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Alliance Hosts Press Conference for Religious Liberty, June 5, 2014
Our press conference today showed the spirit of the Alliance and our commitment to justice and religious liberty for all people. We are grateful for our speakers. Below is a
transcript of the statements made by our speakers as well as contact information for the June 5, 2014 press conference.
Rev. Leah Grundset Davis
Communications Specialist, Alliance of Baptists
Why the Alliance of Baptists has Become a Plaintiff
Rev. Dr. Michael D. Castle
President of the Alliance of Baptists, Senior Pastor – Harmony Creek Church
(A United Church of Christ and Alliance of Baptists Community)
Rev. April Baker
Vice-President of the Alliance of Baptists
Pastor – Glendale Baptist Church
(An Alliance of Baptists Affiliated Congregation)
Good afternoon everyone. It is an honor for me to add my words of gratitude to all of you for your presence here today. We gather today to share a few words and perspectives about why we, as the Alliance of Baptists, are joining the United Church of Christ, our sisters and brothers in the faith and our ecumenical Partners in Mission and Ministry, as well as a number of other plaintiffs, in their legal action against the State of North Carolina.
We do not take entering into legal action lightly. We hold ourselves to a covenant in which we commit ourselves to “The proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ and the calling of God to all peoples to repentance and faith, reconciliation and hope, social and economic justice” and to the “principle of a free church in a free state and the opposition to any effort either by church or state to use the other for its own purposes.”
As followers of Jesus, we act out of a deep conviction that the way of love and justice that Jesus lived and taught is our best means of ordering our common life. Love demands that we speak and act when people are being harmed. Justice demands that we stand for the liberty and fair treatment of all people when that liberty and equality is threatened. So today we take action, not out of any sense of political correctness or any need for political grandstanding, but out of our deeply held commitment to God’s love and justice as we experience it and understand it, calling the state of North Carolina to be accountable to its citizens, providing for their equal treatment under the law and protecting their liberties.
We also act out of our heritage as Baptists whose forebears were ostracized, tortured, and even put to death for the cause of religious liberty. To require a license from the state for a congregation to observe one of its fundamental rituals is an unpalatable intrusion of the state into the life of a congregation. Allowing the marriage of two people of the same sex might be contrary to the beliefs of some religious groups, but it does not restrict their right to the free exercise of their faith or require them to observe any ritual contrary to their beliefs. As Baptists we would stand solidly for the rights of all, even those with whom we disagree, for our freedom is not built upon conformity, rather it is based in respect for and value of the diversity that makes us a stronger state, a stronger nation, a stronger people.
Thus, we join the other plaintiffs in this lawsuit, adding our Baptist voice to those who hold with great care, wisdom and courage, a commitment to love, justice, and equality and who value our great American principle of religious freedom.
Today, we present to you a number of our Alliance of Baptists constituency who live, work and worship in the Great State of North Carolina. Hear them speak the values we share…the commitments which give us cause to boldly stand today with the United Church of Christ (and a number of other organizations, clergy men and women and other individuals) in becoming a plaintiff in this federal lawsuit.
Religious Liberty Implications of this Lawsuit
Rev. Dr. Gary West
Pastor -- Grace Baptist Church
(An Alliance-Affiliated Congregation)
Phone: (704) 682-1767,
I am a “recovering Baptist.” That expression of self-identification came about in the late 1970’s following a process of life-long conditioning in a particular religious
denomination. My observations at that time reflected something increasingly troublesome, reckless, and unlike the spirit of the Jesus I was called to follow. So I started the very arduous process of disentangling from some of my past, especially in matters of interpretation and social understandings. Challenged and assisted in this process by some remarkable teachers, mentors, and friends I journeyed with some fellow “recovering Baptists” and a host of other people in the wider ecumenical church.
My recovery did not necessitate the tossing aside of everything I had once held dear. Chief among those retained values was the historic Baptist principle of religious freedom. I honor and respect it to this very moment; indeed, that thirst for freedom is the reason for being here today.
The work of applying religious freedom is never done. We realize that not only do we often fail the Biblical mandate of the Great Commandment (“Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself”), we don’t even live up to our own national pledge. “With liberty and justice for all” are incredibly powerful words. But we know that they are not always equally applied.
Our nation has walked down the long, sordid road of bigotry before. Many of us do not want to continue that ugly trek. The present state constitution denies the right of two people of the same sex who love and are committed to each other the possibility of solidifying that relationship in marriage. That same constitution denies those of us in vocations of religious leadership to officiate the ceremony creating such union. Today we are here to announce that we will fight against that legalized bigotry. The Alliance of Baptists will continue to stand for religious liberty….not just for us but for everyone in North Carolina and our nation.
The dominos are beginning to fall. We join today to hasten that process.
Legal Background to this Lawsuit
Stephen T. Smith
Attorney -- McMillan & Smith
Legal Counsel to the Alliance of Baptists
Member of the Alliance of Baptists
Member of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church
(An Alliance-Affiliated Congregation)
Office Phone: 919-821-5124.
Mobile Phone: 919-612-0356
This week, the Alliance of Baptists joins the United Church of Christ and others in pursuing legal relief in U.S. District Court from the unacceptable and unconstitutional intrusiveness of North Carolina’s marriage laws into the religious beliefs, practices and lives of the Alliance of Baptists, its member clergy and its member congregations.
The North Carolina marriage laws –
Article XIV, §6 of the Constitution of North Carolina (known as “Amendment One”) and N.C. General Statutes §§ 51-1, 51-1.2, 51-6, 51-7 define marriage as exclusively between opposite sex couples and preclude – through the imposition of criminal penalties and otherwise – performing a ceremony of marriage for same sex couples.
Violation of free exercise of religion –
These N.C. marriage laws violate the religious rights of the Alliance of Baptists, its member clergy and its member congregations as guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, by:
- Precluding them from performing religious rites that solemnize the union of same sex congregant couples on an equal basis as opposite sex couples without fear of criminal prosecution and civil penalty.
- Prohibiting clergy who are members of the Alliance of Baptists from solemnizing a same sex marriage in accordance with beliefs of the Alliance of Baptists by blessing that relationship in the eyes of God.
- Precluding the ability of Alliance of Baptists clergy and congregants from participating in one of the fundamental aspects of their religious tradition.
- Placing an excessive burden on member clergy in discharging their religious duties and thus having a chilling effect on the free exercise of their faith.
Violation of Due Process of Law –
In addition, under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, marriage is a fundamental right. Choices about marriage are a central part of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause. The North Carolina marriage laws deny the Alliance of Baptists, its member clergy, and its member congregations this fundamental right by denying them access to the state- recognized institution of marriage.
Violation of equal protection of law –
The N. C. marriage laws, by restricting marriage to individuals of the opposite sex and banning marriage by same sex couples, violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution by providing marriage to opposite sex couples but not to same sex couples, thus precluding them from enjoying the wide range of rights associated with marriage.
As an Alliance of Baptist member and an attorney and life-long resident of the State North Carolina I am in full support of the positions of the Alliance of Baptists in this litigation and appreciate the opportunity to assist the Alliance however I can.
Alliance of Baptists Position on Marriage Equality
Rev. Maria T. Palmer
Councilwoman – Town of Chapel Hill
Member of Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church
Chapel Hill, NC
The members of the Alliance of Baptists take the work of justice seriously, and our commitment to stand beside those who seek justice.
In 2004, at our Annual Gathering the delegates of the Alliance of Baptist adopted a statement, which affirmed that our federal and state constitutions exist to protect the rights of minorities from the tyranny of the majority. In the context of the debate over same-sex marriage at that time, the Alliance decried the politicization of same-sex marriage in races for public office.
The Alliance of Baptists specifically rejected any amendments to the Constitution of the United States and state constitutions that enshrine discrimination against sexual minorities and define marriage in such a way as to deny same-sex couples a legal framework in which to provide for one another and those entrusted to their care.
We affirmed that the Alliance of Baptists supports the rights of all citizens to full marriage equality.
As Christians and as Baptists, we particularly lamented the denigration of our LGBT sisters and brothers in the debate by those who claimed to speak for God, and we pledged, in 2004 that the Alliance of Baptists would "create places of refuge and renewal for those who are ignored by the church."
We have done that. In many Alliance of Baptist partner congregations across the US, same-sex couples have found affirmation, pastoral care, and places of service and ministry. They have blessed our congregations and our communities with their love and commitment and we have blessed their holy unions.
Through this lawsuit we are saying that we want to do more than provide places of refuge. Today we affirm, through our legal challenge to Amendment One, that we will stand with our LGBT sisters and brothers inside AND outside the church, to confront the discrimination and persecution they face.
I am proud to be a member of the Alliance of Baptists and pledge to work with my fellow Alliance members until there is marriage equality in NC.
Pastoral Implications of this Lawsuit
Rev. Amy Jacks Dean and Rev. Russ Dean
Co-Pastors – Park Road Baptist Church
Russ’s Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Amy’s Phone: 704-995-4384
Amy’s Email: email@example.com
Amy and I join our individual voices this day to the chorus of voices who are speaking out in supporting the rights of all citizens to full marriage equality. We come to this position after nearly three decades of ministry and many years in theological exploration around this issue. We come to this position standing on the history of Baptists who have always adamantly insisted on the separation of church and state. Recognizing the right of other citizens and fellow Christians to disagree with our theological position, we call on the state of North Carolina to recognize our right, in fact, the responsibility and specific calling to which our individual church has called us, and that is to be pastors to all of our members, fully and equally.
Russ and I join our individual voices this day to the chorus of voices who are speaking out to say that we support the rights of all citizens to full marriage equality. We bring to this issue 28 years of marriage, 14 of those years as pastors of a church. Our hope is that we have led the way for our congregation, but the truth is that they have led us as much as we have led them. Eight years ago a church member came to us and asked us to consider refraining from signing marriage licenses – until all members of our congregation could legally be married in the state of North Carolina. This man had been married for many years, and he wanted the same opportunity for everyone in our congregation. His request initiated a year-long study in our congregation about marriage and family, and in 2006 Park Road Baptist Church affirmed the following statement that now guides our congregational life:
…we formally recognize the right of the ministerial staff of Park Road Baptist Church to respond to all church members equally, i.e., that all services or ministries of the church be available to all members of the church, including weddings, funerals, baptisms, parent/child dedication services, etc… This recommendation includes the church’s affirmation of the ministerial staff to bless the partnership of gay or lesbian members of this congregation in a spiritual union, in a similar manner that they would bless the union of a heterosexual couple.
Six years after this statement was affirmed as a guide by which we will function as a Community of Faith, we were approached by members of our congregation who wanted to take the next step of commitment in their relationship. Together we planned and executed what, for all practical purposes, was a wedding – the only thing missing was the normal signature of a marriage license. The whole church was invited, as well as other family and friends. More than 300 people attended what was one of the most joyous and wonderful experiences in our 28 years of ministry together. Twenty-eight years ago, Amy and I made commitments to one another that have held us together in marriage all these years. Two years ago, we helped two women make the same commitments to one another, before God and their family of faith.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the state of North Carolina recognized all commitments of love and devotion just as they do ours? As Pastors of a church that welcomes all people as Beloved Children of God and people of inherent worth, we support and affirm everyone’s right to commit himself or herself to another person . . . for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish . . . How can we be effective Pastors without the ability to offer blessing upon all in our congregation who would choose marriage? It is our hope and prayer that the state of North Carolina will join our church in affirming and recognizing same-sex marriages.
A Perspective on Marriage
Rev. Dr. Richard Groves
One of the Founders of the Alliance of Baptists
Retired Pastor of Wake Forest Baptist Church
(An Alliance of Baptists Affiliated Congregation)
Thirteen years ago, I co-officiated at a ceremony in Wait Chapel on the campus of Wake Forest University that we were careful, recognizing the sensitivities and legalities of
the time, not to call a wedding or a marriage ceremony. We called it a same-sex ceremony of blessing. It was a warm, wonderful occasion, an opportunity for our congregation, Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, along with others, to celebrate the almost 20 years our friends had been together and to anticipate their future.
Not long afterward, I officiated at another ceremony, this one involving a young man and young woman. We called it a marriage ceremony.
The two ceremonies included the same elements: reading of scripture, prayers, exchange of vows, expressions of support from family and friends. But they were different. And the difference went beyond what we called them. And it went beyond the fact that one couple now had over 1,100 rights and benefits under law that the other couple did not have.
The deeper difference was that the state of North Carolina – by law and more recently by amendment to the constitution -- inserted itself into the realm of religious belief and practice, declaring some to be acceptable and others not.
Many congregations associated with the Alliance of Baptists believe that marriages of persons of the same sex are just as open to the blessings of God as are marriages of persons of opposite sexes. Many congregations of other faith traditions believe differently. Political bodies, such as the state legislature, ought not be in the business of enshrining into law some religious beliefs and practices while disallowing others. That is not the role of government. Simply put, it is none of government’s business.
Why this Lawsuit is Important to Me:A Legally Married Gay Man Living in North Carolina
Rev. Christopher T. Copeland
Director of Leadership Development, Wake Forest University School of Divinity, Winston-Salem, NC
Founder of Illuminating Paths
Member of the Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church
In September 2013, over 250 of our dearest friends and family gathered at Binkley Baptist Church in nearby Chapel Hill, to celebrate with my husband Bernie and me, as we shared our vows and exchanged rings. It was a day filled with tears of gratitude that those we love most could come together to celebrate our love and commitment. Having our wedding in North Carolina, our home, was a great joy.
However, because our ceremony in North Carolina would not be recognized as a legal marriage, Bernie and I traveled to Washington, D.C., last summer on two different occasions: once to apply for a marriage license and then later to have the official ceremony that granted us legal status as a married couple.
The fact that North Carolina does not recognize our family as a legal entity has led to numerous challenges over the past nine months. When Bernie and I traveled for our honeymoon, we first needed to create multiple legal documents - including rights for hospital visitation and healthcare power of attorney - knowing that were something to happen to either one of us, without those protections typically afforded by marriage, we would be excluded from one another’s care.
As we began to make financial arrangements as most couples do early in their marriage, we discovered that our insurance provider is not legally allowed to offer Bernie and me a joint policy that covers our home and our cars because North Carolina does not recognize our legal marriage. This has resulted in higher insurance premiums for us as a family.
When we filed taxes this year, we were shocked to realize that due to the lack of reciprocal legal recognition of our marriage in North Carolina, what would normally require two tax returns – one federal and one state - instead required five tax returns and higher state taxes paid by my husband and me.
As a native North Carolinian whose family has lived and worked in this state for more than ten generations, I am proud and grateful to call North Carolina home. And because this is my home and the people of this state are my people, I say to you today that the time has come – as our state motto says - for North Carolina to be a place of justice and fairness for all people, rather than to seem like a place where all of us are treated equally. Now is the time for marriage equality to come to the great state of North Carolina.
And thanks to this lawsuit joined by the Alliance of Baptists - a faith tradition that has been a clear voice for justice and inclusion since its founding over 25 years ago as well as my denominational home – my husband Bernie and I will have the legal protections available to all married couples and be able to say with pride that we live with full equality in our home state of North Carolina. Thank you to all of you who have come today and thank you especially to the Alliance of Baptists for standing with my family!
The United Church of Christ’s Support for the Alliance of Baptists Action
Rev. Dr. J. Bennett Guess
National Officer and Executive Minister
United Church of Christ
In April, when the UCC filed a federal lawsuit against the state of North Carolina, we knew that the importance and impact of this legal action extended far beyond our own
denomination, because North Carolina’s overly restrictive marriage laws impact persons of every faith. These laws are a direct affront to the freedom of religion, a basic tenet of our country and of a free democracy.
Today, clergy in North Carolina are still at risk of facing criminal prosecution and even jailed for performing marriage ceremonies without a state-issued marriage license. This is clearly an infringement on the free exercise of religion and this unquestionably constitutes irreparable harm. This is why we are asking the court for a preliminary injunction that would immediately set aside criminal consequences for all clergy, even as the broader issues of this case are considered.
Today, we enthusiastically welcome the support of our ecumenical partner, the Alliance of Baptists, and the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Congregations, as our co-plaintiffs in this lawsuit. We are also excited that, joining us as well, are the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the largest rabbinical group in this nation) and a growing list of interfaith clergy persons, now representing Baptist, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, and United Church of Christ traditions.
Together, as diverse people of faith, we stand united against the unconstitutionality of North Carolina’s marriage laws because we know that, regardless of faith tradition, religious liberty is a constitutional right that state governments cannot be allowed to interfere with.
For almost 40 years, the United Church of Christ has advocated for the equality of LGBT people. But we also recognize that, as religious people, we have not been alone in our faith-based fight for the fair and equal treatment of all. The Alliance of Baptists’ stand today for inclusivity and equality are values lived out every day in their bold Christian witness, and for good reason, because these are the values that emanate from the life of Jesus, whose good news we seek to proclaim and embody as disciples of Christ.
At its heart, this case is about religious liberty. And perhaps no American faith tradition has more credibility to speak on issues of religious liberty than Baptists, because the free exercise of religion is at the heart of Baptist history and Baptist experience in this country.
Today, the United Church of Christ applauds the bold witness of the Alliance of Baptists in joining United Church of Christ v. Cooper as a plaintiff. Our concern for the protection of First Amendment guarantees is a commitment we share and one that we will witness to vigorously, until North Carolina’s marriage laws are ultimately determined by federal court to be – what we already know them to be – unconstitutional.