

Humphrey’s current church’s history speaks to an aspect of Humphrey’s interaction with the N.C. Faith Forward coalition.

One portion of the event that Humphey says impacted him was during a short breakout session in which participants shared their stories. His own story focused on how LGBTQ people of faith and faith allies can effectively engage those individuals whose traditional religious perspective on “homosexuality” seems so entrenched and how they often use scriptural interpretation as an unquestionable voice of religious and moral authority.

Just as many people who visit Greenville First Baptist may not be aware of how the issue of discrimination against women played a role in its presence today as a progressive Baptist church, many overlook the historically precedents in which biblical interpretation has been used to promote and further a social injustice – slavery, racial segregation, miscegenation laws and women subjugation.

Making people aware of those precedents and how biblical interpretation has been misused in the past can be effective in getting individuals to understand the harm behind misusing scriptural interpretation to promote negative attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. 

Humphrey has experienced that harm himself although maybe to a lesser degree than some others growing up in an area that used to be referred to as the Bible Belt. He did not face family rejection when he came out while in college obtaining an account degree from USC-Columbia. While he doesn’t know how many of his lesbian, gay and transgender friends have experienced family rejection, it isn’t something that comes up in many of his conversations.

But while attending the nondenominational church, he did experience the emotional, psychological and spiritual trauma of being in a religious social environment in which people say they “love you but can’t accept your lifestyle.” 

Now at First Baptist Greenville, Humphrey says he experiences one of the most rewarding aspects of his lived experience – his faith is balanced with his sexuality and vice versa.

There is no conflict between his faith and the faith of those he worships with. There isn’t an insufficient love restricted by a false and hurtful “lifestyle choice” narrative. There isn’t separation from God because of his sexuality.

There’s simply peace with God and those around him who honor that.

Humphrey wore a Greenville First Baptist T-shirt with its letters in rainbow colors on the day of event in Asheville. He seemed to wear it ever so proudly.

Helping make LGBTQ-affirming faith communities more visible. 

EqualityNC is working with NC Faith Forward, a coalition of seven organizations engaged in faith-based advocacy, to create a statewide network of LGBTQ-affirming communities.

The coalition is comprised of Believe Out Loud, Equality North Carolina, Faith in Public Life, The Freedom Center for Social Justice, Many Voices: A Black Church Movement for Gay and Transgender Justice, More Light Presbyterians, and the National LGBTQ Task Force.

 

The articles and information presented in this feature are complied, researched and written by ENC faith outreach staff. Contact Faith Outreach Director Brent Childers at brent@equalitync.org with comments or suggestion for stories from within your faith community.
Copyright © 2017 • EqualityNC • All rights reserved.


Send comments and suggestions about Equality In Faith to brent@equalitync.org

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