North Carolina Baptist Support for LGBTQ Equality Spans Over Decades
The National LGBTQ Task Force has the honor of being caretakers of something truly remarkable: the Shower of Stoles Project, which is a gathering of over 1,200 stoles from LGBTQ clergy. The collection, now celebrating its 20th anniversary, has been seen by over a quarter million people across the country, bearing witness to the lives and stories of hundreds of LGBTQ faith leaders. We take great pride in our role as curator, and are humbled by the stories represented in these liturgical pieces.
Most of the stoles are from, or in honor of, individuals who have left ministry or been disciplined because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But also among the collection are what we call solidarity stoles – stoles donated as a tangible sign of support for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people into the life and leadership of the Church. These solidarity stoles have come from seminaries, colleges and welcoming congregations.
As of today, on our website at http://www.WelcomingResources.org, we list over 5,000 mostly Christian congregations across the country that welcome and affirm LGBTQ folks. Getting to this point has been the result of decades of work by countless advocates across so many faith traditions. But even today in 2016, becoming a welcoming congregation can be a courageous and risky thing to do. These faith settings can, depending on their denomination, face repercussions ranging from censure to being banished from their denomination altogether.
Recently, I joined a number of my Task Force colleagues in North Carolina working with people of faith across the state in efforts to repeal HB2, a virulent law that targets transgender people but also discriminates against the entire LGBTQ community as well restricts the rights of other marginalized people.
In the course of my work in North Carolina, I visited a remarkable congregation, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, a welcoming congregation that had donated a solidarity stole back in 2003.
Their journey as a welcoming congregation began in 1992, when two members – a gay couple – voiced their desire to get married. Performing same-sex weddings, or “Holy Unions,” was rare at that time, and only performed in the most progressive of congregations. Pullen was part of the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination vehement in its opposition to LGBTQ inclusion.
By supporting this couple, Pullen was entering dangerous waters. But despite the threat of serious ramifications, Pullen courageously proclaimed their unqualified support for gay and lesbian people—and since for bisexual, transgender and queer people as well.
For that act of courage, they paid dearly. Like so many of the pastors represented in the Shower of Stoles Project, they were kicked out of their denomination.
Despite that retaliation, the members of Pullen have stayed steadfast and faithful in their support. They have remained a safe refuge for LGBTQ people seeking a spiritual home free from judgment and condemnation. They were early members of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.
Their justice work has extended far beyond LGBTQ issues. They have been a strong partner in the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, a profoundly inspiring, inclusive and intersection coming-together of advocates working on a host of social justice issues, from voting rights to advocating for a living wage to working to repeal HB2.
My visit allowed me to bring their solidarity stole, donated all those years ago, back home for a visit. It was so moving to see their pastor, Reverend Nancy Petty, wear it during Sunday morning’s worship.
As a gay preacher’s kid who has been so hurt by the Church, I find a bit of healing and reason for hope when I experience acts of courage like Pullen’s. I see hope for a church where all are truly welcomed and affirmed. I see hope for a world in which a young LGBTQ kid never has to end their life because they fear that God or their family doesn’t love them. And I hope for a world in which politicians and those in power do not enact laws that harm the most vulnerable among us.
May it be so.
For more information on the Shower of Stoles Project, and to bring a portion of the collection to your community of faith, please visit bit.ly/showerofstoles.
by David Lohman, Faith Work Manager, National LGBTQ Task Force