By Elisabeth Arriero and April Bethea
Posted: Monday, Mar. 26, 2012
Hoping to rally support in Charlotte’s faith community, more than 30 religious leaders used weekend services to speak against a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the state.
The campaign served as a prelude to a news conference today where members of the coalition, Clergy for Equality, will speak about the harm they believe the amendment would bring to all families.
In services throughout the city during the weekend, faith leaders denounced Amendment One as fear-based discrimination that runs contrary to their beliefs.
“Baptists were persecuted and so their heart went out to other persecuted people,” the Rev. Chris Ayers, pastor of Wedgewood Baptist Church near SouthPark, told his congregation Sunday. “Shame on Baptists for not knowing their history. And shame on Baptists who support Amendment One.”
Meanwhile, proponents of Amendment One say opposition is a small, but vocal, minority.
“I don’t think the division is as broad as perhaps those opposed to the amendment would like for folks to think,” said Rev. Mark Harris of First Baptist Church in Charlotte.
Amendment One will be on the ballot in the May 8 primary election.
During the Sunday service at Wedgewood Baptist Church, bright blue T-shirts with “I’m Voting Against Amendment One” in bold letters were draped throughout the sanctuary, available to parishioners at a nominal fee.
During his sermon, Ayers told the more than 50 parishioners who attended that to be a Christian means more than just knowing what is in the Bible. Instead, it involves loving all people the way Jesus Christ loved them.
“The fulfillment of the scripture is the love of God and loving your neighbor,” Ayers said.
Wedgewood parishioner Charles Adams said he was proud to be a part of a church that embraces people from all walks of life.
“I believe everyone should be treated equally,” he said. He added that he believes some churches are using Christianity and the Bible as validation for bigotry.
At Caldwell Presbyterian Church, the Rev. John Cleghorn compared the discrimination that blacks faced to the current struggles of those in same-sex relationships.
He pointed out that Caldwell’s leadership opposed accepting African-Americans into its membership in the 1950s, before reversing that decision seven years later.
In his message Sunday, Cleghorn called Amendment One “yet another act of aggressive oppression from yet another broken system, that of homophobia.”
“And maybe one day in the not-so-distant future, we will look back and see that society woke up to recognize the full humanity of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters just as it has with others who have been put down by wrong systems and institutions in the past.”
Harris called the use of the word homophobic to describe supporters of the constitutional amendment “a very strong misstatement, in my personal opinion.”
He said the proposal does not mention homosexuality and instead protects the traditional Biblical definition of marriage. He also downplayed the strength of the opposition.
Harris, who is president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, said there is an overwhelming and increasing number of congregations that support the amendment, though not all seek the publicity.
The 4,300-church convention passed a resolution in November supporting the amendment’s passage. Meanwhile, in January, Bishop Peter Jugis of the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte and his Raleigh counterpart distributed letters to parishioners urging their support of the constitutional amendment.
An Elon University/Charlotte Observer poll released March 9 found that 54 percent of North Carolinians interviewed opposed the constitutional amendment, and 38 percent supported it.
But a more recent poll released last Wednesday by WRAL-TV of Raleigh found that 58 percent of likely voters across the state support the referendum. The poll showed 36 percent of voters opposed the amendment, and 6 percent were undecided.