March 18 was a happy day in Raleigh, as about 900 smiling North Carolina Cooperative Baptists gathered for a full day of worship, learning, business, and joyful fellowship at Hayes Barton Baptist Church. Participants had more than 60 workshops on a variety of topics to choose from, a fellowship hall filled with vendors and exhibits, and catered meals for lunch and dinner.
The hosts at Hayes Barton were amazing, offering the sort of hospitality the Bible finds so admirable. An edifying program, positive reports, and inspirational worship were the order of the day. Even though the $3.78 million budget approved for 2016-17 is 2.57 percent less than last year and continues a five-year downward trend, the fall-off is less severe than some other denominational groups have experienced. Interest in CBFNC and CBF national‘s varied missions and ministries remains high, and encouraging enthusiasm abounds. When CBF folk get together, love is in the air.
Sadly, that was not the case five days later, when North Carolina legislators gathered in Raleigh March 23 for a special (and very expensive) session for the purpose of passing a bill designed to discriminate. Some time back, Charlotte’s city council approved a common sense ordinance allowing transgender people to use public bathrooms matching the gender with which they identify. Claiming a need to protect women and children from “predators,” Republican lawmakers proposed and passed a measure to prevent local governments from passing nondiscrimination ordinances of any sort, and approved their own statewide bill to disallow discrimination on the basis of “race, religion, color, national origin, or biological sex” in businesses and public accommodations — pointedly excluding gender identity and sexual orientation as protected categories, though Democrats sought amendments to include them.
The House voted 82-26 to approve the measure, with all Republicans and 11 Democrats supporting it. The Senate approved the bill 32-0 after the 11 Democrats who were present walked out in protest. The bill now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory, who will have an opportunity for a judicious veto, though legislators have the votes to override such action. Look for a court challenge.
The legislators’ illogical logic cannot hide their obvious prejudice against and fear of the GLBT community. No matter what the law might say, persons with harmful intent could cross-dress and invade a bathroom where they don’t belong, so the legislators are not protecting anyone. Forcing transgender folk to use the bathroom that matches the genitals they happened to be born with but not the conscious identity they embrace could be traumatic both for them and for other folk who might happen to be in the same facility.
CBFNC folk brought good cheer, compassion, and a hopeful spirit to Raleigh. The NC legislature brought ugliness, prejudice, and a regressive intent.
Within CBF circles, North Carolina folk are respected leaders, voices of progress, at the top of the heap. In legislative matters, our state continues down the road of national embarrassment, dragged into the past by leaders who cannot for the life of them accept the present or see the future.
Charles Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities, may not have been the first to say “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” He certainly won’t be the last.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.