Rev. Ron LaRocque, Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in Winston-Salem, who opposes the North Carolina state legislature’s recent passage of a law to allow a vote on an anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment in the May 2012 primary. No public comment was allowed. LaRocque talks about the fast he undertook in response and the risks and opportunities he sees coming from the upcoming vote.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Rev. Ron LaRocque, Pastor, Metropolitan Community Church of Winston-Salem, NC[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: Two weeks ago, the Republican-majority North Carolina state legislature fast-tracked a law allowing a vote on an anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment in the May 2012 primary elections. By not allowing public comment on the initiative, the lawmakers were able to go from introduction to passage within 24 hours. I know it doesn’t sound a lot like democracy, but that’s what happened.
I don’t know. Is this genuine if misguided concern for traditional family values? Is it another attempt to leverage a polarizing social issue to activate conservative voter turnout? Look, folks: same-gender marriage is already illegal in North Carolina now! A recent survey from Public Policy Polling shows strong opposition to same-gender marriage among North Carolinians; but the same survey reveals that a significant majority opposes enshrining a ban in the state constitution. Interestingly, this majority is found even among Republican voters.
So the state is in for a long season of PR and propaganda. How have people of faith been involved, to the degree that the timing of this action allowed, in the process?
North Carolina certainly has its share of conservative Evangelical Christians, who have spoken out in support of these developments and will certainly be active as the day for voting nears.
But today I want to turn to someone who has made headlines by taking action in opposition to the legislature’s moves. He’s the pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in Winston-Salem, part of a denomination that specifically welcomes LGBT persons, Rev. Ron LaRoque, and Rev. LaRocque on September 11th announced a fast around this very issue.
Pastor LaRocque, with great appreciation and admiration, welcome to State of Belief Radio![REV. RON LAROCQUE, GUEST]: Thank you for having me. [WG]: Could you talk about what moved you to respond in such an intensely personal way to the State Legislature actions starting before the vote, as I understand it. What’s happened, and where are you now? [RL]: Welton, as many people can understand, I’m sure, when one chooses to enter into a prayerful fast, or any prayerful act, it’s really rather difficult to pinpoint exactly the motivation for that. What I can tell you is that I felt spiritually moved to enter this fast. The idea first popped into my head probably about two weeks before the fast began, and I prayed on it, and the more I prayed on it the more that I knew this was the right thing to do, as a prayerful act of justice. After making the decision to fast, it then occurred to me that this private prayerful act could also be turned into a powerful public witness and I then chose to make others aware of the fast. [WG]: So, your action is, in addition to what its benefits for you are, a means for raising public awareness. And because of that, do you see that as having the potential to have a direct spiritual impact on this debate that’s going to go on? [RL]: I believe that this debate, for the most part, really is a direct spiritual impact – regardless of the side of the debate that you’re on. Although it’s a civil matter, the religious rhetoric surrounding this civil matter is quite elevated. There was a press conference presented by the speaker pro-tem of the house, who was one of the primary sponsors of this bill, and this speaker invited several clergy to speak at the event in favor of the constitutional amendment, and all of them spoke from a very religious standpoint. [WG]: Well, I think a lot of folks tend to consider North Carolina a conservative state but, in truth, there’s a considerable amount of diversity in North Carolina, and the polling indicates -as I’ve said – that a majority voters oppose the constitutional initiative on this matter. So, how extensive is the progressive community, and is there a network of religious leaders that you consider your allies? [RL]: Most definitely. The North Carolina Council of Churches is a very progressive organization, and has been since its founding. The North Carolina Council of Churches specifically came out against having this amendment placed on the ballot. In Winston-Salem, where I reside and pastor, we have a newly- emerging organization known as Interfaith Voice, which is a collection of congregations which are open and affirming from the Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist traditions. So, there is – although we are certainly in the Bible belt, and although there is certainly a large number of conservative Christians in the state – we, as you note, are of very diverse faith, and I believe that the progressive Christian movement is really growing within the state at this point in time. [WG]: Well, that’s good to hear, and I would agree with you. I a few months ago was in North Carolina and visited with a lot of pastors about a lot of subjects and I found a surprisingly large a community interested in this piece – which wasn’t in play then – but in legislation like it.
Now that the legislature has fast-tracked approval of putting the amendment to a vote in May, what are your options for people who support marriage equality? I mean, are you trying to just defeat this? What does your strategy look like?[RL]: At this point in time… There were so many surprises that came with the way that the legislature handled this particular matter – with the fast-tracking, with the actual language chosen, with choosing to put it on the May ballot instead of the November general election ballot, which was a big last-minute surprise for us – a lot of us are just trying to regroup and figure out exactly where we go from here.
A couple things that we know are very necessary, though, are voter turnout; having this on the May primary ballot puts it in a position where our most conservative voters have almost every reason to go to the polls in order to vote for the Republican nominee for president, the Republican nominee for our governor; and the more liberal voters and progressive voters have very little reason to go to the polls to vote in a primary election. So getting voter turnout is going to be absolutely critical for us, and I would ask any of your listeners, Welton, who know anybody in North Carolina to give them a call, not just today, but next month and the month after that until we get to May, and make sure that they get to the polls. We are definitely going to be looking at advertising campaigns throughout the state, looking at how this is not only a social justice issue, but also just a civil rights issue and an economic issue; that having this… If this amendment were to pass, it would be bad business for the state of North Carolina. I don’t mean to be crass, but definitely money, in order to fund that advertising campaign, is going to be necessary. We know that tons of money is going to be pouring into the state on the other side of this amendment, and we need to be able to balance that out. And finally, I just ask all people of faith to pray for righteous justice in this case.[WG]: Your comments about money are not crass, they’re smart. And one of the things I wanted to ask you – it may not be in place yet – but is there a mailing address to which our listeners could send support for defeating this legislation and offer other kinds of encouragement? Is there such in place, and if not, will you please give it to us so we can share it as this develops? [RL]: Certainly. I can tell you that we have a very well-run state organization, Equality North Carolina; they are probably the premiere LGBT civil rights organization in the state. That is where I would recommend sending donations and other forms of support, and their website is equalitync.org. [WG]: I apologize to you and to our listeners if this sounds like a cynical question, but I’m also concerned, in this whole campaign, now, about collateral damage. I think it’s inevitable that you’re going to hear and see pervasive poisonous anti-gay rhetoric in advertising and in the public debate, and I have concerns about what that does to affect members of your congregation, and I have grave concerns about what it does to impressionable youth who may be struggling with their sexual identity. [RL]: I don’t think that that’s in any way cynical. I think that there is…. That that’s a very appropriate concern. When somebody’s basic need to love and be loved enters the public arena as a debate, it can only have negative effects. A lot of the hate-filled rhetoric surrounding homosexuality in general, same-sex marriage in specific, is particularly venomous. I have a great concern about what it does to the psyches of people who are directly affected – not only members of my congregation; certainly young people who are growing up and just beginning to understand themselves as sexual creatures – but also the people who love them.
At the same time, though, this is also providing a wonderful opportunity for other people of faith, who understand that this truly is an unjust amendment, to speak out and receive a microphone in a way that we’ve never had an opportunity to do that in the past. We are able to witness, in a state to where there is a strong religious conservative movement, that not all Christians are against gender and sexual minorities; that that is not a blanket understanding of the Christian faith; and that a growing body of believers welcomes them as God created them to be.[WG]: My guest is Reverend Ron LaRocque, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who began a fast in prayerful opposition to the attack on LGBT families embodied in the state legislature’s pushing an anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment vote onto the May primary ballot.
Pastor LaRocque, you have our respect and our best wishes in this very disappointing and disturbing situation. We’ll continue to monitor what’s going on in this regard in North Carolina, and we want you to get back to us if you have new reports for us. But we thank you for being with us today on State of Belief Radio.[RL]: Thank you. It was truly my pleasure.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
The host of State of Belief, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, leads the national nonpartisan grassroots and educational organizations, The Interfaith Alliance and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation and serves as the Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana. Welton is one of 20 international religious leaders on the Council of 100 Leaders, a group created by the World Economic Forum to improve dialogue and understanding between the Western and Islamic worlds.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Welton emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is the immediate past President of the Alliance of Baptists and is a twenty-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, Welton served in many leadership roles in the SBC including membership on the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-1984 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-1977.
Welton received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.