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Posted on 09/19/2017 @ 05:25 PM

          Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman wth his wife Janet.

N.C. religious leader yearns for healing

and awakening in the Christian church

“The time is always right to do the right thing.” 

― Dr. Martin Luther King

It was late one evening many years ago that Dr. Rev. T. Anthony Spearman of Greensboro resolved any conflict between his mind and heart in relation to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

His mind had been conditioned to believe – like many religious leaders and others at the time – that “homosexuality” was a sinful condition.

In a meeting that evening with a student who was contemplating ending his life, Spearman began to understand the oppressive social climate the young gay man was experiencing. It also was a point at which he began to better understand how certain religious teaching forms a foundation for such oppression.

That night, he began a journey that would bring him to what he knows today to be a truth – there is no inherent sin in sexual orientation or gender identity. Instead, Spearman has concluded the egregious sin related to “homosexuality” belongs to a “distinct strain” of Christianity that teaches Christians should condemn, judge and oppress lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

Spearman has been involved in LGBTQ advocacy for a number of years and has been an outspoken critic of anti-gay marriage amendments and anti-LGBTQ legislation such as last year’s HB2 – a bill that eliminated municipal LGTBQ nondiscrimination protection and targeted transgender individuals with a campaign of misinformation and demoralization. 

But as Spearman assesses the Christian church today – and more specifically that distinct strain within the Christian church – he sees a problem that is far from limited to negative religious attitudes toward LGBTQ people. 

From Spearman’s watch, it is much more pervasive than that. Listening as Spearman talks about the current condition of the Christian church, it becomes clear that he is talking about a form of blindness – a condition from which Christians fail to see how what once may have been considered blemishes on the body of Christ have now taken on a much more ominous prognosis.

“Which of the 25 judicatories will it be to strive for the high-level cost of discipleship, to denounce the bombastic bigotry and hate-filled hypocrisy that annihilates our Christianity,” he asks in his address.

He sees long-festering sores that now appear as ugly wounds – the result of a mindset that prevents many Christians from seeing their neighbors as not equal in God’s image but rather inferior.  No one can dispute the historical analysis which makes evident how an element of the Christian church in America has treated African Americans as inferior to whites; women as inferior to men; gay as inferior to straight; and transgender as inferior to cisgender.

Spearman, who currently serves as president of the N.C. Council of Churches, is encouraging its members to visit the writings of its founder, H. Shelton Smith, who in the early 1900s wrote about racism and the Christian church in a book entitled “In His Image But…Racism in Southern Religion.’’ One 19th century reviewer writes: “Extremists considered the Negro inherently inferior and opposed any attempt to help him, while moderates agreed on his inferiority but favored educational uplift. Standing outside this dominant position were a handful of religious iconoclasts who rejected the doctrine of Negro racial inferiority.”

During a sermon delivered last year at the N.C. Council of Churches’ Critical Issues Seminar, Spearman made an impassioned plea for churches – whether many, few or a handful – to stand against the destructive forces that exist not outside the church but within.  “Which of the 25 judicatories will it be to strive for the high-level cost of discipleship, to denounce the bombastic bigotry and hate-filled hypocrisy that annihilates our Christianity,” he asks in his address. Listen to his address.
 

To continue reading, see SPEARMAN below.

"Dr. T"

A well-known social justice activist, Dr. T. Anthony Spearman is pastor of St. Phillip African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Greensboro. Spearman serves as the third Vice President of the NC NAACP. Dr. Spearman has a Bachelor of Science Degree Summa Cum Laude from Mercy College in Yonkers, N.Y. in 1995; a Master of Divinity Degree Magna Cum Laude from Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, N.C. in 1998; and a Doctor of Ministry from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton Ohio in 2013. He is proficient in Greek, Hebrew, and Spanish. Spearman has been involved in community activism for the past 45 years and has rallied college students together; advocated for KMart employees; marched with Smithfield Workers; been a constant participant with the Historic Thousands on Jones Street Peoples Assembly; stood with the LGBT community against Amendment One and was one of the first 17 persons arrested during the Forward Together Movement’s Moral Mondays.

SPEARMAN – from top of page

Spearman’s indictment against that distinct strain of Christianity is much more than fodder for a sermon. It comes from many years as a leader in various social justice movements, from African American Civil Rights, LGBTQ Equality, criminal justice reform and others.

He cites the current debate of Civil War Monuments as an area in which Christian complacency must be replaced with leadership.

North Carolina is a state that has one of the highest number of Civil War Monuments and a majority of those monuments are on courthouse grounds.

As an advocate for laws and policy that address inequities for African Americans in the criminal justice system, Spearman sees the placement of those monuments on courthouse grounds as more than just irony or coincidence.

“I doubt that very seriously,” Spearman says. “There is more intentionality than we even give thought to in regard to these monuments. These monuments were erected when white supremacy, Jim Crow and segregation were going on and there were attempts to memorialize the North versus South fight. These monuments are filled with hatred.”

Spearman says he considers the toppling of a Civil War statue in Durham last month as a courageous act by the young woman who was arrested for allegedly leading the effort.

Former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in 2015 signed a law that prevents removing, relocating, or altering monuments, memorials, plaques and other markers that are on public property without permission from the N.C. Historical Commission.

“These monuments are so holy and so scared now it is like it is a sin to tear them down,” he said. 

He recalls how an activist in South Carolina in 2015 took down the Confederate Flag that flew above the S.C. Capitol Building. That activist also was arrested but the S.C. Legislature voted the next month to discontinue flying the flag.

That episode followed the death of eight African American churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. at the hands of a self-avowed white supremacist.

Durham’s statue toppling followed the death of a 23-year-old female activist in Charlottesville, Va., after a man who reportedly sympathized with white supremacists drove his car into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters.

“Why is it that in America blood has to be spilled before there is change,” Spearman asks.

He has personally worked to free imprisoned African Americans after they were wrongly convicted of crimes and he is not the only one who has taken note that many of North Carolina’s monuments are on courthouse grounds. “All those years, black people had to go to court, walk past this sign, and think you were going to get justice?” Tia Hall, an attendee at the Durham statue protest, was quoted to say in an article in “The Atlantic.”

And while there may be some who will argue for a historical significance to the Civil War monuments, few could doubt how the statues affect African Americans – memorializing a segment of a society that once believed slavery was a just and worthy cause. An unknown number of Christian pastors not only agreed but gave God’s blessing, according to H. Shelton Smith’s accounting.

A segment in H. Shelton Smith’s book posits that white Christians’ embrace of slavery and segregation is a chief reason the Christian church in America became segregated along racial lines– and for a large extent it remains that way today.

And while Spearman is remarkably attuned to the oppression of African Americans, his critique of the Christian church goes beyond racial injustice. He understands how a “distinct strain” of Christianity has been oppressive not only toward African Americans but other minorities.

“When you look at it analytically, you can’t help but come away with the understanding that there is a distinct strain of Christianity that is counter to Jesus,” Spearman states. “It goes against everything that Jesus stood for.”

Spearman says it is hard for him to understand how evangelical Christians – who often cast themselves as most endeared to the teachings of Christ – could have supported a candidate who played upon strife and social division while rejecting a candidate whose campaign messages included words like love, kindness and compassion for others.

That is what Spearman finds most perplexing if not vexing  – an inability or unwillingness for some Christians to discern between that which is of Christ and that which is not. More specifically in terms of furthering spiritual relationship is how or why some Christians cannot see the disastrous effect that such sanctioning of prejudice and bigotry is having on the Christian faith.

“I believe the gates of hell are prevailing against the church,” Spearman says. “And what is worse is that many Christians don’t seem to be aware of how the gates of hell are prevailing. They are living their lives blind sighted. They don’t realize, the person we call the Groom of the church – Jesus the founder of the church – is no longer there.”

Spearman speaks with a prophetic voice when he alludes to the consequence of a church that has fallen so far away from the teachings of Christ.

“I find it frightful,” he said.

But just as H. Shelton Smith identifies that handful of churches and pastors who could see their African American neighbors as equally God’s image, Spearman is hopeful that more than a handful are ready to step forward to re-establish that relational covenant.

“If what I read in the Bible, especially the Gospel account, has any resemblance to what needs to happen, there weren’t a whole lot of folk with Jesus,” he says. “He doesn’t need a lot of folks. He just needs committed folks. So I do have optimism that if enough of them come together, I believe a new dawning can take place and will take place. I’m hopeful enough to believe that is a possibility. As I told a group the other day, I believe a eucatastrophe is on the way from God Almighty. I believe that.”

Many in North Carolina’s faith communities believe the time is right. 

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