This post is an in-depth review of the March 4, 2012, worship service at First Baptist Church of Charlotte — its pastor, Mark Harris, the president of the North Carolina Baptist Convention — and its guest sermon by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins (reported by The Charlotte Observer here). Quotes from Harris and Perkins, along with the full audio, follow initial commentary. In addition, other commentary by Matt Comer is provided in red and [in brackets]. A YouTube video with Perkins’ most direct comments on marriage and North Carolina’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment, young people and LGBT people is included at the end, along with a transcript. A final commentary and a call for Perkins and Harris to end their harm against LGBT youth and people follows at the conclusion of the post. Finally, my first column in the new weekly series, “Sex, Cash & Politics,” will delve into Perkins’ hate group connections. The column will be delivered today to print and online publications across North Carolina and cane be used free-of-charge as an op-ed or guest commentary. Click here to learn more about the column and subscribe for free.
You gotta hand it to Southern Baptists. They know how to put on a show. Blaring trumpets, waving flags and soaring patriotic melodies blended together with a little bit of soul and spirit in calls for defending “God and Country.”
It was Durham-based blogger Pam Spaulding that alerted me to the Family Research Council‘s Values Bus Tour stop on Sunday at First Baptist Church-Charlotte. I and an acquaintance decided to go. Mostly I was curious: Why in the world was Mark Harris, the pastor of one of Charlotte’s landmark Baptist churches and president of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, allowing a man like Family Research Council President Tony Perkins to speak at his church? Why would a seemingly Christ-loving, people-loving pastor allow the leader of a hate group to speak to his congregants?
After more than an hour of First Baptist worship, the reason became clear.
“Tony Perkins…has been willing to step up and speak out,” Harris told his congregants, affirming that Harris’ brand of Christianity is just as hate-filled and exclusive as Perkins’.
Marriage and the church are under attack, First Baptist Church-Charlotte Pastor and N.C. Baptist Convention President Mark Harris and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said on Sunday. And, it is up to the faithful to defend against the attacks of Satan. For any keen observer — and, no doubt, to any of the few LGBT young people in the audience (of which I am sure there are quite a few, given how large a congregation First Baptist is) — it’s clear who Harris and Perkins think are on the satanic side of the LGBT equality debate. For all their whimpering over faith and freedom, what they really wish to create is a heterosexuals-only, exclusive country club.
Take, for instance, the First Baptist choir’s performance of the song, “Livin’ in the Homeland,” before Perkins’ sermon. A recording of the song (not of the choir itself, sorry) and portion of the lyrics:
Livin’ in the homeland, not afraid to take a stand,
Every woman, child and man deserves to be free.
Stand tall. Don’t fall. All for one. One for all.
That is the battle call for you and for me.
Side by side, hand in hand, for freedom’s cause we’ll take a stand!
March! March with our flags held high.
Not afraid to fight. Not afraid to die.
March! March for the cause is just.
‘Tis a sacred honor, ‘tis a holy trust.
Freedom and liberty demand a high cost.
Many rights gained through so many lives lost.
The brave and the free know it goes hand in hand,
If you dare to dream, dare to dream,
Dare to dream of livin’ in the homeland.
And, they call gay people militant? That’s another debate for another day (and one we’ve had before…). But, one can’t help but find it ridiculously funny that Harris, Perkins and Co. believe they are the ones whose rights are under attack. I see no proposed constitutional amendments seeking to limit their rights. I see no organized movement to send Christians to “ex-Christian” camps. I see no state legislatures taking up “Don’t say Christian” bills. I see no school principals or school boards in mass denying the formation of Christian school groups or expelling heterosexual students and their boyfriends or girlfriends.
It’s a topsy-turvy world Harris and Perkins live in. The whole weight of a discriminatory body of law weighs down on the lives of LGBT people, yet it’s the WASP-y Christians who are oppressed? Talk about delusional.
The sermon: Highlights and audio
I’ve uploaded my entire recording of Perkins’ sermon below (or download here). It runs about 47 minutes with Harris’ introduction and Perkins’ leading of the after-sermon altar call. I’ve pulled out selected snippets and quotes below, as well, including a YouTube video with Perkins’ most direct commentary on the amendment, young people and LGBT people at the end of his sermon.
Mark Harris, on Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, anti-Christian “discrimination” and Christian action:
When you came up today, you probably noticed a bus parked out front of our church. What I was most impressed about this bus — on the very back of it where I noticed there are three major things stated: To protect life, to honor marriage and to stand for religious liberty. And, I’ll tell you what, I don’t know about you, but I want to be associated with any group of believers in this nation that are willing to say we stand for protecting life, honoring marriage and religious liberty in this nation. How about you? Amen. Would you not want to be a part of that?
I am grateful that in the course of time God raises up leaders who come with a message. Leaders who are willing to step into the public area. Leaders who are willing to be in the middle of the battle. People who are willing to speak when asked questioned and who have been gifted from the Lord to be able to do so in a way that challenges, in a way that encourages and in a way that declares his truth.
One of the greatest challenges in our day is being in a time when there are so many folks who believe that Christians should keep their ideas to themselves, keep their views to themselves, and who have said you’re really not welcome at the table and the marketplace of ideas. But I am so grateful that in this generation there are a few folks who have stood strong and said, “No, you’re wrong. The bible instructs that I have no choice but to step up to the plate, to take a seat at the table and to discuss in the marketplace of ideas because we share God’s word and we share his truth in that very marketplace.” Tony Perkins is one such man who has been willing to step up and speak out.
[As I already noted, it’s now clear exactly where Mark Harris stands. Though he tries to paint himself to both mainstream and LGBT press alike as a soft-spoken, middle-of-the-road and compassionate guy, we know he isn’t. This kind of praise isn’t given unless one truly believes in and stand with the person they are praising. Tony Perkins, who has ties to white supremacist groups and who himself heads an organization named a hate group, has received Harris’ full blessing. If any First Baptist members are interested, I hear there’s a sale on white hoods and robes at KKKmart.]
Tony Perkins on Mark Harris:
I just want to thank your pastor publicly for his bold leadership in standing for the truth even when that truth is not politically correct. That’s not an easy thing to do in today’s world. You should be grateful because I am grateful for a pastor and a church that is unyielding to the temptations of this day to shrink back from the major issues of our day which are so critical to taking forth the gospel to the world. So, thank you, Pastor Mark, for your leadership.
[Awww, how cute. The man with a racist past (and present?) thinks Harris is offering bold leadership. Does that include lynchings and beatings, Tony?]
Tony Perkins on voting:
If you’re not registered and you’re not voting I’m going to tell you, you’re not being salt and light. We need to vote our values in these elections — our biblical values according to God’s word.
Tony Perkins on America:
I’m here today not to give you a political speech…but I’m here to talk about the word of God because I believe that if there is anything that will turn America around it’s contained within this book. If it was good enough for the founders to build a nation upon, it’s good enough for the people of this country to guide a nation by today.
[The selected two quotes above are all you should need as proof of the radical, anti-gay right’s vision for America. Not one ruled by law. Not one ruled by fairness. Not one ruled by justice and equality. No. What they want is a theocracy — based on their own, limited and narrow view of what Christianity is and is not.]
Tony Perkins on the nationwide marriage fight:
I do a lot of traveling…and as I travel around the country and as I watch the media from time to time, there is this idea that you and I are somehow powerless to change the world around us. The basic facts would refute that, especially as we talk about the issue of marriage. Did you know that 31 states have voted on marriage and all 31 have voted to stick with God’s definition of marriage? Now, somehow I find it hard to think we’re on the losing side of that. But, if you watch the media, you’ll be led to believe that and, unfortunately, I believe many in the church are somehow led to believe we are powerless.
[No one can debate the tally on amendment votes. They are what they are. But, what Perkins conveniently leaves out of his commentary are the swell of states that are now offering full marriage equality. One by one by one, states are coming to their own rightful, just and equal conclusions about legal equity for LGBT people. And, it’s not the courts doing it anymore. It’s state legislatures — the elected representatives of the people.]
Tony Perkins on the North Carolina anti-LGBT amendment as a movement for redemption:
It’s going to be very hard for us to be world changers. As we engage in this upcoming election to defend God’s definition of marriage, I want you to know God has a heart of compassion for all people…Yes, he wants righteousness established but he also wants people to come into a relationship with him. So, when we are on our knees before God and we recognize our fallibility and our need for a savior and we experience his grace, then we stand up and operate out of heart of redemption for a world that is lost and dying and in need of a relationship with God.
[Earlier, Perkins said he hadn’t come to talk about politics. He’s right. For him, there’s no division between faith and government. And, moreover, his faith and his faith alone should control the direction of government. The fight over LGBT equality isn’t about politics, and Perkins’ own words prove. There can be no equality for LGBT people in Perkins’ America, for in such a country LGBT people don’t exist… they’ll all be redeemed, by choice or by force.]
Tony Perkins on authority and resisting Satan:
The power of authority comes from Jesus…He said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” Jesus had been obedient to the father even to death on the cross…You remember when Jesus first began his ministry, when he went away into the desert and fasted and prayed for 40 days, he was tempted by Satan and one of the temptations of Satan was to give him some authority. Do you remember? Jesus said, “No,” quoted back scripture and stood and resisted Satan as we are to do today and Satan finally fled.
[I emphasized “as we are to do today” specifically because Perkins stressed it in his speech. To those unfamiliar with evangelical-speak or the constant push and pull between the radical anti-gay fringe and LGBT people seeking equality, it might be easy to miss what Perkins is saying here. In summary: We have authority to act on behalf of Jesus and, like he did, resist Satan. Today, Satan comes in the form of LGBT people and their movements for equality. Satan (read: LGBT people) must be silenced and their legitimate needs and concerns quashed.]
Tony Perkins on faith as a choice:
This is not a question of doctrine. It’s a question of lifestyle…Why would Paul talk about being filled with the Holy Spirit comparing it to wine? Well, quite frankly, it’s because you and I are going to live under the influence of something. It’s an active decision that you and I make. It’s the result of choices we make. You’re not going to be filled with the spirit by cruising through the back of the church anymore than someone is going to become an alcoholic by driving by a bar…There are many Christians today who think they can drive by and sit on a pew one day per week and that they are somehow going to come under the influence of the Holy Spirit. I hate to tell you this morning, but it’s not going to happen. So, how are we going to come under the influence of the Holy Spirit? Well, we must choose to live under his influence.
[I just found ironically hilarious that Perkins put so much emphasis on religion and faith as a choice, especially considering the right’s constant stammer over sexual orientation being a choice and therefore unworthy of equal protection.]
Tony Perkins on Christian sin:
If you hope to be used by God, to be a vessel as he desires us to be that can change the world, we must confess our sins because if we don’t confess them, they will be exploited at some point in time and it will bring reproach to the cause of Christ.
[Two words: Ted. Haggard.]
Tony Perkins on reforming the culture:
This type of total commitment to Christ is contagious. This type of commitment to Christ will transform our marriages. It will transform our families and our relationships and our home and as a result…as our churches are transformed, our communities are transformed. As our communities are transformed, we will see our nation transformed.
[No matter how much they try to deny it, the right’s own words always convict them. They don’t want an America with religious liberty. No, they want an America where they have the liberty to quash other religions, faiths, beliefs and people. Big. Difference.]
Tony Perkins: The world must be ‘sanctified’
Perkins wrapped up his First Baptist sermon discussing mostly marriage and the anti-LGBT constitutional amendment, along with commentary on young people and LGBT people. A bit of “ex-gay” “hope” is thrown in at the end.
By now, 30 minutes into his sermon and just a few minutes away from the “Just as I am” piano-swooning altar call, Perkins has fully setup his audience. By golly, he’s not talking politics! Just religion. Yet, it is exactly politics, culture and government that becomes Perkins’ main focus as he concludes his commentary. See, the Family Research Council doesn’t want a mere transformation of church culture, they want a transformation of the entire American system of government, body of law and how individual people are treated in such a nation. As Perkins admits himself, it’s about “righteousness,” the teaching of evolution, abortion, LGBT equality and more. Don’t think for a second that if Perkins could have his way every public school teacher and university professor imparting accurate scientific information about evolution or health or social science information about sexual orientation would be immediately fired, exiled, fined and/or imprisoned. Perkins will say such an accusation is outrageous. He might even call it libelous. But, if every other theocracy on earth past or present is any indication, Perkins’ self-branded American theocracy would be no different: Dissenting voices quashed, the truth about science and life silenced and people unwilling to go along with flow punished to the fullest extent of absolutist, theocratic law.
Video/audio below. Transcript follows.
And then we see finally the power to change the world through the truth of Jesus’ teaching. See, this is where, my friends, the rubber meets the road, as they say. This is how we impact the culture. It is the application of scripture to our very lives. It is why every Bible-believing Christian in North Carolina should be supporting the amendment that stands with God’s definition of marrage. We must not back away from the reality that God’s word speaks to the issues of our day, just as it did in the days of the early church and just as it did in the early days of this nation. If he is to be our lord, we must chose to live for him, by him and under him even when this runs counter to the culture. The church should be teaching the whole counsel of God…
God defined marriage. It is not for us to redefine. Even when we go into the voting booth and we cast a vote on the marriage amendment number one here in North Carolina, we are not defining marriage. God already defined it. Who are we to think that we can redefine it? Today, you’re going to hear this and I’ve heard it. You’ve probably read some of the articles about me coming to town. You know, we are told these are political issues and the church should leave them alone. The truth is, they became political issues because the church for too long did leave them alone. It’s time that we begin to preach the whole counsel of God. It’s not a matter of just baptising. It’s a matter of teaching each and every believer to align themselves with the truth. Jesus said, “Sanctify them,” in John chapter 17, “Sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth.” My friends, this, as a follower of Jesus Christ, as one who says, “Yes, I will make you the lord of my life,” this is his word. This is definitive. We can’t change it. We can’t run from it. We can only obey it.
According to the Pew Research — they did a poll last year, a survey. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted a survey called “Religion Among Millennials.” According to the Pew survey, these millennials are considered less religious than older Americans, fewer belong to any particular faith, they attend religious services less often, they pray, are less likely to say that religion is very important in their lives. And, their worldview is a bit skewed. More than half of young adults, including — including — evangelicals, believe that evolution is the best explanation for the development of human life. And, they are far more likely than older people to say that homosexuality is a way of life that ought to be accepted by society rather than discouraged.
I’m going to be very clear: We are to love everyone. We are to love those who are bound up in lifestyle choices whether it be homosexuality, whether it be adultery, whatever, promiscuity. But, loving people is oftentimes telling them that they have chosen a pathway that is destructive. We must love. That’s why prayer is so important to what we do that we must have a redemptive heart for each and every human being.
But, back to our survey. There were some interesting if not some conflicting findings. Again, quoting from the survey. More than three-quarters of young adults agree there are absolute standards of right and wrong, including 85 percent of young evangelicals. Sixty-four percent of young evangelicals agree that houses of worship should express their views on the day-to-day social and political questions. Eighty-eight percent of evangelicals believe the Bible is God’s word and 86 percent believe in God with absolute certainty. That leaves me a little confused. How can young evangelicals believe in absolute right and wrong, believe that God exists and the Bible is word and yet they’re less likely to go to church, less likely to pray and they’re more accepting of evolution and homosexuality? In short, I believe they have bought into the idea of the separation of truth and morality from the world in which we live. Today, we hear it as the separation of church and state. That’s not what we’re talking about here. When they talk about the separation of church and state, they’re talking about the separation of morality and truth from the public space, about the education of our children, about what our universities are teaching…
We must begin and end with the word of God…This is not to say that we are taking some blind leap of faith when we uphold the sanctity of human life or the sacredness of man-woman marriage as designed by God in Genesis and confirmed by Jesus in Matthew and evidenced by all recorded history. The social science evidence is overwhelmingly affirming of God’s design of family. For those who would say that it’s all about the economy, that government should only deal with economic issues, let me point them to the government’s own data, that shows that married families are the essential contributors to wealth generation. Their incomes and savings immediately translate into revenue for the government and capital for the economy. And, that’s a mom and a dad who are raising kids. There is no rival in terms of revenue for government or capital for the economy. In other words, our economy will never be stronger than the families that make up our economic system and we cannot have strong families without moms and dads who are married in lifelong relationships. My friends, we must not be afraid to teach the truths of scripture no matter how politically incorrect they maybe, for it is this truth that enables the changed heart to change the world.
[Partial transcript follows…] Let me end with an account of what happened at my home church just a few years ago as we were voting on a marriage amendment. My pastor one Sunday preached a message on Sodom and Gomorrah. I know that’s probably politically incorrect to preach on that today. And, Sodom was not destroyed because they were inhospitable as some would claim today. As Jude pointed out, it was because of sexual immorality and pursuing that which was unnatural. The next Sunday he was preaching a message and as he was preaching that message there were two lesbians in the balcony that began making out trying to distract him during his service. After the service that morning…he came up to me and he was just beside himself…[The next Sunday] he got up and said [to] husbands and wives that this is not a place for you to be showing affection. This is God’s house. And, women and women, you ought not be doing that either because that’s an abomination. And, men and men, we don’t even want to talk about it. Well, after the service…he came to me and he was as white as a sheet and he said, “They came up to me and they confronted me and they want to meet with me tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock in my office”…I got to my office and I called him and he said, “You’ll never believe what happened.” He said, “Only one showed up and, boy, was she mad. I didn’t know what was going to happen but she came into my office and she began to pound on my desk,” and he said in a moment she began to confess that she was in a relationship she didn’t want to be in and within ten minutes they were kneeling before his desk and she was inviting Jesus Christ into her heart, asking him to be her savior and her lord. Last we heard, she had moved back to Oklahoma and was reunited with her husband and her children. The word of God is what we have been entrusted with to teach and as we stand for this truth, it is what unlocks — this is why this word is under so much attack today because it is not the element of man. It is not the wisdom of scribes. It is the word of God that will change the world.
But what is most chilling…
We can debate politics and religion all day long. Folks like me and Perkins would simply go ’round and ’round in circles. But what is most chilling, for me, and what struck me the hardest on March 4, was simply knowing that Perkins’ words and Harris’ “leadership” were having disastrous effects right then and right there in the hearts and minds of the young people scattered among the congregation.
A church as big as First Baptist surely has LGBT young people there. I bet there are more than a simple handful. I remember well the days when I’d go to church simply fearing what might next come out of my pastor’s mouth. These young people, held captive in their seats by their parents and church family, are in those very moments being tortured spiritually, emotionally and psychologically. Such abuse is unacceptable. And, it’s part of what ultimately leads to tragedies like wasted lives, drug and alcohol abuse and, God forbid, suicide.
The gospel preached by leaders like Perkins and Harris bears no resemblance to the awe-inspiring, loving, merciful and radically-inclusive Gospel of Christ. They might very well think they are being loving. They might believe to the deepest part of their core that they are offering hope and a path toward Christ. But, in all reality, they are at the root cause of suffering and pain. They are the perpetrators of religiously-motivated hate and emotional trauma.
Like Perkins and Harris, I, too, pray each and every day for a world transformed. Unlike them, however, I seek not a world drive by exclusivity, hate and fear, but rather a world where all might be embraced by their loving creator, their family and friends and accepted without question and without fail into the full fellowship of Christ’s church and into the full brother- and sisterhood of humanity.
I want a world where all people know what it is like to be normal, to be accepted, to be human, to be equal, to be free, to be open, to be heard, to be loved, to be happy, to feel strong, to be here, to make what is wrong right, to believe in a higher power that doesn’t see me as sin or sodomy, to have liberty and justice for all.
A native of Winston-Salem, N.C., Charlotte-based Matt Comer is the communications and program director of Campus Pride, the nation’s leading non-profit working for safer and more inclusive campus environments for LGBT and ally college and university students. From October 2007 to January 2012, Matt worked as editor of QNotes, the LGBT newspaper of the Carolinas. You can reach him at matt at matt comer dot net. On Twitter: @interstateq.