Commentary

Finding Grace In The Unexpected

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Earlier this month, a YouTube video of a Sunday sermon began circulating the Internet. The pastor, Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, N.C., focused his message on President Obama’s support of same-sex marriage.

Worley has a unique solution to the same-sex controversy.

“I’ve figured out a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers, but I couldn’t get it past the Congress,” he says.

A quiet ripple of laughter runs through the Congregation.

“Build a great, big, large fence —150 or 100 miles long — put all the lesbians in there. Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. And you know what? In a few years, they’ll die out. Do you know why? They can’t reproduce!”

A murmur of “Amens,” a woop and a single clap follow the proposed scenario.

“It makes me pukin’ sick, to think about …  I don’t even know whether I oughta say this in the pulpit or not … Can you imagine kissin’ some man?”

It was chilling to watch a man of God suggest genocide but I can’t say I was surprised.

I was brought up in a household in which politics, religion and sex were not part of polite conversation. I was also raised in a Baptist church. I recall our pastor remarking, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” and how delighted I was at the rhyme, oblivious to the actual meaning behind the sermon.

The issue of same-sex marriage involves all three of the most taboo subjects in our society, and widespread acceptance of same-sex relationships is difficult to reconcile with traditional religious views of marriage, family and sex.

After watching the video of the North Carolina pastor, I set out to write an article exploring the concepts of faith and how they can support and hinder social change. My first instinct was to research the Klu Klux Klan and religious themes used to empower their white supremacy.

However, I soon realized that to make that comparison would be to paint a portrait that would discredit the validity of a large percentage of Arkansans’ views.

If I was really going to understand the controversy, I was going to have to get an opinion from Arkansas’ Evangelical community.

My research led me to Jerry Cox with the Family Council, one of the largest supporters of the legislation that banned unmarried, same-sex couples from adopting and fostering children in 2008. As the phone rang, I tried to calm my nerves.

Was I prepared for a religious debate? The image of Worley was fresh in my mind: a passionate Southern pastor, disgusted by same-sex relationships. Could I maintain neutrality in the face of such bias?

When his secretary answered the phone, and I told her the subject of my call, I was surprised at how calm she sounded. Her voice was quiet and young. She sounded, very much, like me.

She told me Jerry Cox was on vacation, and I thanked her and resumed my research.

It was a tiny detail — a voice over the phone that had translated into a kindness and an unexpected sense of similarity — that cast a light on my own prejudices.

It reminded me of something Pastor Lowell Grisham (of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church) had told me during his interview. I had asked him what incited such resistance from the Evangelical community in regard to same-sex marriage; and he proposed much of the rejection hinged on a narrow reading of the scripture.

“I would ask evangelical Christians to read the Bible more broadly,” Grisham said. “One of the major themes throughout the entire Bible is that God surprises us by showing us God’s presence and grace in the unexpected person.”

After talking to Larry Page, director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, my opinion of the role of faith communities in the same-sex controversy changed.

Or in the words of our President,  my opinion evolved.

Faith communities have the sacred task of nurturing and supporting healthy, loving relationships in society; including the relationship between those who disagree.

Both Page and Grisham understand the importance of listening and respecting the voices of their Congregations; and they both offered generous and kind opinions of those who held opinions in opposition to their own.

Neither condemned the other, and both were working to promote honest, unhindered discourse on same-sex relationships.

Which was a pleasant surprise.

 

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