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Religious Peace Among Amendment One Controversy

By Kerri Weatherly

May 4, 2012. For Appalachian State University sophomore Alex McCall, Amendment One is more than some political issue. It is more than a religious issue, more than just voting, and more than simply reinstating the definition of marriage. For McCall, it is not about a divide in the Christian faith, but an attack on his freedom.

“I was raised to believe that God loves everyone,” said McCall, who is gay and no longer considers himself a Christian. “Christian people act like everything is an attack on their beliefs – or that they’re oppressed. They’re not oppressed. In fact, Christians are often the oppressors, and that’s what I find to be most heartbreaking.”

While McCall’s experience with Christians has been mostly negative, there are denominations and churches within Christianity that are against the amendment and are fighting for marriage equality.

North Carolinians will be voting on May 8 for or against the amendment, which will outline marriage between one man and one woman as the only legal union in the state.

This issue is highly political, but resounds the loudest from pulpits in churches. Christianity is divided on the issue, and both sides are arguing biblical reasoning for their stance. And so, church and state meet again.

The Facts

Both pastors who support and oppose the amendment agreed that there is a lot of confusion among voters as to what the amendment really is and what it will do. A recent poll by Public Policy Polling (PPP) found that many North Carolinians who plan to vote are unaware of what the amendment really means.

According to the poll, 7 percent of those polled think the amendment will legalize gay marriage, 28 percent think that it only bans gay marriage, 34 percent admit that they do not know what it does, and 31 percent actually know that it will ban both gay marriage and civil unions. A recent Elon University poll found that 61 percent of North Carolinians are opposed to the amendment.

While the main focus of the Amendment One controversy has been the issue of gay marriage, there is more to the amendment.

According to Senate Bill 514, referred to as Amendments One, “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

The amendment does not address specific changes that will be made if it is passed. Speculations about possible ramifications range from healthcare changes to issues for unmarried straight couples with children.

Religious leaders from both sides of the issue have held educational meetings about Amendment One and the potential consequences, whether is passes or fails. The true impacts of the amendment, however, cannot truly be known unless it is passed.

Pro-Amendment One voices

Bud Russell, associate pastor at Mount Vernon Baptist Church and pro-Amendment One activist, argued that if the amendment passes, it will not change anything in the North Carolina government. He said that it will simply affirm what is already law – that the only valid marriages and unions in North Carolina are between one man and one woman.

“I don’t understand what all the noise is about anyway,” Russell said. “This amendment won’t cost people their jobs. The amendment clearly states that it won’t stop people from any kind of contract. You can write up whatever kind of contract you want, you just can’t get married.”

Russell said that there are homosexual couples who bring their children to Mount Vernon’s events, and that they are treated the same as everyone else and always welcomed back.

“Do I respect the fact that they can make a decision? Yes,” Russell said. “Do I agree? No. Do we want them to keep coming? Absolutely.”

Russell argued that if the amendment fails and gay marriage is ever legalized, it would give way to other things like polygamy, higher divorce rates, and psychological problems for children raised by homosexual couples. He also discussed other marriage and family-related issues like teen pregnancies, single parents, divorce and adultery.

“This is the most important vote I’ve ever cast,” Russell said. “There’s no presidential vote I’ve cared about as much or that affects me as much.”

George Wright, pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church and moderator of the Three Forks Baptist Association had a simple argument. According to Genesis, in the beginning, God created man and woman.

“I dispute any teaching, therefore, that reasons the only prerequisite for a civil union is a loving and committed relationship,” Wright said. “Loving and committed relationships ought to abound, but the uniqueness of human sexuality is to be kept in marriage between one man and one woman.”

Even with their firm opinions on Amendment One, both Russell and Wright asserted their intention to love people and to be an example of Christ.

“We want to earn the right to be heard through the way we love them,” Russell said. “You can be right by scripture and wrong in heart. We want to be right in both.”

Anti-Amendment One voices

Shelly Wilson, pastor of the High Country United Church of Christ, also argues biblical reasons for her stand – but she is anti-Amendment One.

“I see the example of Jesus who never excluded anyone,” Wilson said. “The Bible says he even cared for the sparrows. He advocated for the poor and brought healing to the sick. He met the woman at the well and didn’t let people stone her – he told them not to judge her.”

Wilson argued that she and her church felt called to respond to this social issue, and that the United Church of Christ works for peace and justice.

“Jesus was non-violent, but he responded to persecution and wasn’t a wimp about it,” Wilson said. “He was always acting in behalf of the poor, the sick, the socially outcast – his job was to bring healing, not to make life harder for people. That just wasn’t his gig – it’s not ours either.”

Wilson argued that Amendment One would be a step backward for the church and that it would close doors instead of opening them.

Glenda Hubbard, president of the Boone Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and active anti-Amendment One leader in Boone agreed, saying that the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) has endorsed gay marriage since 1984.

“You just don’t let everyone vote on rights of the minority,” Hubbard said. “If we had voted on slavery, there would still be slavery today.”

In recent weeks, High Country United Church of Christ and the Boone Unitarian Universalist Fellowship released a series of advertisements in local newspapers. These advertisements mainly featured straight, married couples that are against the amendment.

Since releasing these advertisements, Wilson said her church has had a lot of visitors. She said many of the visitors have said they want their children to grow up in a church where everyone is always welcome.

Wilson also said that her church has received emails from all over the country written by people who had been outcast because of their sexuality.

“We’ve gotten emails from people saying that we gave them hope, or that we restored their hope in God and in Christianity,” Wilson said. “All kinds of stories. And it’s a crazy feeling – thinking that you may have just saved someone’s life.”

Wilson and Hubbard are both hopeful the amendment will fail, but know that they can only spread the word and wait patiently.

“No one can prove the true impacts of this amendment,” Hubbard said. “We can predict, but we won’t know until whatever happens, happens. But I know one thing – I’m sure if Christ were in North Carolina now, he’d vote against this amendment.”

Words of peace

Russell argued that opposing sides within the church can “agree to disagree and still be agreeable.”

“We don’t want to throw rocks at anyone,” Russell said. “We all fall short. But we want to look at the Bible as a whole, not just parts of it. If we can state facts and truth, that’s one thing – we don’t want to be ugly, rude, cruel or spiteful.”

Russell’s peaceful statement about the other side was not the only one from these religious leaders.

“What I know is true is that people working for or against Amendment One from a religious standpoint believe they are upholding God’s law,” Wilson said.

A common theme among these religious leaders was kind, respectful intent.

“All the big religions of the world start out with kindness and compassion,” Hubbard said. “And then people carry it too far and all kinds of things happen.”

Both Wilson and Hubbard said they have no prediction for the outcome of the vote, but Russell had no doubt that the amendment will pass.

McCall plans to vote against Amendment One to protect his freedoms and to fight for marriage equality.

“Honestly, I’m an optimistic person, and I’d love to have an idealistic outlook on this vote and say that the amendment will fail,” McCall said. “Unfortunately, I doubt that’s what will happen. I think our generation will make a big turnout at the polls, but sadly, I don’t think it’ll be enough.”