“Pastors Against Amendment One”
On Tuesday, North Carolina voters go to the polls. Even without a crystal ball, we can predict that Mitt Romney will win the Republican primary, and President Barack Obama will win the Democratic primary. So it’s tough to imagine many voters going to the trouble, except that the voters who do turn out will hold the future of many North Carolina families in their hands. They’ll be voting on Amendment One, a mean-spirited and broadly restrictive measure that is redundant in banning same-gender marriage in that state, since it’s already illegal. This week we’re joined by The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, who is the Episcopal Bishop of North Carolina, to talk about “Pastors Against Amendment One,” the coalition of faith leaders he joined to opposition to the amendment. Welton and Bishop Curry discuss the work the coalition has been doing and some of the headlines we’ve seen out of North Carolina, such as the Baptist minister who suggested to his congregation it’s ok for a parent to punch children who don’t conform to standard gender roles. For more on Pastors Against Amendment One, you can visit: www.pastorsagainstamendmentone.org.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: BISHOP MICHAEL CURRY[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: This coming Tuesday, Wisconsin voters will cast their ballots in the highly-publicized recall election of Governor Scott Walker. That’s going to get a lot of media attention, guaranteed. Meanwhile Indiana, West Virginia and North Carolina voters will head to the polls for their states’ primary elections, and even without a crystal ball I can predict that each state will choose Mitt Romney on the Republican side and Barack Obama for the Democrats. Add some delegates for the presumed nominees, call it a day. Tough to imagine many voters going to the trouble of voting – which is why it is so troubling that in the Tar Heel State, the voters who do turn out will hold the future of many North Carolina families in their hands. They’ll be voting on Amendment One, a mean-spirited, broadly restrictive measure that is redundant in banning same-gender marriage in that state – since it’s already illegal in that state – but has found campaigns on both sides of the issue that saw North Carolina Catholic Dioceses spend $100,000 to, in the language of such debates, “defend marriage.”
Because there really is no rational argument for restricting the rights of certain families, the only and – sadly effective – approach is to endlessly pervert the language of religious values. That’s why it’s so important to argue against things like North Carolina’s Amendment One in the same language – and doing just that has been a coalition of faith leaders in that state working through a website called pastorsagainstamendmentone.org. And I’m very pleased to welcome one of those faith leaders to State of Belief Radio right now, The Rt. Rv. Michael Curry, who is the Episcopal bishop in North Carolina. Bishop Curry, welcome.[MC]: Well thank you. [WG]: The debate over gay marriage has been awash in religious rhetoric from conservative voices – how do you answer them? [MC]: Well, I have to say that that the debate that’s being engaged in here in North Carolina around Amendment One, while in many respects and corners it’s being presented as an issue of gay marriage, in fact, here in North Carolina, the issue is not gay marriage; the issue, really, is a potential amendment to our state constitution that, in fact, will hurt and harm numerous people, including children. And so, we’ve had to engage the question of the amendment to our constitution on the issue of humanitarian grounds. This amendment’s going to hurt children; it’s going to hurt unmarried couples; it’s going to hurt senior citizens; people who are in relationships and yet unmarried are going to be potentially and in fact jeopardized by this piece of legislation. So we’ve had to engage that question as, really, the question that we’re dealing with here. [WG]: What is it, Bishop, in your own personal faith tradition and the values in your ministry that moved you to become involved in such a very controversial piece of legislation? [MC]: You know, the truth is, it was the fact that, when I realized how profoundly and significantly people were going to be hurt by this amendment – it became very clear to me that, as a Christian and as a follower of Jesus, our task is to bring healing, health and goodness into the world, not to bring harm and hurt. And this amendment is going to bring harm and hurt to just many, many people – and uncertainty to many, many others as well. And I can give you a few examples. [WG]: I wish you would. [MC]: For example, this amendment has the potential – although it’s up to debate – but it has the potential to make people who are in relationships without the benefit of marriage, for whatever reason, possibly no longer protected under domestic violence protections that are currently afforded here in the state of North Carolina. There’s some debate about that in the legal community, but from what I can tell, the overwhelming response of law professors here at the law schools in the state of North Carolina is that this amendment could jeopardize protection that unmarried people currently have in domestic violence situations. You know, I was a parish pastor for almost 25 years before I became bishop, and in that time I spent a great deal of time on helping to extricate – it was always women – women and their children from abusive situations, and the protection that law enforcement can give to prevent stalking is critical to these women having a sense of safety and well-being – and for their children. That is why I say this amendment puts in danger women, usually, and their children. As a Christian, I cannot stand by idly, while anybody is being hurt by a law in this land. The constitution of any stat,e as with the federal constitution, does not exist to take away rights – it exists to protect them. [WG]: Bishop, you’ve done an excellent job in describing the breath of the legislation, and the potential impact of the legislation, in a way that goes beyond my understanding of it. What I am wondering is: there are many people who are positioning this as just a referendum on same-gender marriage. So is it possible that all of the implications that you’ve just mentioned may become such subsidiaries to people’s focus on same-gender marriage that it is defeated for that reason? [MC]: Well, yeah. It is my hope that if the broad spectrum of people – regardless of what their stand happens to be on marriage equality or same-gender marriage – but if a broad spectrum of people begin to understand that this amendment could actually do harm, regardless of whatever good some may think it’s intended to do, that many people could vote against it who are also against gay marriage. I mean, people can be pro- and con- on that question. I would think that we, as Christians – and I would pray that we, as Christians – who follow a Master who told us, I mean, pastor, you know the parable of the last judgment as well as I do, and Jesus was very clear in that parable that, you know, the nations are arrayed before the King on judgment day, and He really doesn’t ask them what their denomination is, he doesn’t even ask them what their religion is. What the Master asks is: “When did you feed me, did you feed me when I was hungry, clothe me when I was naked, visited me when I was alone, did you care for me as a fellow human child of God?” And Jesus says in that parable: “As you did it to the least of these, you have done it unto me.” I would suggest that for Christian people, in particular, that command: to do unto the least of these, in this particular context, needs to be lived out by making sure that the law protects the least of these, and does not harm. And it is my conviction that Amendment One will harm the least of these, and I say that as a follower of Jesus. [WG]: Bishop, have you had to – I mean, you’ve got a very impressive coalition of pastors working on this alongside you – have you all had to rehearse going through all of the traditional difficult texts related to same-gender marriage and these kinds of votes, or has it been a matter of talking about the issue at large without having to argue scripture? [MC]: Yeah, in this case, in this particular situation, we’ve focused on the issue at hand – of the harm that this amendment will do – because there are, you know, in the coalition there are Christians of diverse perspective; there are some Christian pastors who would very much be adamantly opposed to marriage equality and gay marriage, but who understand that this amendment will do harm. And so we’ve really stayed focused on the impact of this amendment on people’s lives, and that, it seems to me, is common ground for – certainly for us as Christians, and I believe for people of faith, and people of goodwill, generally. [WG]: There are so many people that have heard the words of the Baptist minister from Fayetteville, Shawn Harris. I’m sure you’ve heard those words yourself. We’re going to play just a little bit of that sermon that he preached and what he said for our listeners right now: [SEAN HARRIS CLIP]: Dads, the second you see your sons dropping the limp wrist – you walk over there and crack that wrist! (laughter) Man up! Give him a good punch, ok? You’re not gonna act like that! You were made by God to be a male, and you’re gonna be a male! [WG]: Now, since that clip went viral, Harris has apologized to those that he “unintentionally offended.” My question to you is: how many voices like his are there in North Carolina? In the same sermon, he urged his congregation to vote on May 8th – and it’s pretty clear how he wants them to vote. Is that common, or is that uncommon? [MC]: Reverend, I really don’t know the full answer to that. I haven’t done a poll. My guess is, the level of that language, and the volume of it, probably is more, I would hope, uncommon than common. It may be that the sentiment in opposition to gay marriage may be more common, but I would hope that the spirit of that sentiment is not that common. I’ve got to tell you, it’s hard for me – and I don’t make any judgment on anybody else except myself – but it’s hard for me, as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, who himself, frankly, was executed on the cross because of his radical inclusion, not exclusion; because of his radical love, not hate. I mean, that’s what got Jesus killed, and we follow Him. So I don’t know how you follow a Lord like that. We have a hymn in the Episcopal tradition: “The King of Love My Shepherd Is Whose Goodness Faileth Never.” Well, how can you follow the King of love and spew hatred? And so I would hope and pray that that’s not common in pulpits throughout our state. [WG]: Well I can tell you, bishop, I grew up in the Southern Baptist Convention, and I could tell you a lot of pastors that can straighten you out, if you want to be straightened out on that. How much difference, how much impact will come from Billy Graham’s alleged announcement that he is in favor of the amendment? [MC]: I mean, Billy Graham is a much respected and revered person here, and a great man in his own right. I would still content that if we are passing an amendment to a constitution that’s going to hurt or harm one child of God – that is one too many, and that amendment doesn’t need to be in the constitution. This amendment that we’re talking about will strip away – certainly for all public employees who are presently unmarried but allowed to have health insurance and pension benefits because of domestic partnerships and that kind of thing, public employees in eight jurisdictions in the state of North Carolina – will lose those benefits because of this amendment, and people on both sides of the debate agree that that happens to be the case. There is some debate about employees in private corporations, whether or not they will lose their benefits, but it’s going to be complicated and messy, and corporations are going to have to do all sorts of gymnastics to make it possible for them. We cannot, as Christian people who follow Jesus, who said: “The two commandments that are the greatest are to love God and to love your neighbor” – how can we support something that doesn’t love our neighbor? The parable of the Good Samaritan? Who is your neighbor? When that question is asked of me – that neighbor is the other person. That neighbor is the person beaten up on the side of the road. That neighbor is the least of these that Jesus talked about. That neighbor is an abused woman who may not have protection of the domestic violence legislation. That neighbor is a senior, a couple, an elderly couple who can’t afford to get married less they lose their social security and pension benefits, who will no longer be able to be afforded the opportunity and the rights to visit their loved one if they happen to be in the hospital. Who is my neighbor? I certainly respect Dr. Graham. I really do. But on this question, I have to stand with answering: “Who is my neighbor?” by how I vote. [WG]: Bishop Curry, aside from this particular election, what is it going to take for our nation to get beyond this polarization, and even the faintest justification for hatred and discrimination to be a part of Christianity? [MC]: Yes, sir. Well, you know, at the heart of Christianity is the story of the Incarnation of God coming among us as a human person, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And I have a feeling that principle of Incarnation may be one of the keys. It’s easy for me to have attitudes or negative attitudes towards a group of people if I don’t know those people, and know them as living human beings; but I think, for most of us, when we get to know other people, a lot of our preconceived notions, a lot of our stereotypes, a lot of our assumptions get overcome when we actually get to know a person. You know, I mean, truth is, every one of us is a child of God. The Book of Genesis, in the first chapter, says: “We are created in the image of God, male and female he created them,” which I think is the Bible’s way of saying, “That includes everybody.” [WG]: I think you’re right. Well listen, you know North Carolina well, and you’ve been there long enough to know it well, and you’ve watched it during this campaign. What have you seen and heard that gives you any sense you know how this vote’s going to come out? [MC]: I don’t really know how it’s going to come out. I do have a sense that the more people learn about the actual impact of this particular amendment, the more there is a greater understanding that this is not the appropriate way for us to go as a state. About a month ago or so when a poll was taken – I’ve forgotten which one it was – but that particular poll said that 58% of likely voters were expected to vote in favor. That was over a month ago. The most recent poll, just, I think, a week or two ago, said that number has gone down to 54% – so it’s heading – that the more people understand what’s in this particular legislation, the more they realize this is not the way to go. Now, again, that, from my perspective, is hopeful; but I don’t know that it will stop the amendment. There is a chance. There really is a chance; and I’ve got to tell you, pastor, ten years ago there wouldn’t even have been a chance. [WG]: Exactly. [MC]: So, there’s progress. Remember how Doctor King often said: “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it is bent towards justice.” And I believe that justice will out; that God’s Kingdom of righteous justice and peace will be realized in time. [WG]: Well, your comments on our show today are important in relation to North Carolina; but as you well know, there are people in the other parts of the country that are going through this very same thing, and I think that as they look to you and to your colleagues there, and the way you’ve handled this – and you have given a good model for the way in which to meet hatred with love and to meet exclusion with inclusion – and we’re very grateful for you doing that. [MC]: Well, I’m grateful to be on your show, and thankful to you for helping to spread the word; because love is the way. It’s the only way. [WG]: I’ve been talking With Rev. Michael Curry, the Episcopal Bishop of North Carolina, one of the faith leaders who signed on to the campaign Pastorsagainstamendmentone.org. This initiative is on Tuesday’s primary ballot in that state. Bishop Curry, as I’ve said, thanks for being with us, thanks for helping all who will benefit from this. We appreciate you being on State of Belief Radio. [MC]: Thank you Reverend, it’s been an honor.
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.