The following was prompted, in part, by Republican Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James’ Sunday tweet in which he shared a recent message from the pastor of Charlotte’s Calvary Church. In it, the pastor said, “God’s Plan is to Vote Yes [on Amendment One].” James’ tweet and the pastor’s message was the final impetus that led to this message – this public “talking to myself” – that follows below, as these thoughts have been swirling in my mind for months.

From the artist: 'I chose the word FAGGOT because today, gays are socially-acceptable and religiously-justifiable targets for hate. And, just like gays, Jesus was made a hate target in his time because he dared to be different, to tell his understanding of the truth even though his words and his position defied the religious establishment.'

As a person who grew up in the fundamentalist and evangelical Baptist faith, I’ve always felt a connection with those with whom I disagree on many matters of theology and doctrine, especially as it relates to sexuality. While my own faith has grown in different ways, I still identify as a Baptist and, in many ways, still proclaim that old evangelical faith of my childhood and of my ancestors. Even in the face my personal growth in faith, however, I’ve always been able to maintain some semblance of respect – some feeling of Christian brother- and sisterhood – with those who find themselves on the other side of the divide in our Christian family on homosexuality and matters of civic, social and religious equality for LGBT people.

Jeremy Hooper of GoodAsYou.org, among others, has been doing amazing work documenting the vitriol from religious right leaders in North Carolina during the debate over our proposed anti-LGBT constitutional amendment. I’ve been surfing over to his blog many times to see his latest updates. It’s important work, and the words and statements Hooper documents need to be preserved for posterity, thereby enabling future generations to learn from the painful mistakes of their elders today. But, while reading the comments and statements Hooper shares, it has become increasingly more difficult for me to reconcile – to continue living in some spirit of Christian fellowship – with people who would see me and my life ostracized, marginalized and criminalized – some, even, to the point of physical abuse and, dare they say it, death.

I once firmly believed, despite the theological and doctrinal gap between us, that some sort of reconciliation and mutual respect was possible – that even among intense debate over the meaning of Scripture and the nature of the divine, those more fundamentalist or evangelical Christians and I could still manage to live, work, speak, love and act with true Christian grace and humility.

After months of incredibly incendiary and hateful debate, I fear such a notion was mere naïveté. The hate-filled words and actions of those I consider my brothers and sisters are pushing me away from – not drawing me closer toward – our God and our spiritual family. Whatever became of, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35)?

How can I respect and love – much less expect it returned from – a person who believes it’s okay to punch a young gay boy or “crack” his “limp” wrist, as a Fayetteville, N.C., pastor told his congregation? How can I respect and love – much less expect it returned from – a person who believes that by me living life openly and honestly and expecting dignity and equality in return that I somehow have “signed America’s death warrant” and opened the doors to legalized pedophilia and bestiality? How can I respect and love – much less expect it returned from – a person who believes the government should jail or fine me for expressing my love toward another person? How can I respect and love – much less expect it returned from – a person who believes I and any future lifelong partner of mine and our family aren’t deserving of the same medical and legal benefits as my straight family members and friends and their families?

Of course, the list goes on and on.

In church yesterday, as our congregation celebrated this fifth Sunday of Easter, my pastor spoke of “doubting Thomas,” and the rightful place doubts and honest questions should have in a healthy, growing faith. It was a message, I think, I was meant to hear, for my doubts and questions have only grown since the beginning of this maddening and sickening debate in North Carolina.

How can so many of God’s children use God’s name in promoting division, prejudice, mean-spiritedness and hatred when the gospel I know speaks only of unity, fellowship, kindness and love? How can I reconcile my contempt for words of malice with Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loved us? How can I continue believing in the oneness of the body of Christ, yet be faced with the very stark reality that so many of my fellow Christians wish me cast out, placed aside and left behind?

My pastor’s message was prompted, of course, by John’s account of Thomas’ doubtful nature. But, it was the accompanying epistle reading, perhaps, that related so plainly to my own questions (emphasis added):

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24, NRSV)

In thinking through my questions, I was also reminded of those old, familiar words from Ecclesiastes:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. (3:1, NRSV)

As well as (once more, emphasis added):

Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work. (3:16-17, NRSV)

I can’t and won’t claim to have the answers I seek, but I think I’m heading in the right direction. I’ve always believed that many a well-meaning Christian have simply no real knowledge or awareness of the pain they cause in the lives of LGBT people. I’ve known too many good and kind-hearted people who fit this description – too many, dear friends and family included, who simply heed the misguided teachings and proclamations of their chosen religious leaders. These people would never intentionally hurt anyone and many have simply never had the opportunity to meet or speak with an LGBT person, much less the opportunity to learn how to love and include them unconditionally.

It isn’t my place to judge them. It isn’t my place to lash out with anger. It isn’t my place to threaten retribution. Instead, it is my place, as Christ commanded, to love and to teach, to live in kindness and charity. It’s a hard place to live in – difficult to practice love and fellowship when I know it might very well remain unrequited. Surely, it’s far more difficult than the easier path giving way to anger, frustration and bitterness. But, no one said it would be easy: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me,” Christ said (Luke 9:23, NRSV).

I am comforted knowing that history, no doubt guided by the hand of divine justice, falls squarely on the side of the oppressed:

The LORD works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed (Psalm 103:6, NRSV).

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, NRSV).

In time, just as many did following the abominable era of slavery, the shameful mistreatment of women and the tumultuous days of Jim Crow and segregation, my fellow Christians who would seek to strip away my rights, my dignity and my humanity, will come to understand the errors of their ways. They will look back in shock; they will wonder why they said what they said, why they promoted division and hatred, why they voted to harm others. They will tell their children and grandchildren of the time when the world was a more hostile, less welcoming place. They will impart wisdom, borne from a personal experience wherein they themselves inflicted pain on others and learned lessons only that may teach. And, humanity will be better and stronger for it.

At least, that’s what I hope – even if doubt beckons me in the opposition direction.

No matter the outcome of North Carolina’s vote on Tuesday, I trust that our current struggle will not be in vain. I trust that some greater meaning and purpose is handed down in a lesson from which we can all learn better how to love one another and live in true Christian fellowship that celebrates, rather than takes insidious advantage of, our disagreements and differences.

The photograph used in this commentary is entitled “The Crucifixion of Christ,” a painting by artist Becki Jayne Harrelson, copyright © 1993. I encourage you to visit her website, peruse her other works and support her own, unique ministry.

I’ve had great respect for Billy Graham in my life thus far. That ends today. According to the Vote For Marriage NC coalition and The Charlotte Observer, Rev. Billy Graham has endorsed the anti-LGBT, anti-children, anti-family and anti-business constitutional amendment on the North Carolina May 8 ballot.

“At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage,” the national religious leader says. “The Bible is clear — God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote FOR the marriage amendment on Tuesday, May 8.”

The flier is below.

It’s all too bad really. For such a respected man at the end of his life, this is how he decides to take a bow? More than likely, he’ll not live long enough to see his name drug through the mud as history turns its eye back on his bigotry with shameful judgment. Unlike George Wallace, Billy Graham will be able to offer no retraction or apology. Perhaps, he’ll be able to explain his support of a hateful and discriminatory measure attacking the “least of these” to God.

Pastor Michael 'Nuclear Holocaust' Barrett of Pleasant Garden Baptist Church

A short YouTube video released today contains portions of a sermon delivered by a North Carolina pastor, in which the leader says legalized marriage for same-sex couples will be like a “nuclear holocaust.”

Independent filmmaker Eric Preston compiled the video and titled it “LIES About Amendment One.” The video contains with excerpts from an April 1, 2012, sermon by Pleasant Garden Baptist Church Senior Pastor Michael Barrett entitled, “Marriage: God’s Design.” Preston says Barrett lied to his congregants about the details and impact of Amendment One, the anti-LGBT, anti-family and anti-business state constitutional amendment on the May 8, 2012, primary ballot.

Preston should be commended for countering the lies and even more so for bringing to light the utterly outrageous anti-gay rhetoric used by Barrett.

A “nuclear holocaust”? Really? I had no idea us gay folk were (a) so dangerous, (b) in possession of nuclear armaments and (c) willing to nuke mommies and daddies taking their kids out to stroll in the park on a sunny Sunday afternoon. News to me.

Preston’s video is just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re the kind that actually can bear to listen to complete nonsense, hate and bigotry, then download the full sermon by Barrett here or use the player below.

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Video below; relevant “holocaust” comments at 3:59.

The Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families, those who are working overtime to defeat North Carolina’s anti-LGBT, anti-family, anti-business constitutional amendment on the May 8, 2012, primary ballot, have released new TV commercials detailing some of the potential harms of the measure.

In one ad, a mother speaks about her fear that Amendment One could strip health insurance from her daughter. More than 222,000 unmarried couples currently live in the state. Thousands of them have children. Domestic partner benefits covering unmarried partners and children — like those offered to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples in Greensboro — could be on the chopping block if the amendment passes.

But what has the rabidly anti-gay Amendment One proponents so worked up this week is the Coalition’s TV ad warning women about the consequences the amendment could have on current domestic violence protections.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is just completely beside itself, writing on its blog:

New ads in North Carolina are claiming NC’s Marriage Amendment will somehow interfere with domestic violence prosecutions for unmarried women. They know this is a lie. They have claimed the same thing before about, for example, Virginia’s similarly worded Marriage Amendment.

In Ohio a silly judge ruled that the marriage amendment had this effect, but he was swiftly overruled by Ohio courts. 30 states have marriage amendments. In none of them were women deprived of domestic violence protection.

More evidence that our opponents know they cannot win this vote on the main question: “should marriage remain a union of husband and wife?”

A “silly judge”? “Swiftly overruled”?

Groups like NOM and the North Carolina’s Vote For Marriage NC aren’t being completely honest with the public. The anti-amendment Coalition isn’t lying: Ohio courts had, indeed, interpreted their amendment to mean that domestic violence protections for unmarried couples were invalid. And, there was no “swift” action overruling such cases. It took nearly three years for the Ohio Supreme Court to finally settle the matter — three years that domestic violence victims and their children were forced to wait in fear and uncertainty.

In case you missed it back in March, you should catch this in-depth summary of the domestic violence debate by The News & Observer‘s Craig Jarvis.

The question here isn’t whether North Carolina’s amendment will have a definite impact on such protections. Rather, it is whether the amendment could. The uncertainty of Amendment One and its potential harms is what is so devastating.

No one — not NOM or Vote For Marriage NC or the anti-amendment Coalition — can see into the future. No one can say whether the amendment will have a definite impact one way or the other. NOM cannot know that the amendment will have no negative effects. That Amendment One could have these impacts is, by far, the most truthful and accurate statement thus far made in this debate — a warning the Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families has been sounding since the campaign’s inception.

Anti-gay opponents in North Carolina don’t want to face the facts about Amendment One. Just like their Ohio counterparts who argued in favor of stripping away domestic violence protections in order to protect their discriminatory amendment, NOM and Vote For Marriage NC are, above all other considerations, ideologues first and foremost, unwilling to deal with reality and the possible ramifications of their efforts to experiment with our guiding and foundational governing documents.

Update (March 27, 2012, 11:13 a.m.): The fundraising campaign hit $1.1 million this morning! But don’t quit giving! Keep up the momentum — it’s working. North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis told students at N.C. State, “It’s a generational issue. The data shows right now that you are a generation away from that issue,” and “If it passes, I think it will be repealed within 20 years.” The right-wing conservative base arguing for this amendment is crumbling with each passing day.

“I think amending North Carolina’s constitution to forbid gay and lesbian couples from receiving any future legal recognition, including civil unions, is unwise and unfair. In my opinion the real threat to marriage is not the prospect of gay people getting hitched. It is the reality of straight people too quickly resorting to divorce, or never getting hitched in the first place.”
— John Hood, president, John Lock Foundation, “No Defense for the Offense”

If you’ve been looking for proof that the momentum in North Carolina was decidedly on the side of fairness and equality, look no further than the quote above.

John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, would have been among my last guesses if someone asked me to pick out leading conservative leaders I thought might oppose Amendment One, the discriminatory, anti-LGBT constitutional amendment on which North Carolinians will vote come May 8. Sure, the foundation’s main focus might be on fiscal policy, but I certainly would never have put them in the gay “ally” camp.

The Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families is doing great work. Their campaign is astounding. They’re reaching thousands upon thousands of Tar Heels with their message of equality. Most important, they are stressing just how dangerous and far-reaching this amendment is. While the anti-gay religious right, funded and supported by hate groups, becomes increasingly more outward with their bigotry and hate, Protect N.C. grows increasingly more relevant. Tar Heel voters are naive and they aren’t suckers. They won’t fall for a  loosing game. Hood is proof.

Yesterday, Protect N.C. launched a nationwide fundraising effort to increase awareness and use the awesome power of the blogosphere to raise much-needed funds for the campaign. At the start, the campaign was $50,000 away from reaching its $1 million fundraising mark. And, after just one day, that gap has been decreased to just $29,000, and I hear that gap is decreasing quickly! (You can read updates about the fundraising effort and the transcript of an online chat with campaign leaders at Pam’s House Blend.)

I’ll be planning to give to Protect All N.C. Families. If you’re like me, it might not be much, but even the smallest contribution can go a long, long way. You and I might have only $5, $10, $20 or $40 we can contribute toward the fight for equality, but when combined, donations like yours and mine can become a powerhouse. 

The campaign’s fundraising theme this week has been “First in Flight.” North Carolina made history over a 100 years ago. We can make history again, as we reach higher toward a greater good and a better existence for each of our citizens — for a state that says, “We will not tolerate bigotry and discrimination. We will not redefine our constitution and the freedoms and liberties it protects.” 

Join me today and give what you can. On May 8, we’ll celebrate like never before. Click here to join in the this week’s fundraising campaign today.

There’s been quite a bit of controversy this week after Freedom to Marry, the nation’s leading marriage equality organization, announced its “Win More States Fund” but excluded North Carolina (and Maryland), which faces an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment on May 8, 2012.

Durham, N.C.-native and blogger Pam Spaulding wrote about the Freedom to Marry decision, saying:

I’ll definitely remember this when I’m hit up for cash, promotion or Tweets by Freedom To Marry, an organization I supported because of its work fighting for marriage equality. Apparently the feeling is not mutual. Only certain battles are willing to be fought, and it’s willing to leave LGBTs here behind.

Bil Browning of Bilerico.com added:

Bluntly put, this is a big “Fuck you” out of the usually respectful Freedom to Marry gang that’s straight out of the HRC handbook. They don’t think they can win in those states, so they’re only attaching their names to the battles they think will win.

Marc Solomon

Marc Solomon, Freedom to Marry’s national campaign director, appeared this weekend at the third annual National LGBT Editor/Blogger Convening in Houston, Texas, and spoke briefly about North Carolina and their decision not to get involved. His answer was substantively no different than that given to Bilerico.com by Freedom to Marry Executive Director Evan Wolfson: The group is focusing their limited funds in states and in campaigns where they can win.

It’s a line that’s been repeated too often, and one that leaves North Carolinians like me and Pam Spaulding wondering, “Does Freedom to Marry believe that a loss in North Carolina is a foregone conclusion?” And, if that’s true, why haven’t they just said so directly?

I asked Solomon that question today, and followed up: Does Freedom to Marry believe losing in North Carolina is a foregone conclusion, and if that is the case why, considering that North Carolina has been far more progressive than any other southern state in its entire history?

Solomon’s answer:

I would never say that losing in North Carolina is a foregone conclusion. Never. And, I want us to win badly in North Carolina, so I would never ever say that. I’m just saying that as a capacity matter for Freedom to Marry, we feel like we need to really, really focus when we get in — if we’re really going to go in and invest in a state we’re going to be there. On the Maine campaign, for example, i’m talking to their campaign manager five time a day now, getting text mesages. We’re a relatively small organization we can’t take on everything. If we do, we will dilute ourselves too much and won’t be as effective an organization as we want to be. We want North Carolina to win badly. I would never rule out a win in North Carolina. Never. That doesn’t mean that it’s not okay for others to take the lead in other places.

Audio below, with follow-up question from Browning and answer from Solomon.

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Update (March 15, 2012, 5:25 p.m.): The Durham City Council voted unanimously, 6-0, today to oppose Amendment One. Charlotte, on the other hand, remains silent. The details from Protect NC…

Just like the video above states, the momentum against Amendment One, the proposed anti-LGBT, anti-family, anti-children, anti-business amendment to the North Carolina Constitution is growing. With each passing day, more and more North Carolinians — elected officials, business leaders and voters — are standing up against the amendment and the harms it will cause to the citizens and residents of the Tar Heel State.

Such was the case this week when the Town of Chapel Hill passed a resolution opposing the amendment, following in the footsteps of Greensboro and other municipalities. And, believe or not, Bank of America has spoken out, too…

Charlotte City Council

Activists in Charlotte have already spoken out and asked the Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners to take similar steps and pass resolutions speaking out against Amendment One. Conversations are happening behind the scenes, but real action and real political courage have yet to take a firm hold in Charlotte.

Now, more pressure is being brought to bear as citizens ask

Mecklenburg County Commission

their elected representatives in Charlotte to, finally, take a stand that should have been taken a long, long time ago.

John Michael Watkins is a Charlotte native, a resident of Chapel Hill and a student at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He’s taken to the premier progressive grassroots action site, Change.org, to encourage Charlotte’s city council and Mecklenburg County’s board of commissioners to take a stand against Amendment One.

I’ve signed the petitions asking Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to pass resolutions opposing Amendment One, and I encourage you to do the same. When citizens speak out, their elected representatives will listen. Click the links below to be taken to the two different petitions, affix your name and signature and ask Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to take a stand for what is right and what is just. If speaking out against Amendment One is good enough for Bank of America — one of Charlotte’s largest employers and most significant, national namesakes — then it is should be good enough for our elected representatives…

http://www.change.org/petitions/charlotte-city-council-pass-a-resolution-opposing-nc-amendment-one

http://www.change.org/petitions/mecklenburg-county-commission-pass-a-resolution-opposing-nc-amendment-one

In addition to signing the petitions, you might be interested in sending a personal note to your elected representatives. Their contact information is below, and be sure to check out this past post for a sample letter you can adapt when contacting them. As noted in that sample letter, be sure you ask the Charlotte City Council to also consider a public vote on an LGBT-inclusive employment non-discrimination ordinance, a measure that has yet to be taken up by the council despite repeated requests from citizens, city employees and activists over the years.

Charlotte City Council

Mayor Anthony R. Foxx
mayor@charlottenc.gov
704-336-2241

Mayor Pro Tem Patrick D. Cannon, At-Large
MayorProTemCannon@gmail.com
704-336-7400

Council Member Claire Green Fallon, At-Large
cfallon@charlottenc.gov
704-336-6105

Council Member David Howard, At-Large
info@davidhowardclt.com
704-336-4099

Council Member Beth Pickering, At-Large
bpickering@charlottenc.gov
704-336-5285

Council Member Patsy B. Kinsey, District 1
pkinsey@charlottenc.gov
704-336-3432 or 704-376-5367

Council Member James E. Mitchell, Jr., District 2
JamesDistrict2@aol.com
704-336-3424

Council Member LaWana Mayfield, District 3
councilwomanmayfield@gmail.com
704-336-3435

Council Member Michael D. Barnes, District 4
barnesdistrict4@aol.com
704-509-6141

Council Member John N. Autry, District 5
jautry@charlottenc.gov
704-336-2777

Council Member Andy Dulin, District 6
adulin1@carolina.rr.com
704-968-8776

Council Member Warren Cooksey, District 7
warren@warrencooksey.com
704-347-0420

Mecklenburg County Commission

Harold Cogdell, Jr., Chairman
Harold.cogdell@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov

Jim Pendergraph, Vice Chairman
jim.pendergraph@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
704-336-2472

Jennifer Roberts, At-Large
jennifer.roberts@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
704-336-2574

Karen Bentley, District 1
karen.bentley@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
704-432-3997

Vilma Leake, District 2
vilma.leake@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
704-336-2088

George Dunlap, District 3
george.dunlap@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
704-336-4419

Dumont Clark, District 4
dumontclarke@mvalaw.com
704-331-1051

Neil Cooksey, District 5
neil.cooksey@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
704-336-5400

Bill James, District 6
Wjames@carolina.rr.com
704-336-2573

The N.C. Baptist State Convention has made their position on discrimination and bigotry quite clear, and despite their pressure to either ignore completely or twist the Gospel to fit their own needs, there are plenty of Baptists across North Carolina who are willing and ready to step up and speak out against hate and, especially, hate in God’s name.

Above all others, Baptists have a history that enables them to stand up for the true Gospel. The misdeeds of our forbears should be lesson enough to prove that the Gospel cannot be a message of hate, exclusion, division and bigotry. To the contrary, Jesus’ ultimate message of radical love and inclusion is “good news” to the masses. Our God is the Lord of salvation, mercy, freedom, justice and love.

To that end, national Baptist organizations, local churches and local Baptist leaders and congregants will gather in Charlotte this weekend for the first in a series of events in the “Many Voices, One Love,” campaign sponsored by the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB), the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA), and the Alliance of Baptists.

The event,  “NC Baptists Against Amendment One: Justice, Equality and Personal Freedom,” will be held at Myers Park Baptist Church, 1900 Queens Rd., Charlotte, N.C., Feb. 25, 2012, from 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

A featured panel discussion will be held 9:45-10:45 a.m., moderated by Dan Murrey and featuring Myers Park Pastor Stephen Shoemaker, as well as Ken Godwin, Chaz Seale and Ricky Woods. Angela Yarber, pastor of my hometown Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., will also be a panelist.

Representatives from The Human Rights Campaign, the Faith and Justice Servant Leadership Group of Myers Park Baptist Church and The Coalition to Protect NC Families will also be present at the event.

Get more information about the event at Protect NC Families…