I visited Myers Park Baptist Church again today to listen to a guest speaker, UNC Professor of Law Maxine Eichner. She was there to discuss the legal issues associated with Amendment One. I have written about her work in the past, in a post entitled: “How the Proposed Amendment Got On The Ballot, the Added Sentence and Other Issues”.
As I was walking to the church, I saw a man on the sidewalk holding a big sign. The words on the sign were scrawled in blood-red. The intensity of the sign’s color was exceeded only by the harshness of it’s message.
The words that jumped out at me were “False Prophet” and “Lies”. It didn’t take a genius to realize that he and his companion, the one holding the bible, were unhappy with the doings that were going on at Myers Park Baptist Church.
When I saw them standing there alone, being ignored by everyone who passed them by, I became curious and did something that was new for me. I engaged these two strangers in a conversation.
They both were suspicious from the start. The man with the sign wanted to know if I was a member of “this church”, pointing toward the sanctuary. I told him I was visiting the church to hear a discussion about the amendment by a law professor. He waited for my next move.
I think my demeanor caught both men off guard. I was not judgmental and I did not start the conversation with a debate. The first thing I did was ask them about their opinions and why they felt the way they did.
Professor Eichner will be happy to know that she was not the false prophet. They gave that title to the senior minister of the church. In fact, it became very clear early on in our conversation that they weren’t giving any thought to the legal issues in the marriage amendment debate. Their opinions were born in faith.
The dynamics between the two men were interesting. The man holding the bible was a black man who seemed interested in having a conversation. He never raised his voice. The older man holding the sign was a white man who looked down when I questioned him and let fly some angry words when he did speak.
Both men had firm opinions. Homosexuality is a sin, they said. Apparently, this church didn’t understand that rule. The man with the sign went further, saying that Jesus was going to judge homosexuals for their sins. I asked him if he meant God, and he said “God, Jesus, either one, both of them”. And I said, “are you sure that this is the message of Jesus, rather than a message of love toward others?” And he said, “you just wait, they shall be judged and cast down”.
Both men made it clear to me that they supported the marriage amendment. I told them that I respected their right to have an opinion, based on their faith about marriage, but then I asked them a question that caught them off guard. I asked them how they would feel if their version of marriage – one man and one woman – remained intact in this State, while at the same time allowing tax paying same-sex couples to form civil unions and receive the same benefits as other taxpayers.
The man with the sign looked away and made no response. The man holding the bible paused and then said he “could see that”, but then he quickly got back on message. He said that I needed to understand that [a civil union] was not all “they” wanted. He said they wanted same-sex marriage, and if we allow that to happen, then they are going to want to have polygamous marriage. And then the man with the sign became energized, and he said, “yea, and the next thing is…well…they will want us to bless them having sex with a dog”.
I was quickly losing them, if I ever had them. They made clear that anyone considering a vote against the amendment is acting against the bible. The man with the bible held it up to me and said that the pastor was leavening the message of God. He didn’t explain what he meant, but I believe he was trying to say that the message being preached by the pastor was wrongfully expanding the true message of God.
Before I left, I encouraged them to think about one thing. I asked them whether they wanted our Constitution – the governing document of this state – to tell any religious person what they must believe. They stood still and unresponsive, just staring at me. I don’t believe they understood what I was asking, because for them, this is not an issue of the government needing to protect the faiths of others but an issue of the government needing to legislate their own faith.
The lecture inside the church was a stark contrast to my sidewalk conversation. Professor Eichner had good information to share and the audience was engaged. People of faith were in the room, but they were not being judgmental. They wanted to understand the effect of the amendment on a minority population of this state.
The protestors on the sidewalk might be surprised to know that not a single biblical reference was made in the conversation. There was no false prophet in the room, citing bible verses to try to convince the congregation one way or the other. The focus of the conversation was on the legal harms that will or might be imposed by the amendment on others.
I reflect on my sidewalk conversation by turning to the Golden Rule. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:12: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets”. [New Revised Standard Version.]
I doubt the men on the sidewalk would call anyone a false prophet for citing this verse, nor I expect, would they find a lie in this message. They just wouldn’t understand how it might apply to a discussion about the marriage amendment.