Pastor Nancy Petty, the lesbian spiritual leader at Pullen Memorial Baptist church in Raleigh, N.C., has a message for her state: Legalize same-sex marriage — or else. Until gay unions are legislatively permitted, Petty plans to no longer sign marriage licenses — an action that will potentially have a profound impact on her congregation.
At the end of July, Petty told her church body that until the state begins allowing gay couples to wed, she is uncomfortable performing nuptials. Apparently, she has asked church deacons to allow permission to be relieved of this duty until the matter is settled (i.e. until the state enables same-sex marriage). Though she claims that she’s enjoyed presiding over weddings, she says:
“every time I sign a marriage license for a heterosexual couple and act as an agent of the state, I am reminded of those couples who I marry that are denied the basic human right to legally marry the person of their choice.”
Star News Online further explains Petty’s decision:
She’ll do the religious blessing at Pullen, but she won’t sign a marriage license. If the congregation backs her up, anyone wanting a state-sanctioned marriage will need to see a magistrate first — most likely in the public safety building downtown, where brides in their gown must pass through a metal detector.
In addressing same-sex marriage, Petty said the following to her congregation:
“Do we, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, want to continue to participate in offering religious ceremonies that carry with them civil and human rights that are not afforded to all people? Or will it be our practice and the practice of our ministers to honor all marriages equally by only offering religious ceremonies, thus not acting as agents of the state and perpetuating the unjust marriage laws of our state?”
Some may be wondering how a Baptist church could condone such actions. Others may be questioning the church’s general stance on same-sex relationships. The Associated Baptist Press (ABP) has more:
The church has long blessed unions between both same-sex and heterosexual couples, [Petty] said, but they are not the same. For heterosexuals it is called a “marriage” and satisfies requirements for the state. The others are called “unions” and are not legally binding.
Petty said she has “become increasingly uncomfortable with the inequality” of the two ceremonies. Even though the intent is to celebrate lifelong committed relationships equally, she believes the church unwittingly condones marriage inequality by acting as an agent of the state.
The church has a long history of advocating for progressive policies. According to ABP, its former pastor, Edwin McNeill Poteat, was a leading advocate for progressive Christianity within the Southern Baptist Convention in the early 1900s.
The pastors who followed also took stances on issues related to organized labor, the Vietnam War and, obviously, gay rights. As a result of the latter, the church was removed from the Raleigh Baptist Association, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1990s.
Petty has been extremely active in her community. In 2010, she was arrested for taking part in a NAACP protest over a school diversity policy that was being stricken from the books. Here’s a video that showcases statements from Rev. William Barber of the NAACP as well as his and Petty’s arrest (she is only visible in a few frames, but her arrest and presence at the event is documented):
Considering the current debate over same-sex marriage across America, there’s no telling how long Petty could be refraining from signing licenses. The issue continues to be highly debated in the state.