Over 200 Upstate area residents gathered at Greenville Technical College to participate in the town hall forum.
GREENVILLE, S.C. — On Nov. 13, Faith in America (FIA) wrapped up their “Call to Courage” media campaign by hosting a town hall forum and panel discussion at Greenville Technical College.
Through coordinated print, radio and television advertising, FIA is working to create LGBT support in key political areas across the country. Greenville was the organization’s second stop, after Ames, Iowa. FIA was founded by N.C. businessman Mitchell Gold and is headed by longtime LGBT clergy advocate Jimmy Creech.
At the town hall forum — attended by well over 200 people from around the Upstate area — two ministers, a parent of three gay children and a lesbian student leader were given the opportunity to share their life experiences with the audience.
The Rev. Dr. Bennie Colclough, an African-American minister, pastor of Providence Christian Church in Manning, S.C., and the co-chair of the South Carolina Progressive Network, spoke on issues of overall justice and equality based in biblical faith. He also spoke of how the Bible has been used to justify every sort of human oppression, including slavery, the subjugation of women and discrimination against Jewish people.
“If we make it clear that God, and God alone, is judge, then there really is no room for religious bigotry,” Colclough said. “Religious bigotry is morally and universally wrong.”
The Rev. David Gillespie, an author and director of faith development at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spartanburg, spoke about his dismissal from the Presbyterian Church and his views on where religion belongs in society.
The Rev. Dr. Bennie Colclough spoke to the audience about biblical justice and equality.
“Our particular religious views should never be enshrined in public policy and that is what South Carolina has done with the marriage amendment,” he told the crowd. “When we enshrine our particular doctrines in public policy, that is the definition of religious bigotry.”
Margie Candler, a former Regional Director for the national office of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and former president of PFLAG Greenville, spoke about her personal journey of accepting all three of her gay children.
She shared how one day she found a slip of paper in a plant in her living room. She opened it up and read a note from her middle son that said he was gay and that he hoped his letter wasn’t found until he was 18 years old and out of the house.
Her son had placed the note there when he was 11, Candler said. She found it when he was 15.
Candler admitted that the journey toward accepting her first openly gay child was a tough one. She recounted visits with religious leaders, therapists and others. Eventually she figured out that her child wasn’t going to change, and didn’t have to.
“Our children are never the ones who need to change,” she said. “Society needs to change… If society really sought to follow God, we’d follow Jesus’ call for love and acceptance.”
In closing, Candler implored the audience to go into the community and start a dialogue. “Through silence,” she said, “we give ourselves permission to ignore the things we deplore.”
Ivy Hill, a student at Greenville Technical College and president of the campus’ Lambda Gay-Straight Alliance, related her experiences with exorcisms for what her family called the “demon of homosexuality.”
“I’ve had people anoint me with oil while somebody tries to cast demons of homosexuality out of me” Hill said. “I’ve had some people tell me that some people are just meant to be single. My youth minister went behind my back and told my friends that it was sinful to hang out with homosexuals. I would call that religious bigotry.”
She said LGBT equality is “truly a matter of liberty and progress” and added that her greatest hope is that, even in disagreement, the community could come to love and accept all it members.
Elke Kennedy and James Parker listened while a local minister questioned the motives behind their political activism following the fatal gay-bashing of their son.
“I hope for a society more like mayonnaise,” Hill added with a soft laugh. “The two main ingredients in mayonnaise are oil and water. Which is weird because oil and water don’t mix when you put them together. The cool thing about mayonnaise is that you have eggs in there that work to bring the oil and water together and we get this wonderful mayonnaise. That is what I hope we can be, and thanks to Faith in America for being those eggs.”
About two-dozen attendees rose at the end of the forum to participate in the Q&A/comment segment. While the majority of comments were LGBT supportive, the negative statements remained powerful in their scope and condemnation.
Ron White, a Greenville resident, said, “I find that God has some guidelines for us to live by. It is more important to protect society as a whole rather than the individual. Unfortunately, certain lifestyles bring certain effects in society. You can go back in history and you see what has happened to different societies. You can look at diseases and molestation of children.”
White equated homosexuality to alcoholism, drug addiction, adultery, fornication and abortion. He closed by stating that LGBT people are simply participating in a bad “habit” or “behavior.”
A lesbian in the audience responded, “We are always grouped with drug addicts and molesters. We are not bad habits and we don’t have bad habits any more than straight people have bad habits. I don’t consider the person I love to be a bad habit.”
An African-American woman said humans should quit playing God: “God judges the heart of man not the flesh and man judges the flesh and not the heart. Thank God people are not God!”
Two weeks before the forum, Kevin Boling, pastor of Mountain Bridge Bible Fellowship Church in Travelers Rest, S.C., and co-host of a daily call-in Christian radio show, joined with other evangelical ministers to oppose the “Call to Courage” campaign. They presented a seminar with an “ex-gay” leader to defend their position.
At the FIA town hall meeting, Boling charged organizers and the forum panelists with “church bashing.”
“This group seems to be a lot about tolerance, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of tolerance for people who hold a different opinion,” he said. “If all of these stories [from the panelists] are accurate and people felt that others were intolerant against them in the church, then this is little more than a church bashing session here tonight. You are characterizing the church in a false way.
The Rev. Kevin Boling spoke at length about how he felt LGBT activists were ‘bashing’ Christians.
“Jimmy Creech and a lot of people here tonight have made the inference that the church is responsible for Sean Kennedy’s death. Sean Kennedy was killed out in front of a bar by a man who came out of the bar. What does the Christian community have to do with that? Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., was killed by two men who came out of the bar with him. If your beef is with anybody, it isn’t with the church. It is with people who own bars.”
Boling added that he prays for Sean Kennedy’s family and that he believes they are being used by gay activists. “To tell you the truth, I would not use them in this political capacity, the way that i feel they are being used here. I think that is out of bounds.”
The young, gray-haired pastor’s remarks elicited a mix of disdain, laughter and jeers from audience members. After he had spent an extended amount of time at the mic, some audience members began to call out “Next!” trying to move the speakers’ line forward.
After the forum, Mitchell Gold told Q-Notes that the response to the South Carolina campaign was overwhelming and that he felt Faith in America had made a difference during their six weeks of work.
FIA is also coordinating “Call to Courage” campaigns in New Hampshire, Nevada and Florida.