Sunday, May 27th saw a massive protest in the town of Maiden, N.C. against the Baptist preacher whose aggressively homophobic sermon went viral earlier in the month. Reverend Charles L. Worley of Maiden’s Providence Road Baptist Church delivered a sermon on May 13th after President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage. In a two minute clip that was pulled from the church’s website after the outcry began, but that spread on YouTube and other outlets, Worley declares that he, God, and anyone with sense are against gay marriage and then proposes his own appalling solution to so-called problem of homosexuality: build a 150-mile electric fence, inter all gays and lesbians behind it, and air-drop food until the population dies out as they fail to reproduce.
The viral spread of the video led to the organization on Facebook of a “Love, Not Hate” rally in opposition to Worley and the sort of intolerant rhetoric he has espoused. The protest drew a geographically diverse crowd of as many as 2,500 people to the Catawba County Justice Center twelve miles from Maiden. Organizers placed a good deal of emphasis on the peaceful intent of their demonstration, and local law enforcement handed out no citations for anything other than minor offenses. That’s not to say that there was no antagonism, however, as the rally drew some counter-protesters who were on hand to show support either for Worley or at least for the sentiment that homosexuality is a grave sin under Christian dogma.
Interviewed by Charlotte-based NBC affiliate WCNC, longtime Providence Road Baptist Church member Geneva Sims asserted that her pastor had every right to say what he said about homosexuals, adding, “The Bible says they’re worthy of death.” Other congregants defended Worley’s remarks by suggesting good intentions on the part of the preacher. Some assert that he was attempting to scare homosexuals straight in order to save them from the torment of Hell. Others lodged the feebler defense of reminding critics that Worley’s plan involved feeding the would-be prisoners, as if to suggest that leaving someone to die is morally defensible in a way that simply killing them is not.
Among reasonable people, who evidently are not present in Providence Road Baptist Church, there cannot be the slightest bit of doubt about the moral status of Worley’s remarks. What may be less obvious are the possible legal consequences. At the beginning of the clip, Worley refers to President Obama directly, and uses the gay marriage endorsement as a starting point for his homophobic rant. Towards the end, he mentions being asked whom he is going to vote for, and Worley loudly declares, “Not for the baby killer and homosexual lover.”
Some protestors are focusing on the partisan nature of this commentary from the pulpit in trying to combat the potential effects of Worley’s vicious attitudes. The New Civil Rights Movement website, for instance, has reminded its readers that Worley’s Church, like all other churches, has tax-exempt status, and as such should not be engaged in political advocacy of the sort seemingly on display in the YouTube video. Several readers of the site have reportedly contacted the IRS in response, as has Pastor Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Federal tax law clearly forbids any 501(c)(3) organization from intervening in any political campaign for or against a specific candidate, or from making partisan comments in official publications or at official functions. It could be argued, then, that on the basis of his fairly explicit encouragement that his congregation vote against Barack Obama in the coming election, Worley’s church, and any church that makes the same mistake, ought to lose its tax exempt status. But that is perhaps beside the point. On the basis of the horrid intolerance and immorality of his remarks, what Worley’s organization ought to lose first and foremost is its designation as a place of worship.
As protestor Liz Snell was quoted as saying at Sunday’s demonstration, “I just can’t believe that Jesus Christ would be about the kind of hate that we were hearing. It’s important for all of us to stand up against that.”