Tag Archives: North Carolina

North Carolina ACLU and Equality NC launch video project against Amendment One


The North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union and Equality NC Foundation launched the KNOW + LOVE Project today (April 18), online video stories about families with lesbian or gay members.

The groups plan to release new videos in the weeks leading up to the May 8 vote on Amendment One, the state’s proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

One of the site’s first videos includes Christian and Jewish faith leaders talking about Amendment One and its impact on gay and lesbians in the state.

“North Carolina is part of what is supposed to be the New South,” said  Ricky Woods, pastor of First Baptist Church- West, Charlotte. “I think it’s important that we continue to hold the line in terms of what we believe is important, and one of the things we think is important is that no segment of our state should be discriminated against.”

Pastors from across the state told stories about gay or lesbian couples in their congregations who were not allowed input on end of life decisions or child care issues because they were not legally married.

Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958 or on Twitter @WilmFAVS


St. Mary Catholic Church turning 100, readying itself for basilica status

The domes of St. Mary Parish. Photo courtesy of St. Mary.


St. Mary Catholic Church in Wilmington is many marvels.

It’s an artistic marvel. The church’s domes of brick and stone dedicated in 1912 use no steel or wood beams and no nails.

Its ministry to the poor, St. Mary Tileston Outreach, serves about 9,000 people a year. Its newer dental clinic serves hundreds.

“I’ve been here just under six years, and St. Mary is very well known in the community, and the poor know us as well,” said Father Bob Kus, St. Mary’s priest.

And without much parking in its Fifth Avenue neighborhood, the church welcomes thousands each weekend to six services. The church has about 6,000 members.

Today, the parish welcomes immigrants from every continent except Antarctica. It has the first Hispanic affiliate of the Maryknoll Society in the United States.

In January, the church opened a medical clinic near its sister parish in

Altar servers in Reitoca. Photo courtesy St. Mary Parish.

Reitoca, Honduras. On its first day, the clinic served 280 area villagers, said Father Kus.

And this week, St. Mary is celebrating another major milestone – its centennial – with a special Mass at 6 p.m. Friday (April 13) at the church on the corner of Fifth and Ann streets. Bishop Michael Burbidge of the diocese of Raleigh will officiate the Mass.

A mother church for Catholics in the eastern part of North Carolina, St. Mary was dedicated as St. Mary Pro-Cathedral in 1912 and returned to being St. Mary Church in 1925, when the Diocese of Raleigh was established.

Viewed as a sacred place of contemplation, the church was deemed a shrine in the Diocese of Raleigh in 2005.

And soon it will become a basilica, the second in North Carolina. Father Kus recently received word that one of two Vatican congregations (institutes) have already approved St. Mary’s basilica documents.

“And I’m told the other approval won’t be long at all,” he said. “But that will require a name change so we’ll have a separate celebration for that.”

Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958
On Twitter @WilmFAVS

The Week of Reason, Part Two – The 2012 American Atheists Convention

By Contributor Han Hills

What better start could there be to this year’s American Atheists Convention than a national rally on the Washington Mall, which I wrote about in part one of this series.

This was a golden achievement and served as an obvious start to their annual convention in Bethesda, running from the end of the rally on March 24 to March 26.

After the resounding success of the Reason Rally, American Atheists held a free after party including “Debaptisms” performed by the always amusing Edwin Kagin. For many, humorous acts such as these serve to show, once again, that the symbolic practices of many organized religions hold very little significance in the real world.

At the conference, Richard Dawkins spoke about the folly that we should quietly respect the illogical and dangerous beliefs of our prospective political leaders. He strongly argued that it was both dangerous and unacceptable to hand the highest social power to men and women who openly vouch for laughably unproven and unfounded faith traditions, and that we need a caliber of leaders with real world understanding based in fact and not fiction.

The splendid and unashamedly blasphemous culmination of Sunday’s activity was a costume dinner, where attendees were encouraged to lampoon their favorite religious icons. I attended as a heavily robed black monk, rosary adorned. It was of no surprise to any present that our blasphemies went noticeably unpunished. The gods, and their creeds, seemed, as always, both absent and silent.

American Atheists are an unashamed group openly and proudly in conflict with the religious industry.

I left the conference with a newly revitalized will to attack injustice and irrationality wherever it should be found. American Atheists, as the name suggests, stand firmly in opposition to the influence of blind faith and dangerous power of organized religion. For them, there are no sacred cows and the toleration of even the smallest irrationality is not an option. This is a fight against a bloated and malignant emperor who must be shown publicly to have no clothes. In their eyes, this is a battle they must fight to the last and their numbers, particularly among the young, grow with each passing day.

Like many, I left the on a cold Maryland morning with a warrior’s resolve. Though I consider myself a compassionate Humanist, I cannot help but see the sharp edge of the debate, tempered by the glimmering intelligence of Dawkins and others. True, this is one end of a long continuum of non-theistic thinking but a powerful and increasingly popular one, especially among new online communities.

The next event in this amazing week of reason is the “Rock Beyond Belief” concert at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and I will report on this in the final part of my trilogy of posts.

Military atheists get ready to ‘rock beyond belief’

Editor’s note: Rock Beyond Belief is sponsored, in part, by the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, which also supports Religion News Service.

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) After more than a year of planning, atheists in the military will stage a public festival and rock concert celebrating their lack of religious beliefs at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, one of the largest U.S. military bases.

Dubbed “Rock Beyond Belief,” the event is believed to be the first of its kind to highlight “freethought” — atheism, humanism and skepticism — on a U.S. military base.

Organizers hope the March 31 event will lead to broader recognition and support of nonbelievers in the armed forces, where they say they receive little support and often discrimination from an overly Christianized military.

“This is perhaps the first step in a new direction away from the evangelical proselytism that has permeated the military for decades,” said Sgt. Justin Griffith, an atheist serving at Fort Bragg and the event’s chief organizer.

Griffith said the concert is a “bitter pill” for some of his superiors on base, which is home to the storied 82nd Airborne Division, “but they get it. They are supporting us and I am really proud of them.”

The event, which will be open to the public, will include music and public speakers, including Richard Dawkins, a best-selling author of several books, including “The God Delusion.” Base officials expect approximately 5,000 people to attend.

How many of those will be atheists is an open question. According to the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, which analyzed a Department of Defense census, Christians account for 68 percent of the military population, while those who state “no religious preference” make up the second-largest group, at 23 percent. Those who choose to have “atheist” stamped on their dog tags account for less than 1 percent.

Many military nontheists report being the unwelcome targets of proselytism, sometimes by superiors, and complain of compulsory religious prayers and practices at official events. One area of growing concern is the mandatory assessment of soldiers’ “spiritual fitness,” which they say is both unconstitutional and an attempt to proselytize.

“If you are a nonreligious soldier, you are a third-class citizen in the U.S. military,” said Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a military watchdog group, who will attend the event in Fayetteville, N.C.

“You are basically told that you lack intellectual integrity, courage, character and honorability . … Rock Beyond Belief is an attempt to stick a fist up in the sky and say, ‘We have our rights.'”

The idea for Rock Beyond Belief grew out of “Rock the Fort,” a Christian-themed concert held at Fort Bragg in September 2010. That event, staged by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, included Christian music, speakers and an altar call for attendees to publicly embrace or affirm their Christianity.

That upset many nonreligious service members at Fort Bragg, including Griffith, who has been an atheist for 12 years. He asked officials for equal time and support for an atheist-themed event.

Griffith said he initially met with resistance — piles of paperwork to file,

approvals to obtain, proof of interest and financing plans. An agreement was reached early last year and Rock Beyond Belief was slated for April 2011. But Griffith soon canceled it.

“I felt we were not getting all of the support we were promised,” Griffith said. “We were not getting an equal level given to Rock the Fort.”

Fort Bragg officials say they asked nothing extra of Griffith that they do not ask of anyone seeking to hold an on-base event. Further complicating the process were reports by Fox News that the concert would feature the rock band Aiden, whose lyrics are perceived by some as anti-Christian.

With funding from several freethought organizations, Rock Beyond Belief was rescheduled. And while dissenting opinions about religion will likely be expressed, Griffith and base officials have agreed the content will be “family friendly.”

Still, the concert has its critics. The Associated Gospel Churches, an organization of independent evangelical churches that endorses chaplains for the military, has asked the Department of Defense to step in.

“What we want to see is the Secretary of Defense say enough of this nonsense and shut this thing off,” said Chaplain James Poe, president of AGC. “It is not in any way constructive to military discipline. It reeks with rebellion. The Army has had for years a sense of core values and this tears down those values. It is an assault on the things Army people hold most dear and it needs to stop.”

But Col. Stephen Sicinski, Fort Bragg’s garrison commander, has signed off on the concert and issued a statement, reading in part, “Fort Bragg will not discriminate against speech on the basis of its viewpoint.”

No taxpayer money is supporting this event, a base spokesperson said, nor did any public money go toward Rock the Fort — a claim Griffith and others dispute. The base will provide security, setup, tear-down and cleanup for Rock Beyond Belief, as it did for Rock the Fort.

Griffith would like to stage similar events at other bases, especially those where Christian-themed events have been held with support from military brass. Meanwhile, he hopes Rock the Fort gives unbelievers in the military the courage to come forward and seek tolerance and acceptance.

“At the end of the day we are asking the same questions as the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians,” Griffith said. “We just have a different answer.”

Pender prison to break ground on its chapel Wednesday

Wilmington Faith and Values

It’s been six years of fundraising with donations coming from 74 area churches and 88 people in Southeastern North Carolina. But this week Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw will break ground on its freestanding chapel.

PCI will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the 4,200 square foot facility at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Only invited guests can attend.

With labor donated from N.C. Baptist Men, the Pender County prison hopes to complete its new chapel in six months.

For many years, the space used as the chapel in the prison was a 20 foot by 24 foot classroom space, the walls lined with bookshelves full of holy texts and reference material for different faiths.

In the North Carolina prison system, privately-funded chapels are fairly rare. According to N.C. prison system records, as of 2010, out of the state’s 70 prisons with chapels, only nine were built with private money.

The new building’s auditorium will seat 200, where the former room seated 30. There are 768 inmates in the prison, said Pender Correctional Chaplain Jimmy Joseph.

The chapel will also have two classrooms, offices for the chaplaincy staff, restrooms and storage space. A large stained glass window in the gable of the auditorium will capture eastern light in the mornings, “creating a worshipful atmosphere in the building,” Joseph wrote in an email. The building will be a wood framed structure with brick veneer to match the other buildings in the prison.

Stay tuned for more on this story. Wilmington Faith and Values reporters will attend the ceremony on Wednesday.

Two updates from two bishops on both sides of North Carolina’s marriage amendment

Wilmington Faith and Values

On Thursday (Feb. 23), Bishop Michael Burbidge, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, released the second in a series of four planned videos to Catholics in North Carolina. The videos have banners that prompt citizens to vote for a marriage amendment on the May 8 primary ballot. Incidentally, Sunday (Feb. 26) is National Prayer for Marriage Day.

In the video, Burbidge outlined “four core beliefs about marriage, based on church doctrine.” He encouraged Catholics to act on those beliefs. The video was released through Catholic Voice NC, which calls itself “the nonpartisan voice of North Carolina’s bishops.”

Bishop William Barber II, president of North Carolina’s NAACP, speaks out

After an earlier Wilmington Faith and Values article on how the state’s faith-based groups are mobilizing in advance of the marriage amendment vote, I received a response from Bishop William Barber II, the state’s NAACP president.

“It is true the N.C. NAACP is opposed to Amendment 1. But what is important is the context of this position,” he wrote in an email. “Many of  the same people trying to codify discrimination and hate in our constitution have also attacked voting rights, economic justice and educational equality and are themselves married to the extreme ultra-right regressive agenda. This cannot be lost in the debate.”

Barber continued to say that since same-sex marriage is already illegal in North Carolina, “we must examine the deeper motives of this extremist agenda and the dangerous legal and social precedents they are attempting to set.”

N.C. faith groups mobilize efforts for and against marriage amendment referendum

Wilmington Faith and Values

The North Carolina primary vote on May 8, which will include a marriage amendment referendum, may be four months away. But faith-based advocacy groups on both sides of the issue are already mobilizing campaigns.

North Carolina is currently the only Southern state without a constitutional marriage amendment. Same-sex marriage has been illegal in the state since 1996. Minnesota also has a marriage amendment planned for a vote in November.

The full text of the amendment to Article 14 Section 6 in the N.C. Constitution would read: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

Faith groups for the amendment make a biblical argument for marriage between one man and one woman and say, without a permanent amendment, judges can change the law in favor of same-sex marriages.

Faith groups against it either say this is a civil rights and not a religious issue or say they are morally opposed to placing language into the state’s constitution that discriminates against a minority.

A January poll about support for the amendment through Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling said 56 percent of those asked supported the amendment while 36 percent would vote against it. Ten percent were undecided.

‘Vote Yes’

Both N.C. Catholic dioceses have issued statements urging the state’s more than 390,000 Catholics to vote for the marriage amendment. Bishop Peter Jugis, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, released a video in January where he speaks about the church’s teachings on marriage.

And Raleigh Catholic Diocese Bishop Michael Burbidge will release a video with his take this week, according to diocesan spokesman Frank Morock.

“We ask you, no matter what position you currently hold about the definition of marriage, to become informed about our church’s teaching, to be respectful in all discussions about this important issue and to vote,” wrote both bishops in a Jan. 29 joint letter to the state’s Catholics. “We pray that you will see our position as a principled one based on eternal and divine truth and that you will vote on May 8 for protecting traditional marriage in North Carolina.”

Starting in February, Catholic churches across the state started including links to videos and websites inside their Sunday bulletins to learn more about what the church says about marriage.

Many North Carolina Christian conservative groups, including a coalition of African American pastors and Baptists, are gathering behind the group N.C. Values Coalition and Vote for Marriage NC.

Vote For Marriage NC has an entire page of its website devoted to printable campaign materials. It encourages people to host house parties for their church and community about the amendment.

The leader of Vote for Marriage NC, Tami Fitzgerald, says the early February overturning of Prop 8 in California is a lesson for North Carolina voters.

“The proposed amendment protects North Carolina from being in the same position as California by not granting any legal recognition of same-sex relationships, which could be overturned by an equal protection argument,” she said. “Every day that goes by is another day when a judge can decide to substitute his values for those of North Carolinians. We need the marriage protection amendment to prevent that.”

‘Vote No’

On the other side of the issue, the 196th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina approved a resolution opposing the amendment on Jan. 21.

The N.C. Council of Churches usually stays neutral on politicized arguments that divide its membership, said executive director George Reed. (Both dioceses are Council members.)

Not this time.

“We have a policy statement in terms that this is discriminatory, and it’s inappropriate to put language like that into our state’s constitution,” Reed said. “I have great respect for the dioceses, and I know they come to their position by their faith.”

Though some black churches have publicly joined the Vote for Marriage NC effort, the North Carolina NAACP, which includes thousands of African American pastors statewide, decided to oppose the amendment.

In Wilmington, New Hanover County NAACP chapter president Deborah Maxwell said she had not heard much about the amendment from local black churches.

“It’s already illegal so why put it on the ballot?” she said. “People need to be educated that this is just being put up as a divisive political measure. It’s not about marriage but more about the vote.”

This debate has divided churches throughout the state for many years. In 2007, the State Baptist Convention tried to oust churches within its ranks that supported the idea of same-sex unions.

Some non-religious lobbying groups, such as Protect All NC Families, have their own faith wing to coordinate church support, offering congregational get-out-the-vote tool kits. Faith outreach director Ryan Rowe said the amendment could have unintended consequences for benefits and domestic violence protections for heterosexual unmarried couples.

“No God I know would condone hurting people like this,” he said. “When you restrict the definition of a domestic legal union, that harms the children and partners of unmarried families.” According to the 2010 U.S. Census, North Carolina had about 222,000 unmarried couples and only 22,000 of those were identified as gay or lesbian.

A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student composed the play “N.C. Amendment One, The Musical” including some religious arguments.

Faith leaders in Shelby, N.C. held a rally against the amendment with speakers from across the state in early February.

In Wilmington, members of gay rights groups and clergy from St. Jude’s Metropolitan Community Church plan to meet with City Council officials on Monday to urge them to pass a resolution against the amendment.

Though he’s a pastor, the Rev. John McLaughlin said he believes the issue is more civil than religious.

“I don’t think it’s based in religion. The issue is whether or not we want hate and bigotry inside our state constitution,” said the pastor of St. Jude’s Metropolitan Community Church. “Do we deny people basic rights who have committed to love each other and raise a family and care for each other in a civil way?”

Viewpoints: How will Prop 8 overturning affect gay marriage debate in North Carolina?

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down California's Proposition 8 that ended same-sex marriage, setting up a high-stakes fight at the U.S. Supreme Court. RNS photo courtesy Fritz Liess.

UPDATE: A few writers for Wilmington Faith and Values responded to this Viewpoints. Read their answers below.

Q: Will Prop 8 matter to North Carolina’s marriage amendment?

With the overturning of the Prop 8 ban of gay marriage in California this week, Wilmington Faith and Values was wondering how that ruling might affect the gay marriage debate poised for North Carolina this year.

Here is the Religion News Service story about the decision.

North Carolina’s marriage act will go before the public for a vote in May.

So what do you think?

Answers from:

Philip Stine

Philip Stine: “I wish I could believe it would weaken support for the proposed constitutional amendment in North Carolina. But I don’t think it will. On the contrary, supporters all over the country will renew their resolve and open up their wallets to continue to work to support the marriage amendment here. Since we can’t be sure of what the Supreme Court will do about the California ruling, it is incumbent on those who oppose the amendment to marshal their forces and fight harder than ever.”

Bo Dean

Bo Dean: “Prop 8 being overturned again is just a confirmation by the courts that the civil right to marry cannot be denied to adults.

So, we have a civil issue; a matter of civil rights. Of course, I am a blogger for a religion blog here. Why then am I spending any time on this?

It would be nice to say that as a result of following our faith in which we are instructed to, above all else, love one another, that we fight any and all impediments to injustice and inequality in our society. But, unfortunately, I am writing on this because the issue of the day is not clear and many of the “faithful” are actually perpetrators. Amazingly, churches are spending millions to insist that civil laws that allow citizens equal access to rights somehow are an intrusion on their own beliefs.

These very institutions of “faith” seem to say our Constitution, which grants these rights, is absolute for all unless in exceptions only certain conservative Christians deem appropriate, forgoing the entire separation of church and state. Well, it is simple, the issue at hand will not interfere with religious marriage. This is a civil issue, and if we are true to our laws, our Constitution and our very national democratic ideals, marriage will be accessible to all.”

Andy Lee

Andy Lee: “I do think the decision made in California will affect, not only North Carolina, but the entire country. I think it is evidence of the shifting values we are experiencing in America today.

My hope for the definition of marriage to remain “one man and one woman” does not mean I hate gay people. It simply means I believe the commandments written on stone tablets were written in stone for a reason. I believe they were written for good; not harm. They were written by a God who loves his creations.

The Bible is clear concerning marriage and sex.

But our judges and lawmakers are not sworn to follow the Bible.

Their basis for judgment is The Constitution which does not define marriage. Was it an oversight? Or was it inconceivable to these men who wrote such a profound document that our country would one day question this institution?”

Belief Bytes: Friday’s Religion News Roundup


Joan of Arc

Classical image of Joan of Arc. Image via Wikipedia

Religion News Service’s Friday Religion News Roundup is brought to us by editor-in-chief Kevin Eckstrom. And you’ll notice a reference to a Cameron Art Museum show in there, a story by Religion News Wilmington. Thanks, Kevin!

Here’s an excerpt:

“Up in Connecticut, Catholic officials are launching a new chapter of Courage, which aims to help gays and lesbians be “accepted, affirmed and supported” — as long as they remain celibate.

Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll — never known to be shy about speaking his mind — is getting grief over his new book (co-written with his wife, Grace) about sex and women. One blogger breathlessly calls it “an astoundingly unbelievable work of disrespect for women.”

Islam (support or criticism thereof) remains a touchy third rail on U.S. college campuses. And more than four in 10 Americans report that they have little time or use for things spiritual.

Down in North Carolina, collector William McNeill says his collection of more than 400 church fans is a window to a sweeter (and less air-conditioned) past.

Six people were killed when gunmen stormed a church in Nigeria and sprayed the place with bullets.

And birthday wishes to St. Joan of Arc — she turns a nice round 600 today.

Read the rest of the post here.

Meet Bo Dean, our LGBT issues blogger

Saying Bo Dean is a big voice in the Wilmington area’s academic, philanthropic and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) communities would be an understatement.

But there is no other way of defining Bo’s experience in shorthand – especially in Wilmington’s gay and lesbian community with his founding of OutWilmington.org. That’s why I’ve asked him to be our LGBT issues blogger.

Find out more about Bo here:

“Bo is a native North Carolinian born in Fuquay-Varina and raised in Chapel Hill. Actively involved in the Wilmington community, Bo has served on the boards of the Cape Fear Community College Foundation, Wilmington Health Access for Teens, and the Leadership Wilmington Alumni Advisory Board, and has served through appointment on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board as well as the Wilmington Housing Authority Board of Directors. He has served two terms on the statewide board of Equality North Carolina and founded and ran Outwilmington.com, an online LGBT virtual community center from 1999-2007. He is actively involved in the American Heart Association, Wilmington Interfaith Hospitality Network, and Coastal Horizons Inc. Bo is currently the development director for the Cameron Art Museum. Bo can be reached at 910-409-5627 or by emailing him directly at bowilmington@gmail.com.”

Welcome to Religion News Wilmington, Bo!