Originally published: July 20, 2012, 10:25 a.m.
Updated: July 22, 2012, 2:06 p.m.
Read the latest update: Protesters and street preachers with the anti-gay and anti-choice Operation Save America were outnumbered this morning at three churches’ worship services in Concord, N.C., a suburb minutes outside of Charlotte. Read the rest of the article…
CHARLOTTE — Three churches outside of Charlotte and Charlotte’s gay-friendly Myers Park Baptist Church are preparing to face a group of anti-gay protesters during their services today. The protests at Myers Park and the Concord, N.C., Trinity United Church of Christ, Central United Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church will be held simultaneously by the locally-based Operation Save America.
The protests are part of the group’s national annual gathering, “The King is Coming.” Street preacher Flip Benham, who leads the group, is known locally and nationally for his anti-gay and anti-choice protests at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) churches and events and at women’s health clinics.
Benham insists his group will not be “protesting.”
“There will be no protest,” he told qnotes. “There’s going to be a small proclamation. We’re not protesting. We’re gospel proclaimers and that’s what we do.”
Concord’s Trinity United Church of Christ says it has a “plan for peace” during the anti-gay protests of their church today. In a message to supporters on Facebook, the church said they are expecting 15-20 protesters with amplified sound. The protesters will likely be handing out pamphlets, as well.Concord police officers will be on hand and church members and worship attendees are encouraged to ignore the protesters. The church is responding to the protest with banners and balloons on the front of their church.”Our message is ‘God is Love. Love is Love and everyone who loves is a child of God,'” the church said. “Honor our message by ignoring the protestors. Let the banners and balloons and joyous laughter speak for us. Stay clear of the protesters.”
On Friday morning, Benham confirmed his group would protest at Trinity, though he initially declined to say which other churches would be targeted.
Protest notices filed with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department show that Operation Save America has reserved an amplified sound permit and picket notification for two locations near the LGBT-friendly Myers Park Baptist Church at 1501 Queens Rd. and 1900 Queens Rd.
Asked about Myers Park on Friday afternoon, Benham confirmed his group would be there.
“Myers Park Baptist and Trinity United Church of Christ are over the cliff — they’re no more Christian than they are poached eggs,” Benham said. “However, there are mainline denominations that are rapidly sliding toward the same point as Myers Park and Trinity. Those are the churches we are going after.”
Benham again declined to name the other churches. But, sources close to the churches say that Concord’s Central United Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church, each within one block of Trinity, are also expecting protests from Operation Save America.
The anti-gay and anti-choice street preaching group protested outside of Myers Park Baptist and the conservative Central Church of God during their national gathering in Charlotte in 2010. The group also held a “Mosque Outreach” that year.
Police officials said Central Church of God has reserved their own amplified sound permit near their property. Benham said he was not targeting any evangelical church this year.
Other permits for street preaching or gospel preaching issued for Sunday in Charlotte include an amplified sound permit for the corner of Trade and Tryon Sts. in Uptown.
Benham said his group is preparing for their activities during this year’s 2012 Democratic National Convention, slated for Charlotte, Sept. 4-6.
“Because of the DNC, we’re plowing some ground to get ready,” he said. “Some of that ground that needs to be plowed might be right here in Concord under our noses.”
He said his members will be “at the gates of hell” during the convention.
“There are some abortionists in town that people don’t know are abortionists,” Benham said. “We want to make sure everybody knows who they are so they can talk with them and pray for them.”
Last July, Benham was convicted of stalking a local abortion doctor with hundreds of signs targeting local doctors. The signs listed the doctors’ names and photos and said, “”Wanted … By Christ, to Stop Killing Babies.” He was sentenced to 18 months probation and ordered to stop his intimidation.
Benham’s twin sons, David and Jason, are planning a fast leading up to a large-scale prayer event at Verizon Amphitheater in Charlotte on Sept. 2.
Trinity member Todd Adrian said he learned of a potential protest on Thursday evening, though at the time he didn’t know who was planning the event.
“I got the call at work last night,” he said. “It literally had a physical effect. I was sick to my stomach. All those feelings just came back to the surface.”
Adrian says he was raised Baptist and at one time felt unwelcome by the church. He found a new home at Trinity, where he’s been a member for several years and has served as a deacon.
This Sunday, Trinity will host their vacation bible school. Adrian said he was concerned for the well-being of the church’s children.
Benham says he’s more concerned with how Adrian’s church treats young people.
“We would never hurt a child,” Benham said. “It’s terrible what you all do to kids. We don’t know what you all do with those kids in vacation bible school. They’re God’s children, not ours.”
The protest on Sunday is unfortunate, Adrian said, given Trinity’s long record of community service. He says the church hosts free meals once a month, donates products to food pantries, hosts an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and a support group for LGBT young people since Cabarrus County schools have no gay-straight alliances or other LGBT student groups.
“These are good people and they pour out so much love on the community,” Adrian said of Trinity members. “It sucks that a few people who don’t agree with our openness and welcome of gay and lesbian people, that they have to do this to us. It’s like seeing the person you love being attacked. It’s uncalled for and unnecessary.”
A call to Trinity pastor Nathan King was unreturned at the time of this story’s publication.
Trinity has been targeted recently by small groups of other protesters. A father and young son protested there twice in June.
Pro-choice and women’s groups have also voiced concerns about Benham’s planned national gathering and are urging supporters to help defend women’s access to health clinics during Operation Save America’s week-long event, July 21-28.