Stan Kimer grew up in the church. He listened to the sermon every Sunday, said his prayers and strove to serve God in his life.
But when he finally came out as gay, some people in the church told him his sexual orientation was a sin. It goes against God’s will and God’s plan, they said.
Others welcomed him and accepted him as gay — and Christian.
Now he serves as the president of the N.C. Council of Churches, presiding over 18 Christian denominations and a total of about 1.5 million congregants.
“They saw that I am good at what I do, that I am a faithful servant to God and committed to the church,” he said of the board that hired him. “It didn’t matter that I am in love with a man, not a woman.”
The debate has flared in churches across North Carolina since the N.C. General Assembly passed the Defense of Marriage amendment, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The amendment will be put to a vote in the May primaries.
Christian leaders on both sides of the spectrum weighed in on the issue in rallies at the legislature before the amendment passed, but the debate has moved to the pulpit with pastors urging congregations to vote one way or the other in May.
“It’s such an influential community in the South — you can’t ignore the church here,” Kimer said. “Lots of people across the state are going to look to their church and see what their church says about voting on this.”
Before it passed, Equality NC, an LGBTQ rights group, held a vigil and rally with Christian leaders speaking against the amendment.
Eric Solomon, a rabbi at Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh, also spoke at the Equality NC rally. While he said this is not a heated issue in the Jewish community, he is taking a public stand against it.
“In a recent sermon, I talked about the sense of shame I felt that our state is going forward and doing this,” he said.
Return America, a conservative Christian group, also lobbied heavily, but in support of the amendment, and held a rally with pastors advocating its passage.
Many Christians, like Kimer, say the Bible is colored by history’s prejudices, and God sees all people equally. Same-sex couples should be able to sanctify love through marriage like any heterosexual couple can, they say.
But other Christians interpret what the Bible says about homosexuality as literal — “an abomination” in the book of Leviticus and “perversion” in Romans.
Ron Baity, a pastor and the president of Return America, has fought against same-sex marriage for years, lobbying for a Defense of Marriage amendment since it was first introduced in the state in 2004.
Baity said its passage was a turn back to God, and he will continue preaching to his congregants to support the legislation.
“This is a spiritual issue, and it should be a spiritual issue for everybody,” he said. “I’ve seen this state straying for a long time, and I think people have been waiting for this legislation for years.”
Supporters of the amendment went to the legislature wearing “Say YES to Marriage” stickers, and many went to thank Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, after the House approved it.
Stam, an evangelical Christian, said his denomination does not support same-sex unions. But he said his faith was just one of the reasons he pushed for the amendment.
“I don’t think that’s really what I was thinking about,” he said.
Though same-sex marriage is already illegal in the state, the amendment would make it more difficult for judges or legislators to legalize same-sex unions in the future. It also makes marriage the only recognized union in the state, potentially invalidating domestic partnerships that are recognized now and offer some health care, child-rearing and housing benefits.
Baity said his lobbying was based solely on his religious beliefs.
“The legislature didn’t just decide one day to invent this thing called marriage,” he said.
But Bob Dunham, a pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, said he doesn’t see the need for closing marriage off to one group.
“I believe God is more about God’s grace and God’s opening of doors rather than the task of gatekeeping and closing of doors,” he said.
His church belongs to the denomination Presbyterian Church U.S.A., which condones civil unions but does not marry same-sex couples. Dunham said he would marry such couples if his church allowed it.
The Episcopal Church of the Advocate, a church serving Chapel Hill and Carrboro, wrote a letter to the General Assembly condemning the amendment.
“Legislators have appealed to a particular understanding of biblical authority and Christian teaching,” the letter said. “We reject their pretense of speaking for all Christians. They do not speak for us.”
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