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Equality in Faith Volume 5

This bi-weekly 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.

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018
Please share this feature within your faith community as we work to make the affirming faith perspective more visible.
In this edition...

• Conflicting images, attitudes in one rural western N.C. county.
• Religious belief cited as a barrier to supportive environments
• Pain in the Methodist church: A personal story
• Commentary: Using God to justify immoral causes
• March 28 through April 1...LGBT Health Awareness Week.
• May 4-5...Uniting For Our Future...N.C. Faith Forward statewide gathering at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.
McDowell County's signage welcomes motorists on Interstate 40 West as a gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

McDowell County

Conflicting images,

conflicting attitudes

Mountain county exemplifies social

environments in rural North Carolina

The sign on the outside wall of St. John Episcopal Church fits well with the narrative of a mountain town seeking to redefine itself as a tourist destination.

McDowell County is often referred to a gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains as one of the first counties on Interstate 40 West upon which motorists begin to see the expansive and picturesque views of its majestic peaks and valleys.

While aesthetically McDowell County indeed welcomes the eyes of all visitors to behold, a recent statement by a McDowell County Commissioner hinted to an unsightly blemish when it comes to social diversity – especially as it relates to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

McDowell County Commissioner Chairperson David Walker at a Feb. 12 county commission meeting refused to sign a community-driven unity statement which included sexual orientation and gender identity. The statement was drafted last summer in response to the racial violence in Charlottesville, Va. where in August a group of white nationalist and Neo-Nazis clashed with counter demonstrators. After police shut down the protests and crowds were dispersing, one of the men who had attended the white nationalist march plowed his car into a group of counter protesters. A 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 persons were injured.

A Washington Post article on Aug. 14, 2017 described the Charlottesville incident as one of the worst expressions of racial hatred and violence in many years:

At 9:30 a.m., about 30 clergy members clasped arms and began singing “This Little Light of Mine.” Twenty feet away, the white nationalists roared back, “Our blood, our soil!”

“Dylann Roof was a hero!” another yelled, referring to the white supremacist who killed nine African Americans in a church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.

It was such an ugly display of violence and hate on a street in mainstream America that prompted individuals in communities across the nation began to call for racial unity and respect for diversity.

Dawna Goode-Ledbetter, chair of the West Marion Community Forum group, was one of those individuals. The West Marion Community Forum joined forces with the Marian East Community Forum group in drafting the statement last year following the Charlottesville, Va. incidents. They began circulating it last September.

Goode-Ledbetter has described the West Marion Community Forum as a community-based effort working to bring better health outcomes and other socio-economic opportunity to the community.

With a number of local individuals, elected officials and organizations signing the unity statement, Ledbetter and a representative from the Marion East Community Forum group decided they would present the statement to the McDowell County Board of Commissioners.

At the Feb. 12 meeting in Marion, Chairperson Walker was the only one to speak and he declared his religious views about same-sex marriage as the reason he would not sign the statement.

"My personal conviction, based upon the Bible, is that men marry women and women marry men so therefore I support everything but that one item and that is why personally I could never support that," he was quoted to say in an article in the McDowell News. The reporter pointed out that there diversity statement doesn't mention same-sex marriage.

According to a Feb. 27 article in the McDowell New It was not the first time Walker and other county commissioners have used religious belief as an excuse to excoriate lesbian, gay and transgender persons.

When the state considered a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, Walker said at a commission meeting the amendment was needed to "preserve the family unit as defined by the word of God."

The McDowell News Feb. 27 article also stated:

In 2016, the Marion City Council took a stand against the highly controversial HB2, which they called discriminatory. McPeters then submitted his harsh criticism of the City Council to The McDowell News' Facebook page:

"If I am confronted with this type behavior, I Pray to my Lord and Savior the Law gets to it before I do... McDowell Board of Commissioners WILL AND HAVE already taken a STAND against so called transgender restrooms.."

Goode-Ledbetter stated that she was shocked by Walker's comment at the Feb. 12 meeting and for two reasons. First, she could not believe anyone would cite their Christian faith to reject a message that is grounded in love and respect for neighbors. Secondly, she said not a single person had raised the issue of sexual orientation being a reason for not signing the statement since they began circulating the statement last September.

The West Marion Community Forum group meets at Addies Chapel United Methodist Church.

Goode-Ledbetter said she understands that some people may hold beliefs similar to Commissioner Walker but questions how people of faith, particularly the Christian faith, can justify attitudes that prevent them from embracing diversity, inclusion and respect for everyone. She also doesn't agree that one person's particular religious belief should be used in deciding matters that affect the public – in which diversity of religious belief itself abounds.

"When we get to heaven, that's the way it is going to look," said Goode-Ledbetter, referring to humanity's diverse mosaic that the unity statement seeks to uplift.

Politics and ant-LGBTQ legislation driven
by conservative evangelical religious views

In rural western North Carolina – an area that went disproportionately for President Donald Trump in 2016 compared to other parts of the state – McDowell County is only one example of areas where peaceful forested or pastoral aesthetics are sharply contrasted against social conflict created by political and religious ideology. For the LGBTQ population, it is a political-religious ideology that has been so damaging for the previous half century.

The so-called social issues of LGBTQ rights and abortion have long been a driver on conservative politics and certain religious views on both those issues have been used by political organizations for years to garner votes and political power.

The line between conservative religious and political views and more progressive religious and political views are often well defined in these non urban areas.

According to data from Public Religious Research Institute, that line is clear in faith communities.

"No group has a dimmer view of American cultural change than white evangelical Protestants: nearly three-quarters (74%) say American culture has changed for the worse since the 1950s," according to a 2016 PRRI report.

In a December 2017 report, PRRI reported that evidence indicates American churches are highly segregated by party. "More than eight in ten (83%) Trump supporters who attend religious services at least weekly estimate that most of their fellow church members are supporting Trump," according to that report.

In the 2016 election, President Trump garnered just over 73 percent of the voters cast McDowell County; in neighboring Burke, Trump received 67 percent; and in adjacent Rutherford County, Trump amassed 72 percent of the ballots cast. When then candidate Trump visited a Lutheran-affiliated university in Hickory, N.C. – about 40 minutes from McDowell County – evangelical Christian voters turned out in mass to hear a candidate who went on to win 70 percent of the evangelical Christian vote nationwide in November 2016.

In the North Carolina 2016 general election, a Republican incumbent governor was unseated for the first time in the state's history and exit polls showed North Carolina's anti-LGBTQ HB2 legislation was a reason more than 60 percent of voters said they cast votes for winning candidate and now Gov. Roy Cooper. In McDowell County – like other western non urban counties – Cooper lost to the Republican incumbent and HB2 supporter by a 66- to 30-percent vote margin.

In addition to the McDowell County commissioner's comment that shackled his Christian religious views with a threat of violence toward transgender individuals, the county was at the forefront of North Carolina's SB2 legislation –which allowed county magistrates to opt out of performing their duty to issue marriage licenses to gay couples on the basis of religious belief. Two of the plaintiffs in a case that unsuccessfully challenged SB2 were from McDowell County, where all magistrates recused themselves after the state law was passed, requiring North Carolina to pay a magistrate to come several days a week from nearby Rutherford County. Only a fraction of magistrates statewide have recused themselves.

That certain religious belief was the same one McDowell Commission Chairman Walker cited in his refusal to sign the community-driven unity statement.

If LGBTQ support existent, it's largely invisible

If a county commission refuses to sign a community statement that merely mentions inclusion and respect for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans individuals, it may not be difficult to ascertain how oppressive the social climate in McDowell County can be for those individuals and their families. For trans individuals – judging from Commissioner McPeters' comment – it may very well be violently dangerous.

According to one mental health professional in the community, it means some are unable to experience life in the most meaningful and purposeful manner. Many hide their sexuality to friends, family and neighbors – a closeted existence that research has shown can produce devastating emotional, psychological and spiritual outcomes.

This writer spoke with one member of the LGBTQ community who had left McDowell County several years ago and who described life for LGBTQ individuals as somewhat desolate with little visible support in a county where unrelenting public animus has been expressed by county governing officials toward LGBTQ people. The person did not want to be quoted in the article.

The contrast between spiritually affirming congregations and nonaffirming churches is equally distinct in McDowell County.

In adjacent Buncombe County, last year's Blue Ridge Pride Festival touted 56 congregations supporting the LGBTQ festival. In McDowell County, there's not a single known congregation that fully and publicly affirms lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

Rev. Jacob Douylliez, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Marion.

Rev. Jacob Douylliez, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Marion, says he too was surprised to learn the McDowell County Board of Commissioners had used religious belief as a reason not sign a statement that speaks to one of Christ's more central teaching – love of your neighbor.

"If your theology does not allow you to stand against racism, it is time to change your theology," Douyilliez stated.

Marion's First Presbyterian Church is a member of the national Presbyterian Church USA, whose leadership has adopted policies that allow for the ordination of LGBTQ ministers and the celebration of same-sex marriages. Individual Presbyterian Church USA congregations may hold differing positions but many congregations are entirely welcoming and inclusive.

Douylliez recently preached a sermon in which he referenced a media controversy involving Chip and Joanna Gaines –the couple whose home restoration business is the subject of television show called "Fixer Upper." Douylliez in the sermon mentions how the couple came under fire in November 2016 because the evangelical Christian couple attend a nondenominational megachurch whose pastor preaches that homosexuality is sinful and that people can change their sexual orientation.

Research has shown that such negative religious views cause immense emotional, psychological and spiritual harm to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, especially youth and their families. All major medical associations have spoken out against conversion therapy – which some say is any message that says God wants gay people to be straight.

In January 2017, Chip Gaines wrote a blog entitled "New Year's Revelation" in which he stated: One of them is this: we care about you for the simple fact that you are a person, our neighbor on planet earth. It's not about what color your skin is, how much money you have in the bank, your political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender, nationality or faith.

Then in September of last year, the couple launched a new product line with retail giant Target. Many evangelical Christians criticized the couple for doing business with Target because the retailer allows transgender employees and customers to use restrooms and fitting rooms that best align with their gender identity.

Douylliez's sermon seemed to remind listeners that sometimes those you consider an adversary may turn out to be a strong ally.

In McDowell County, a number of residents interviewed for this article say there are unfortunately few visible allies for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

Economics an ally for social change

Pastor Douylliez says Marion, the county seat for McDowell County and one of its economic engines – has been attempting to reinvent itself. During a drive through an area of Marion where older "mill houses" dot the hillsides, he notes how the area – like many others in western North Carolina – has lost manufacturing jobs over the years.

Tourism is replacing the manufacturing jobs. Domestic tourism in McDowell County generated an economic impact of $50.76 million in 2013 (the most recent data), according to the N.C. Department of Commerce. That represented a 3.46 percent change from 2012 and a $18 million increase since 2003.

The data shows more than 400 jobs in McDowell County were directly attributable to travel and tourism. Travel generated a $7.37 million payroll in 2013 and state and local tax revenues from travel to McDowell County amounted to $4.40 million. That represented a $97.25 tax saving to each county resident.

Popular attractions include the Blue Ridge Parkway, Little Switzerland, Linville Gorge and Caverns, Lake James State Park, Pisgah National Forest and museums featuring the area's pioneers, Indian and mineral heritage.

At the McDowell County Commissioners meeting just a few weeks before Commissioner Walker refused to sign the unity statement, a developer had spoken before commissioners about a new development project in Marion. The project seeks to renovate a downtown building for a new events center. McDowell County commissioners have agreed to enter into a financial partnership with the city of Marion for the endeavor.

The developer made an impassioned plea about the need to bring tourists and others to Marion for special events and cited the need to draw those eastbound or westbound tourists on Interstate 40 into Marion with special events and downtown businesses.

Dawna Goode-Ledbetter believes that efforts like the community-based unity statement must be part of any equation that seeks to build on economic vitality. With a large number of city of Marion officials – including the mayor, city council members, police chief and downtown businesses – signing the unity statement, she believes those individuals understand the importance of projecting a community that is welcome to everyone.

Pastor Douylliez agrees that McDowell County serves as somewhat of microcosm for how economics can assert itself as an impetus for social change as seen in many incidents around the country where LGBTQ rights were fortressed by support from major businesses.

In Douylliez's sermon that mentioned the Chris and Joanna Gaines controversy, it could be suggested that the couple's business brand was part of the equation in distancing themselves from the harsh anti-LGBTQ position of their pastor.

And as Douylliez and other faith leaders surely understand, a vibrant economy allows congregants to support their churches' missions throughly week monetary support in the form of tithing.

Change in rural communities seems inevitable

Perhaps one of the most telling statements in terms of social change in McDowell County came from Goode-Ledbetter's surprise that no one had raised sexual orientation or gender identity as a reason not to sign the statement during the six months that the statement was being circulated.

While there is a glaring lack of support for LGBTQ individuals in the rural, conservative communities of McDowell County – especially visible support in faith communities – a host of data shows attitudes among a younger generation will bring inevitable change. No amount of concern among an older, white evangelical population seems capable of circumventing such demographic change.

After the McDowell News Feb. 12 article on Commissioner Walker's refusal to sign the unity statement, at least one McDowel County Commissioner issued a statement in sharp contrast to Walker's words:

"I stand behind the Constitution as it states, ‘all men are created equal,'" said Commissioner Matthew Crawford in a Feb. 15 email to The McDowell News. "I believe that all men and women deserve to be treated with the utmost respect. On December 1st, 2014 I signed an oath of office for County Commissioner of McDowell stating that I would uphold the United States Constitution and I will continue to honor that oath. I am a Christian, and I feel that Christian should treat everyone with respect."

While Commissioner Crawford's statement signaled a difference of opinion – particularly in relation to his chairman's use of the Christian faith – it also indicates the eventual social change in areas where racial and gender rights movements have made only moderate inroads.

Marcus Laws

Marcus Laws, 20, of McDowell County is an example of such horizonal change.

Laws said he has attended a Baptist church in McDowell County all his life but has a different religious perspective when it comes to interacting with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

Laws said he has a friend who is gay. He says the friend moved away from McDowell County to pursue his education. Laws said he too will likely move from the area to pursue further education and career pursuits.

While he has heard the traditional religious perspective on the "sin of homosexuality," Laws said he holds a different perspective in which he feels every individual must live their lives in a manner "that is best for you."

For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in rural areas such as McDowell County, their emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being not only depends but flourishes within a social climate that embraces that very concept.

What is best for them – according to data from medical fields, socio-economic fields and the religious field – are communities that "value and are committed to diversity, inclusivity, and respect for the integrity of all community members, regardless of race, disability, class, sexual orientation, gender, or religion," as the unity statement proclaims.

For motorists and tourists traveling Interstate 40 into McDowell County, a billboard proclaiming that commitment would present a unmistakeable contrast to the huge Confederate flag that flies on private property adjacent the highway near Exit 94.

For one, it is symbolism marred in centuries-old conflict over an immoral and unjust cause and the violence and hate that has produced conflicts such as the one in Charlottesville, Va. and the murder of innocent churchgoers in Charleston, S.C.

The other – the words behind the McDowell County communities' unity statement – is symbolism that reflects the very essence of Christian teaching.

Join EqualityNC on Thursday, April 12 at St. John's Episcopal Church in Marion for a Faith and Equality community dialogue. It's an opportunity for McDowell County communities to bring visibility to the affirming faith perspective and its positive outcomes for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgnder indivuduals, their families and community.
Using God to justify immoral causes

Motorists traveling west on Interstate 40 pass by this huge Confederate flag that flies on private property at Exit 94 alongside the four-lane highway. The 20-by-30-foot Confederate flag is part of a larger project by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to raise flags in every North Carolina county along Interstate 40, according to a Jan. 28 Raleigh News and Observer article.
“The more in detail that we receive the accounts of this victory...the more clearly do we perceive that this is God’s victory.” – Rev. Stephen Elliot, July 1961 sermon following Confederate Army's victory at Manassas Junction in Virginia

When McDowell County Commission Chairman David Walker said at a Feb. 12 public meeting that he would not sign a community-based unity statement because his religious beliefs about same-sex marriage, the message to those who hold similar beliefs was clear – he was speaking on behalf of God.

"My personal conviction, based upon the Bible, is that men marry women and women marry men so therefore I support everything but that one item and that is why personally I could never support that," he was quoted to say in an article in the McDowell News.

“Based upon the Bible” is a key phrase for understanding how Walker’s comments rest with like-minded evangelical Christians, many who still consider biblical passages as a direct and literal dictation from God.

When the state considered a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, Walker said at a commission meeting the amendment was needed to "preserve the family unit as defined by the word of God."

So for likeminded evangelical Christians, Walker citing the Bible was not only to justify his statement with scripture – but to communicate that his position was justified by God as author of that bible.

In the eyes of some Christians, sexual orientation and gay marriage might as well be synonymous. From a misguided and harmful perspective, God deems “homosexuality” sinful and a marriage that weds two people living a “sinful lifestyle” would be equally immoral.

Walker, and others who misuse religious teaching to judge and condemn, sees it as a cause – a cause in which an immoral social war against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals is justified as just and moral in the eyes of God.

America has a sad and long history of misusing religious teaching to justify immoral causes – genocide of Native Americans, enslaving African Americans and the subjugation of women.

In 1861, Rev. Stephen Elliot served as the Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Georgia. On Sunday, July 28 of that year, Elliot preached a sermon following the Confederate Army’s surprise victory one week earlier at Manassas Junction in Virginia.

Manassas Junction was the first major battle of the Civil War and the victory by Confederate forces signaled a long and bloody war was on the horizon.

In his sermon, Elliot spoke about how parishioners and other Christians living in the southern had asked God to show “His merciful favor and protection.”

“We truly believed that our cause was his cause…” Elliot stated in his sermon.

Elliot stated that the victory at Manassas Junction erased any doubt about God seeing their rebellion against the United States as a moral and just cause.

“The more in detail that we receive the accounts of this victory, the more that the smoke clears away from the scene of slaughter and of triumph, the more clearly do we perceive that this is God’s victory.”

Looking back from almost 160 later, it is difficult to imagine how a pastor such as Elliot and many other pastors and adherents to the Christian faith could have been so wrong about what they perceived as a just cause – their effort to defend the enslavement of fellow human beings.

That was in part because they could not see African Americans as possessing equal worth and dignity in the eyes of God.

When the Episcopal Church in 2008 made a formal apology for its role in supporting slavery, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori chose these words:

"We and they ignored the image of Christ in our neighbors."

Prejudice and bigotry seems to have a long history of allowing Christians to justify immoral causes with misguided religious teaching.

McDowell County County Commissioners Walker’s cause is one that seeks to deny the equal worth and dignity possessed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It prevents others from seeimg Christ in their neighbors.

History has shown people of faith that God indeed judges such causes as immoral and unjust.

Above, a large number of community members and advocates attended a Town Hall meeting in Asheville on Tuesday, March 13 to discuss creating supportive schools, homes and communities for LGBT youth. Pictured left, Todd Rosedahl, director of youth policy for EqualityNC and Time Out Youth, speaks with attendees at an informational table.
Religious belief cited as barrier to
suppportive environments for youth
When community members get together to discuss support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, religious belief is almost certain to be part of the conversations.

That was no exception Tuesday, March 13, at a Town Hall meeting organized by a number of local and state LGBTQ advocacy groups at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville. While the event was an opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics, panelists and audience members on several ocassions during the two-hour program referenced religious belief as a barrier.

The event was hosted by The Campaign for Southern Equality, Equality NC, Youth OUTRight, Tranzmission, and the Blue Ridge Pride Center.

The panelists for the event included Todd Rosendahl, youth policy director for EqualityNC and Time Out Youth; JaNesha Slaughter, Asheville Writers in the Schools; Libby Kyles, Youth Transformed for Life; Adrian Parra, Youth OUTright; Jenny Vial, Buncombe Partnership for Children; Melissa Wilson, School-based counselor and therapist; and Allison Scott, with the Campaign for Southern Equality.

Kyles, when commenting about challenges for LGBT youth in schools, homes and communities, said she often finds that certain religious belief about sexual orientation or gender identity can be a barrier to support.

Kyles said it can be difficult to navigate conversations when negative attitudes about sexual orientation and gender identity are in place because of certain religious belief. "You can lead a course to ease but you can't make them drink," she said.

And while those conversations involving unsupportive parents in particular may be difficult, Kyles stated her experience is that positive outcomes are possible, especially when approached with love and respect.
"People who aren't supportive are often hurting themselves," said Kyles, referencing how those parents genuinely care about their children and how parents themselves may be conflicted over certain church teaching and the health and well-being of their children.
"It's hard," said Kyle in an interview after the meeting. "They feel that have to choose between God and their child."

David Thompson, student services director for Buncombe County Schools and who was among town hall attendees, echoed that love and respect is paramount for LGBT youth in schools, homes and communities.

"Regardless of any personal belief, everyone should agree that all children deserve love and respect," Thompson stated.

Comments from two youth who attended the meeting and who spoke from the audience reminded everyone present of the importance of efforts by advocacy organizations and other individuals in the room to create supportive environments for others like them.

One young person stated she had been forced to attend several different schools because of bullying and harassment from peers. She said concerns had been expressed to administrators at the schools but she was told that nothing could be done.

Another young person stated that she also had experienced homophobia among teachers and even school counselors. She said there were some teachers who she was fearful of because of often overt homophobic statements.

Rosendahl, in his capacity as policy director for EqualityNC and Time Out Youth, offers training to educators across the state in developing policy and programs that promote supportive environments for LGBT youth. He reminded participants that all North Carolina public schools are required to adhere to anti-bullying and harassment policies and that such policies play a vital role in helping create those supportive environments.

One attendee at the meeting spoke toward the end of the meeting with a somber question: With North Carolina being a state that in 2016 adopted HB2 as one of the worst discriminatory pieces of legislation in the nation, did panelists believe that things are really changing for the better, she asked?

From the comments from the panel and audience, the answer was a resounding yes.

Thompson pointed to the adoption in November 2017 of a Buncombe County Schools policy that specifically addresses gender support guidelines.

It reads: "It is the policy of the Buncombe County Schools to maintain a safe and supportive school environment for all students free from harassment, intimidation, and/or bullying and free from discrimination due to actual or perceived race, color, creed, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship/immigration status, religion, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, or weight." You can read the policy here.

Allison Scott, who served as moderator for the town hall meeting, reminded the audience that while HB2 was a terrible piece of legislation, the end result has been a statewide mobilization of LGBTQ support and that those efforts continue today.

Tina White, executive director of Blue Ridge Pride and who was in attendance, noted that the organization has initiated a project that seeks to coalesce LGBT support among communities of faith in western North Carolina. Last year's Blue Ridge Pride Festival showcased some 52 congregations in Asheville and surrounding areas that supported the annual event.

One member of the audience identified himself as a deacon at a local Baptist church. He said his congregation was getting ready to enter a period of study on sexual orientation and gender identity and asked for resources to assist his fellow churchgoers with their endeavor.
According to a Dec. 14 article in the United Methodist News, a choir director at Trinity United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, N.C. was fired because of his sexual orientation. Kathy Flanagan, a member of Trinity and a friend of Mould, shares her moving story.

In a separate incident involving the United Methodist Church's violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexuak and transgender persons, a Tennessee pastor was dismissed from her post after oficiating a wedding ceremony for a longtime church member. That story follows Flanagan's story.
Heavy Is the Rainbow: Before You Speak Up, Know This.

Friend, neighbor, there’s something you need to know. You may be reading about what’s happening in the church right now and considering, “Should I speak out against the injustice that is occurring toward the LGBTQ+ community?” You may look at that gay church member sitting by himself in the pew – yes, that same pew in that same church building where that same member was baptized into your church body just a few years earlier – and feel overwhelming sadness at his solitude today. Perhaps you are now awakened by watching a fellow Christian spend more time negatively focusing on who someone else loves than the brokenness and sin that has taken up residence inside his very own household. Maybe you are feeling God’s call to stand up, open your mouth, and say, “Stop! This has to stop. He is God’s child too. Stop hurting him. Stop hurting me. You’re hurting ME when I see you doing this. STOP.”

Before you speak up, know this. The rainbow is heavy, my friend. What may appear so very simple on the surface is anything but. Four months ago, the glue that I thought was holding my future together began to disintegrate. You see, at this moment, I’m a Certified Candidate for Ordained Deacon in the United Methodist Church and a full-time student in a Master of Arts in Christian Practice cohort at Duke Divinity School. I say “at this moment” because, honestly, I don’t know what my future will look like now. I feel as if I’m tiptoeing across a tightrope that is balanced ever so precariously above something that I can’t adequately describe. Walking into this path towards candidacy for ministry, I had no idea that this tightrope, and what I fear I may fall into, even existed. I feel as though one side of my tightrope is held by my church’s senior pastor. He is the clergy member who first read my statement of call, the document I had to submit as that initial step into this world of ordained ministry. He was on the district’s committee that interviewed me the day that I became a certified candidate. Sadly, he was also the man who initiated the firing of Ryan Mould, our church’s Director of Children’s Choir, in October 2017, which set off a series of events that members of our church, and I, have thus far been unable to recover from. Surrounding him on that side of the rope are all the clergy members who share his beliefs. Someone in the far center holds both the Bible and the UMC Book of Discipline. On the other end of the tightrope on which I teeter, I see a vast variety of people. They are from all over, all colors, all shapes and sizes, handicapped and not, all socioeconomic statuses, all genders, orientations of every kind - just the way God created them. They are tired and weary, their faces look worn from years of neglect and exclusion. But what I notice about this side of the tightrope is most fascinating. I cannot see just one single person holding onto the rope as I did the other side, for the numbers are too great and the hands too numerous. This side of the rope is held by every person, not just one. Every single member of this side has some degree of responsibility in supporting its weight. They exist in community, even if they exist differently. By their hands, they are made one. By their love, they support one another.

Yes, that community of people is fictitious, they exist in my head. But they also exist in my heart.

Speaking of hearts, did I mention that it may be wise for you to prepare to have yours ripped out? As much as I want to apologize for the topic’s quick change, you’ll need to get used to these atmospheric mood drops at a second’s notice. One moment, you’re everyone’s friend. The next, an outcast. Before Ryan’s firing, I’m the pastor’s right hand. After Ryan’s firing, that same pastor refuses the communion I offer him during Sunday worship. Perhaps it was easy for him to shake his head “no” as I held up the body of Christ in offering, but it wasn’t as easy for me to accept. It especially wasn’t easy to watch him accept it from another lay member just a few moments later. Oh, how the hits just keep coming.

I remember that first public outcry against the injustice being much easier than I anticipated. It felt freeing. It felt courageous. And it was. It was what happened afterwards that, unfortunately, I didn’t really expect. You see, to them, I represent the troublemaker. While I spoke out against the injustice that was done against a fellow church member, the firing of Ryan Mould because he was gay; to the congregation, I am something very different. I am the woman who spoke out publicly against their pastor. You may as well hang a scarlet ‘B’ around my neck, for ‘Blogger,’ while you’re at it. To them, I am the one who represents the start of the resistance against the silence.

It started off subtly. People who used to come up to my husband and me at church to share a handshake or hug no longer did. A “Good morning” I offered as I passed in the hallway went unreturned. Retorts on social media became more aggressive. One morning I happened to notice that three empty pews separated the pew that my family and Ryan Mould sat in from the rest of the congregation on that side. It was as if we had become contaminated with something. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that my fellow parishioners had a concern that Ryan’s homosexuality had now infected us, leaving those three empty rows as some sort of protective barrier against that potentially contagious and pesky gay bug.

Things became even more complicated. Repeated pleas for reconciliation through multiple channels went unheard. Silence led to deep bitterness. It became obvious that there was a concerted effort to put the right people in positions where those who were willing to speak out against injustice were either silenced or simply not heard. Member after member stepped down from council and committee positions and their longtime volunteer records came to abrupt endings. But the difference in what they chose to do and what I chose is that they chose to do it quietly. I did not. I resigned a position I held as Church Council Secretary in the January 2018 meeting and read my resignation letter aloud with the request that it be read into the meeting minutes. In my resignation letter, I was candid with my reasons for stepping down. I voiced my concern that we, as a congregation, were divided because of this injustice and our senior pastor was blatantly caring for only one segment of his flock and ignoring the other. I looked him in the eye and called for reconciliation. I received no response. Within minutes of my resignation, I was replaced and I left that evening without a single word of thanks after two years of service in that position. And as of this writing, I still have yet to have received one single word of appreciation from the church’s administration.

However, the deepest hurt I’ve experienced through this hasn’t come at the hands of the pastor who initiated Ryan’s firing back in October. It was what I heard another member say about me that evening when I read my resignation letter aloud to Church Council that hurt me the most. “I could see the hate coming out of her eyes,” she said. The words startled me. How sad it is that such a profound plea for the church to embrace all of God’s children with the one true emotion that spoke creation into existence could be confused with its very opposite. My mind spun in circles as I tried to reconcile how she could perceive what I said, my intention, or even my facial expression as hate. Yet in that moment, I was reminded of how many times Jesus turns away those who He never “knew.” Sure, if this woman thought she saw hate coming from my eyes, she too, sadly, never knew me either.

The rainbow, it’s heavy, my friend. My heart aches for Ryan and everyone else out there like Ryan who hurts in silence. Supporters come out fighting and plentiful sometimes, but given a few weeks, you’ll wonder where everyone went. I’ve heard that there’s some “big middle” of our congregation who don’t really know what to believe about homosexuality but “feel really bad” for Ryan. My response is simple. If your heart hurts, say something about it.

But friend, be ready. The sting of the unexpected is strong.

I feel like I’ve been through a trauma, on the church’s watch. I catch myself sometimes taking a slow, deep breath before I open my front door to leave on my way to church. Anxiety. My heart pounds at the thought of having to walk into the building where I once found such solace and felt so loved. I never thought that I would feel like my church has given me PTSD. And then, I remind myself, if I feel this way, God help those like Ryan, who have lost their jobs and their dignity, yet they continue to come to this building to worship because their God is bigger than the small people who have boxed them into these pathetic earthly circumstances. The church’s walls are only so big, but God’s love has no walls and no boundaries and that’s where , my friend, that’s where ALL are welcome indeed.

Perhaps I should look at what’s happened with our church more like the death of a friend, a friend upon whom I relied. I cherished that friend. I expected that friend to be with me in this future called ministry. But with everything, there is a season. I’m thankful that my friend was there when I began my journey into ministry... and I’m also thankful that it served its purpose in helping me flesh out what God’s call is on my life. For through this, my eyes are opened to an entirely new and beautiful circle of friends who God uses as instruments of spiritual nourishment and growth in ways I never before could have imagined.

Know this. The rainbow is heavy. But Christ’s yolk is light. And this task of speaking up and speaking out for what is right, what is just, and what is love, will always be the toughest.... yet the highest calling.

Grace and peace to ALL God’s children under that vast and glorious rainbow.

Kathy Flanagan
Tennessee pastor fired

for officiating wedding

Read her powerful first-person account at Reconciling Minitries Newtork's blog.
LGBT Health Awareness Week aims to bring attention to the devastating cycle of discrimination and health disparities that affects the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Because LGBT people are regularly discriminated against in employment, relationship recognition and insurance coverage, they are more likely to get sick and less likely to be able to afford vital health care than their straight and non-transgender neighbors.

LGBT people and their families also experience high rates of anti-LGBT violence, the stress of coping with discrimination and a widespread lack of LGBT cultural competency in the health care system. This year’s LGBT Health Awareness Week theme, “Come Out for Health,” encourages LGBT people, health care providers and policymakers to work together to eliminate the health disparities affecting the LGBT community and to promote better health and well-being for all LGBT people and their families.
Visit the National Coalition of LGBT Health
N.C. Faith Forward coalition to convene Uniting For Our Future gathering

Hosted by the NC Faith Forward Coalition on May 4-5 at Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity, Uniting for Our Future is a multi-movement gathering of progressive thinkers — artists, activists, organizers, educators, faith leaders, and changemakers — who are working to heal the personal and political wounds facing their communities today.

The mission of this gathering is to equip people with a wide range of tools — cultural, artistic, emotional, spiritual, and practical — to do movement work in a joyful, impactful, sustainable way.

Uniting for Our Future is an opportunity for progressive faith leaders, social justice movement organizations and individuals to come together under the leadership of youth, elders, and individuals who identify as LGBTQ, POC, poor, and or immigrant. Through arts and culture, dialogue, and peer-to-peer education, this gathering seeks to uplift the voices of the most vulnerable and unite the visions for a just and inclusive future for all North Carolinians.

Workshops and presentations will include faith-based advocacy, racial and gender justice, issues facing LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ health, voter education and media training.

“We are gathering to learn from each other, to make the connections that help us increase our power, and to share strategies that are necessary to fight for liberation without sacrificing our wellness and joy in the process," said Jamila Reddy, with the Freedom Center for Social Justice in Charlotte. "Recognizing that systems of oppression are rooted in toxic social constructions of gender, sexual orientation, class, race, ability, and 'normalcy,' we want to send a loud and clear message to North Carolina policymakers that we are writing a different story.”
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 with comments or suggestion for stories from within your faith community.
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