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Title: Oral History Interview with Patricia Long, November 14, 1996. Interview G-0215. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Long, Patricia, interviewee
Interview conducted by Honeycutt, Sherry
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
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Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
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Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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Languages used in the text: English
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2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
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Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Patricia Long, November 14, 1996. Interview G-0215. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series G. Southern Women. Southern Oral History Program Collection (G-0215)
Author: Sherry Honeycutt
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Patricia Long, November 14, 1996. Interview G-0215. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series G. Southern Women. Southern Oral History Program Collection (G-0215)
Author: Patricia Long
Description: 113 Mb
Description: 34 p.
Note: Interview conducted on November 14, 1996, by Sherry Honeycutt; recorded in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Sherry Honeycutt.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series G. Southern Women, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Patricia Long, November 14, 1996.
Interview G-0215. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Long, Patricia, interviewee

Interview Participants

    PATRICIA LONG, interviewee
    SHERRY HONEYCUTT, interviewer


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This is Sherry Honeycutt, and I'm interviewing Patricia Long at her home in Raleigh, North Carolina. The subject of this interview will be Pat's experience as a lesbian in Pullen Baptist church, and the process which she and her partner and members of that church underwent in the decision to support the gay holy union. Pat is forty-five years old, and the date today is November 14, 1996.
We can start with basic biographical information; talk about when and where you were born.
I was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in May of 1951. My father was a Methodist preacher, so was my grandfather and two of my uncles. My mother was a schoolteacher; they're both retired now. I grew up all over Virginia, we moved every couple of years but I lived in about ten different towns within the Virginia conference.
So how would you describe your religious upbringing?
Well, we were at church every time the doors opened. [Laughter] And I didn't resist that at all; I welcomed it. I took church seriously from early on. In fact, I was planning to be a missionary to Africa but never quite made it there. I've had an ecumenical background in that I was raised Methodist, but I went to an Episcopal high school and a Presbyterian college, and briefly to a Baptist seminary. I was even blessed by the pope once. [Laughter]

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Did you finish at seminary?
Why not?
I ended up in the hospital for a couple of months, and two months in the hospital costs more than four years in college.
Were you studying to go into the ministry while you were in seminary?
When did you first realize that you were a lesbian?
I realized I was different by the time I was five. I didn't have the word for it until I was twenty. When I was in high school, I was a very serious student and didn't date much and I always assumed that I would have a career instead of a family because back then you used to think in terms of choices instead of both. And all of that was probably at some level denial. When I finally realized "lesbian" was the right word for the way I was different, I was absolutely horrified. I hadn't done anything, but all of the cultural messages about how wrong it is to be gay, I had absorbed, as everyone else did in Southern American culture. And suddenly, I was one of them. I was one of the people that mothers try to keep their kids away from even though I have no interest in a relationship with a child. And it was very difficult because I assumed when I realized that I was lesbian that that was totally unacceptable to God.
So what were your own parents' views on homosexuality?
I don't really know what my father's views were. My mother had had some difficult experiences with her own background that sort of reinforced for her the religious

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condemnation of homosexuality. But at that point in time, she was not aware that we are who we are by our birth, by our creation. And over the years we've come a long way from where we started out and she is now an ardent supporter of gay people and has become an activist herself. She has most recently been very involved with P-FLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and she is one of the mothers in MAJIC, Mothers Against Jesse In Congress. She was even in Time magazine this month with them, so she's done a dramatic change, as have I, from when we both started.
When did you come out to your parents?
I came out to my mother when I was, I guess I was twenty-one or twenty-two. She didn't think I was really gay, she thought it was just a reaction to a difficult relationship with my father, and as long as I wasn't doing anything about it was easy for her simply to deny that it was a reality. So it was some years down the road before she began to take seriously that this is who I am.
You said before you were horrified when you realized that you are a lesbian. How did you come to terms with it?
I didn't for a very long time. I didn't until I was thirty-seven. And my life was changed by a Southern Baptist preacher down the street. There were things that happened along the way that made it possible for me to hear what he said when he did, but I was very much in the closet and mostly lived alone most of my adult life. I had been in a relationship with a Pullen member who was well-known and well-loved and we were out to absolutely no one. And when she died, neither her family nor mine nor our mutual friends knew what I'd lost. And that was a kind of—it didn't make sense to me at that

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point, because my caring for her had made me a more generous, loving human being and it didn't make sense to somehow, that what had made me a better person was something that I had to confess to God as a sin, as a prerequisite to being accepted, or to being Christian. So there was that sort of cognitive dissonance already in my life. I had moved away from here twice for job transfers and then come back. Mahan Siler had become Pullen's pastor in the interim. When I came back to Pullen, I very quickly came to respect him a great deal but I had no idea what his position was on gay issues. As it turns out, he had already preached a couple of sermons on gay issues at Pullen of which I was unaware. But in June of '88 he was preaching a series of sermons on human sexuality, and the first was on how marriage roles and expectations have changed from the fifties to the eighties, and he and his wife Janice did that together, the service. And the next one was one divorce, and how differently the church—how the church fails to respond to that crisis, that tragedy in a family. Whereas to death or illness, we know what to do, we know what to say; we bring casseroles, we take care of folks. And how difficult that is for the people involved, and the kids involved. I figured by the third sermon he'd get around to us. So I wrote him an anonymous letter, and left it in his box in the office, and swatted out the next week. And he not only got the letter but he read it in the sermon. And his response was to acknowledge what I think those of us who are gay and lesbian know, somewhere in our bones—that we are who we are because God created us this way. We didn't just wake up one morning and decide it would be fun to be an outcast or rebel against society. And he acknowledged—here's a white heterosexual male Baptist preacher acknowledging from the pulpit—that we are created as we are. That this is not a

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whim or rebellion but a given. And that it would be cruel of God to create people with this capacity for loving and then to deny any possibility of fulfilling it in a responsible way. So that was the catalyst, that sermon, for my beginning to accept myself as a lesbian. I have some friends who tease me about how far in the closet I was for so many years and how far out I have come since. But to me, the central issue is religious. The central issue is that a lot of people are hearing all of their lives that they, or their children, or their spouse, or their brother, is condemned by God for being gay. And the kind of pain and suffering that creates in human lives is just incalculable. And for me the reason for doing what I do and being who I am is to tell people, "It ain't so." I'm aware of the political ramifications and the legal ramifications and the disadvantage that we face in terms of things like tax law, and insurance, and inheritance, and all that sort of thing. But to me the central issue is that God loves you, and don't let anybody tell you different, and then we work from there. I have digressed from your questions [Laughter] .
That's okay, that's fine. So what motivated you to come out to the members of your church?
Well, after Mahan's sermon, I for the first time, got in touch with the gay community. I had always been too terrified to show up at anything. I was peripherally aware that there were groups and there were activities, but I wouldn't have dared. After that sermon, I actually went to my first lesbian pot-luck. That's kind of a cliché, but that's what women do. They get together and they eat and get to know each other. I'm glad it's that and not bars. It's much more my hours and my style. [Laughter] And met some folks there who were Christian and who were involved with Integrity, the

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Episcopal gay-lesbian group. And the chapter in this area at that time was in Durham. So I started going to Integrity. It was kind of a challenge walking in for the first time, knowing that you're out of yourself just by walking through the door. But you also know there's a priest there who knows who you are and who accepts you. We did really outrageous scandalous things like evening prayer and taking communion together. And from that I got involved in the Raleigh Religious Network. Actually, Mahan had marched in the Gay Pride parade the day before the sermon he preached. And the next year he was going to be away so I decided that I was going to be in the march for him because he'd been in it for me. I was on crutches at the time. The Raleigh Religious Network had a news conference at Pullen just before the march started next door at NC State. And that's where I met Jimmy Creech and Sally Zumbach and a lot of other folks that became very important to me; but that's when I was invited to join RRNGLE. But that involvement, I had in common with Mahan and with a lot of other West Raleigh ministers. And in 1990, Mahan was wondering if Pullen was at a point of beginning a process, of beginning to be explicit about its welcome to gay people. Because it had been a safe place for gay folks for a while. And there had been enough sermons, and he had been clear enough in the community, that there was a sort of tacit understanding, that this was a safe place to be. But the church had never taken a stand, and the model upon which we based the proposal was the Reconciling Congregations program, which was the United Methodist network of gay affirming congregations. It's not an official part of the Methodist church, as few of these networks are of their denominations, but they had a fairly well-developed plan for allowing a congregation to go through education and dialogue, leading to a decision

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about being explicit in their welcome. And so Mahan talked to Pat Levi, the woman who was chair of the Board of Deacons at this time, and to me, about whether we might begin this process. So I went to the Board of Deacons having already mailed out literature about the Reconciling Congregations Program. And I was taking to the Board the proposal that Pullen begins such a process.
Such a process to allow—?
Of study and education and dialogue, and dealing with the issue.
Did you intend that to culminate in the acceptance of the gay union?
No. Gay union is the last issue the congregation—anybody—would normally deal with. There are so many things that come before that. That wasn't even a part of what we were proposing. Nor was it something I would have proposed at the time that it came up for the congregation. [Interruption] So I went to the board in July and come out to the board in the process of making this proposal. Well, I've been at Pullen for eleven years and I'd sang in the choir and taught Sunday School and worked on the Outreach Board and done all kinds of things. So people knew me in other contexts and had some history with me. I was kind of a known quantity. Except I don't think anybody on the Board knew I was lesbian. So there was a certain shock factor in my coming out to them. But what I told them is what I told you, that there are so many people who go through such agony because they are taught that God rejects them for being gay and that it's very important for the church to say otherwise. So that got a discussion started, and I must say I was—I wasn't surprised but I was pleased that the Board was supportive. It was a good discussion, there wasn't any—there may be some people who dropped their teeth, but

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they didn't let on. They weren't willing—this is ironic, in retrospect—they weren't willing to commit the congregation to a process with a vote to be taken at the end, on just welcoming gay and lesbian persons as members of the church. We ended up taking a vote on a much more difficult issue, sooner than that as it turned out. And that's one of the ironies. But nevertheless, they were supportive of my issuing an invitation to folks who wanted to discuss the issue in the context of the church, so that's what we did. And that was the beginning of what became known as Open Forum on homosexuality in the church which met every other week for that full year, and had a couple of summer things, and then started the second year before the question of the holy union came up at all. And it didn't come up from that group.
Well, we're kind of on the subject now of the gay union and the process that Pullen went through before it came to that vote. Could you outline the steps that the church took?
Yeah. Kevin and Steven went to Mahan and asked him if he would be willing to officiate at a blessing of their commitment to each other. That took place in September of '92. Excuse me, '91. Mahan had been involved with the Raleigh Religious Network for some time and in that context, had discussed the issue of holy unions because our friend Jim Lewis had performed holy unions at his parish in West Virginia back in the late seventies and had had considerable fallout from that decision. But that was a decision that he took personally that his church wasn't involved in making. In the course of those discussions, particularly on Long Retreat that RRNGLE had down at Shalom Place at Topsail Island, the house that Mahan has used as a retreat center for fifteen years, we

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talked about holy unions and ramifications and authority within denominations and what kind of repercussions one might expect, and Mahan had expressed his willingness to perform such a service if he were asked, but this was the first time somebody actually had asked. What he did was, he spent about a month, well, a little more than a month—he had three sessions with Kevin and Steven to talk to them about what their intentions were and why they wanted to do this, and were they prepared for possible consequences and that sort of thing. And what you might call marriage counseling, sort of built in—I guess we need another word for it—committed relationship counseling. Marriage tends to sort of send up a red flag for folks. And then he spent some time on his own being clear about what he believed was the appropriate response and why. And actually he put this in writing, he put out six or seven steps that he had gone through in his own understanding of homosexuality and of sexuality in general, and God's intention for human life and so forth. The steps that he had gone through to come to a point where he believed it was appropriate to respond positively to Kevin and Steven. He put this in a letter to the Board of Deacons. Which, I had been elected to the Board the year after I came out to the Board, which is another commentary on Pullen. He presented it to the Board, it was the last item on the agenda in the November meeting. He presented it to us in letter form, he asked—he passed it out, asked us to read it, asked us not to respond immediately, and asked that we spend at least a month in discussion and prayer, and reflection before we made any decision at all. This is what folks on the Board referred to as "The Jolt." But the response after we read it was that he and Jim Powell who's chair of the Board, asked each of us in turn to tell them what information, or what resources we would need to be

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able to make a decision on this issue, rather than "What's your position", but what kind of help do you need? So we did that.
We also called a meeting for two weeks after that that was on this issue only. And that was one of the most remarkable meetings I've ever lived through. Every one of the deacons had spent a lot of time, a lot of soul searching, trying to figure out how to respond, and from what point of view. And everybody came at it from a different angle. But since I was the only gay person on the board, or the openly gay person, I was kind of the focus of what people had to say. We agreed at the meeting that Mahan should follow his conscience in terms of his own participation. We agreed that the decision on whether this should be part of the church ministry, and the symbol of that being whether you can use the church building for it, should be made by the congregation. In a subsequent meeting, in the regular December meeting two more weeks from then, we took votes on the issue divided up into four pieces so that it would be clear where we agreed and where we didn't. We were unanimous about Mahan's—the appropriateness of him following his conscience. We were unanimous about the congregation's decision. There was a split vote, 14-5, about recommedning that the service be part of the church's ministry and about recommending that the building be used for such services.
A couple of days after that meeting, forgive me, back up—a couple of days after the mid-November meeting, five of us had been appointed as a committee to try to plan a process. So we sat down and went through all the options, appreciating the fact that we had gotten the issue presented to us in a safe environment with some respect and confidentiality built in. We wanted to be able to present it to the congregation in a similar

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way, but there was no way to get everybody together at once, and it would be hard to do it in little pieces without its beginning to be spread by rumor rather than facts, so the best we could come up with—especially with Christmas right ahead—was to send out a letter to the congregation similar to the one we'd received, but with some additional stuff from the deacons. Then plan a whole series of small group meetings, of opportunities for people to get together and talk. We ended up scheduling like fifteen meetings. Some of them were morning, some of them were at church, some of them were in people's homes. We had some at outlying communities where you have a lot of members. Some were night for folks who work and some were in the daytime for people who don't drive at night and that sort of thing. We tried to create enough opportunities so that no matter what your schedule is you could attend at least one. And people were invited to attend as many as they wanted to. We had two deacons at each of those meetings, and we tried to have somebody from Open Forum—actually it was suggested that we have someone who had been a participant in Open Forum at each one just for information purposes because we'd gone through a lot of study together, dealt with a lot of different issues. And that was a group that was about half gay and half straight, so it wasn't just a matter of having a gay person at each meeting but having someone with that background. So those meetings went on. The trouble is that somebody took the letter directly to the newspaper, the day it went out. It was in the newspaper on Friday before some folks had even gotten their letters. And before the first meeting which we'd planned for Sunday. So immediately it took on this sort of life of its own in the public. And it was all this debate

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and letters to the editor, and all the Baptist stuff got whipped up before we even got a chance to consider, much less make a decision.
That was really a crazy time. For four months straight we were in the newspaper all the time. The church got hundreds of calls and letters. Some of them were very reasonable but very concerned. Some of them were just nasty. Some of them were extremely supportive. We have collections of them at church. There's one whole notebook of positive letters and one of negative letters. They kept a log in the office, I feel for the secretaries, because they had to field a lot of stuff during that time. The difficulty was that we had an internal process that was fairly reasonable and allowed a lot of opportunity for exchange. But this external stuff going on kind of superimposed itself. Kids were being teased on the schoolbus, people were having to defend the whole issue at their workplace even before we made a decision. Whether or not they agreed with it. We had about a third of the congregation who did not agree with it, with the holy union piece.
Now, it was almost unanimous that we agreed that gay and lesbian persons would be accepted in full membership. That was never in question. But the offering services to bless couples was the piece on which about a third of the congregation did not agree.
So the process was to go from the small group meetings to a town meeting, which is something we do every once in a while when there's something going on at Pullen. The town meeting is just kind of an open mike, it's a get together where everybody can hear everybody, and just listen to each other and sort of think out loud. There's no voting that goes on, just a chance to speak and listen in the larger group. And so we had one that was

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just really amazing. There were two people who spoke first in opposition and everybody else who spoke was in support. There was a lot of courage shown, and a lot of just amazing stuff that happened. The really good precious stuff that happened in this process—anybody who was there would tell you just how amazing some of it was, and how we got to know each other at a level we never had before. You don't get opportunities to know each other that deeply with that kind of honesty at church very often. Which is a sad commentary but it's true. Sometimes churches were just supposed to keep up appearances. And this was being very honest and remarkably caring of where other people were coming from. But after the town meeting there was the congregational meeting, which had been, from the beginning, advertised as the first opportunity to vote in the issue. And it had been made explicit that the congregation could decide at that time whether they were ready to vote. So the process could have continued beyond that. It was real intense. Some of us were at five and six meetings a week through that. And there were lots of extra deacons' meetings and extra ad hoc committees doing various things. So a lot of people were just kind of worn out, didn't want to extend it because it had just taken over our lives, pretty much. A lot of other things kind of got set aside simply because of the intensity of what was happening, not only inside but what was happening to us from the outside.
And so the people who came to that congregational meeting, most of them expected the vote to be taken then and there. And that would explain why we had the largest turnout we've ever had. Probably ten times our normal turnout for a congregational business meeting. But there was a decision made at the recommendation

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of the deacons, that mail ballots be used because that would allow everybody who was a member of the church participate. And it would allow the confidentiality of voting. So once the meeting made that decision to use the mail ballots, the only thing they had left to do was to finalize the motions. And the deacons had gone through considerable effort to come up with a graduated set of motions as a starting place. Of course, any of them could have been thrown out. But to begin with areas of general agreement and move toward the more difficult, more controversial areas. So that in fact, we did get substantial agreement on the welcome and acceptance of full participation of gay and lesbian members. Which is all one would have voted on at the end of a Reconciling Congregation's Program kind of process. The holy union issue is much more difficult. But the process then became sending out mail ballots, double blind. It was kind of a complicated process to send them out so that they came back and you could guarantee signatures that only members voted, and people only voted once. And then take out the inside envelope and tally those without knowing whose they are. I was part of that process too. And that was February 28th that we tallied the votes. And then March 1st, the Sunday, the results were announced after the worship service. And a lot of the external furor intensified with the vote. There'd been plenty of it that we were even considering the issue, that made enough people made. But once the vote was taken we were kicked out locally, and then state, and then nationally.
Because the congregation had voted to have the union ceremony?
Yes. And the expulsions were pretty much foregone conclusions at that point. It's interesting that in March, after the vote, just a couple of weeks after the vote, Pullen

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had a session out at Meredith College to which the pastor and two lay people from every congregation in the Raleigh Association…


Okay, we can continue.
We were at Meredith College, at the meeting the pastors and lay people from the Raleigh Association churches were invited to. Seventy-eight people attended that meeting. The meeting to kick us out, over a thousand people attended. And there was virtually no opportunity for us to speak at that meeting. Mahan got three minutes and none of the rest of us got any time. Five of us were prepared to speak and had sort of divided the subjects among us and sort of help our fellow Baptists understand how we could come to a position they found so inconceivable. It's the closest I've ever been to being in a lynch mob kind of mentality. People were angry and they wanted to get it over with and they weren't interested in listening at that point.
As the only gay member of the Deacon Board during this process, did you feel it was your special duty that you had to the church to take an active role in educating?
Absolutely. You're right, educating was the point. Open forum had really been a remarkable kind of experience because it had become a very close, trusting community. And there were, as I mentioned, almost as many straight people as gay people in the group. And there were couples on both sides of the spectrum and younger folks and members who'd been there thirty, forty years. So it was a very positive experience, and there was also just a lot of factual information involved in that

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experience. But nobody else on the Board of Deacons had been part of Open Forum. And the regular attenders were thirty, forty people. The congregation is 850. So my immediate response was to be aware that we had a lot of catching up to do. So I made notebooks for everybody on the deacon board, I made big information books to go in the library, ten sets of stuff that a lot of folks checked out and read. We kept the information center full of handouts and flyers and things that we replenished every week. Because they went quickly. People were taking this very seriously and were doing a lot of homework. No matter where they were on the issue. In fact, one of the people I respect most about this, who did the most studying, disagreed with the holy union. He's a good friend. He came to ours. And what he said was, "I don't believe in this, but I believe I you." So how can you argue with somebody who does their homework and knows what they believe and why? I'd much rather have someone oppose me well than agree with me badly. But at any rate, that was overall that I found myself—I had been the one that had led the Open Forum group for a year and a half before all this happened.
So would you describe that role as having been an activist role?
Sure, sure. The ([unknown]) I need to make, though, is that the request for the holy union came as a surprise to me. Mahan called me in his office the Thursday before that November Board meeting and told me about it and read me his letter to get some feedback. And that was the first I knew about it. And I was really worried at that point because I knew most of the congregation hadn't been through any kind of process of getting to know people or coming to understand what the issues were or dealing with Biblical material. [Interruption] So, I would not have asked the congregation to consider

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a service of union at that point had it been up to me. And I was really worried that we hadn't done the background work as a congregation. This is not an easy issue no matter who you are and where you stand. There's a lot of pain involved, there's a lot of emotion around this. Somehow it seems to hit people at a point where rationality may or may not play. There's a lot of fear and anger that this generates in people. You have to bring people from one place to another gradually. I mean, golly, it took me—it was seventeen years from the time I knew lesbian was the name for who I am to the time I started accepting myself. And at the point that we started this process, I had already had a fairly intense four years of education from doing a lot of reading, from going to Integrity, from being involved in RRNGLE and RRNGLE conferences, and things like that. So I was worried that there wasn't enough time to do it well with the whole congregation. But it was real clear to me that I needed to do as much as I could as clearly as I could.
When did you and your partner decide to proceed with the steps toward your own holy union ceremony?
She decided before I did. Actually it was at the Town Meeting that I described that she indicated her interest in having the service herself. And that was a coming out process for her in front of colleagues and clients and what-not that involved some risk. At the various points in our relationship I have usually been the one playing catch-up. I think I've caught up all the way now [laughter]. Because I'm very happy to be where I am and with her, and it's real clear that this is the right thing for my life. She was concerned early on that we might be the first couple to ask. Had we been, it would have

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been further down the road than the process Pullen actually went through. For her, it became a question of how much risk she was willing to take with regard to her employment. And we considered, actually, having service with Mahan on a trip to California, because it would allow us not to put her in that risk. And it was Janice Siler, Mahan's wife, who made it real clear to her that that would not do. That for the church to have gone through all it did to make it possible for such a service to take place, that she wasn't going to have anything to do with it if it weren't at Pullen. And that was kind of a conversion moment for my partner. So that's the point at which we started making plans for our own service there. This was sixteen months after the first service, and was, in fact, the second one. There have been a number since. But things have quieted down considerably and we were very fortunate in that there was no publicity at all.
Did you find any of the members of the congregation were still in opposition?
The people who were violently opposed had left. And that was not a large number, but it was a very painful experience for all. Some of those folks were dear friends of mine that I had known for a long time and loved, and loved by. That was probably the most painful part of the process for me. It wasn't what people were saying in the newspaper. It was feeling the pain of their loss and feeling the pain that they felt in having to make that decision. Because it's not one they made lightly. There were people who disagreed and had stayed, because there's so much else with which they agree with the Pullen community. It's been such an important part of their lives and there are so many values that are shared that there are not a whole lot of places they would readily find to go from Pullen. And of course, we feel like the folks at Community United

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Church of Christ are members of our congregation anyway, because there's a lot of shared territory there. Some of the people who did not vote for the church's offering holy unions did, in fact, come to ours. And from a number of points of view, our service was a celebration for the church. They had known both of us for some time, and we had been actively involved in the boards and committees and various kinds of work in the church. And we weren't being bombarded by the Baptists and the newspapers and the letters from all over the country as we had been before. And it was actually a chance for people to celebrate what they had done, what they had made possible. And so it was a very joyful occasion, and there were three hundred folks there, most of them heterosexual. It really was kind of the church's day to savor the joy that they couldn't feel as intensely when they were under such siege.
How do you, personally, reconcile what a lot of people would claim are really straightforward Biblical teachings in opposition of homosexuality?
Well, I'll try to do it more or less briefly. There are a lot of prohibitions in Leviticus for all sorts of things, many of which have to do with keeping Israel pure and separate from the surrounding tribes and peoples, keeping the worship of Yahweh untainted from the worship of idols. Particularly in the Old Testament setting there were Canaanite fertility cults that had as part of their worship sexual rituals. And so part of the prohibition of male-male intercourse, for instance, is that they are associated with other religions and the point of the law is to keep Israel faithful to Yahweh. Another part of that is that most of the other religions surrounding both Old and New testament Jewish people had gods and goddesses, had paired gendered deities. Yahweh has no gender and

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has no consort. And so the sexual rituals that were part of the Greek and the Roman as well as the Canaanite religions are not appropriate to the worship of Yahweh. There are also some misunderstandings of human sexuality in the Hebrew Old Testament experience. For instance, the assumption was that male semen contained the entire baby. That the woman was merely the field in which the seed was sewn, quite literally. She was an incubator, but that she had no contribution to make to the baby itself. And therefore, the wasting of semen was equivalent to murder. It's very much like the anti-abortion debate now. Also, you had a nomadic tribe of people who had many natural and human enemies. And survival depended on making babies. They were in a very different situation from ours, where our survival is threatened by making too many babies. And so, it's—to me, it's a little strange to assume that the appropriate command to give someone in a drought is the same as the appropriate command in a flood. So one must consider the circumstances in which those prohibitions were made; whether those circumstances still pertain. For instance, it's forbidden to mix fibers of cloth in the Old Testament. There was a good reason for that then. The idea was to be fair in trade so if you said it was wool it should be wool, and if you said it was flax it should be flax. Now we've got these little tags in our shirts that say fifty-five percent polyester forty-five percent cotton. The idea of being fair in trade is still appropriate, and that is still applicable to us in the modern day. But the means of doing it is no longer appropriate. And so, while it may have been appropriate both because you're trying to avoid foreign relations, because you're trying not to waste seed that could become babies, to prohibit male-male intercourse for those reasons. Those reasons may not apply now. What is singularly

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lacking in both the Old and the New Testament is any understanding of sexual orientation. The assumption is that everybody's heterosexual, and that that is natural. And that therefore, any behavior that does not fit the male/female reproduction model is unnatural, and ergo, wrong. We now understand that there is a whole spectrum of sexual orientation that almost all human beings are capable of responding in varying degrees to either gender. And it's the difference in degree, that when it becomes so great is equivalent to a difference in kind. But there are not two boxes. There's not a heterosexual box and a homosexual box. All of us are somewhere along this Kinsey scale, if you will. That was not understood then. There are condemnations in the New Testament of sexual intercourse between males that are based on one avoiding idolatry. The particular kinds of sexual behavior that Saint Paul refers to are prostitution and cross-dressing and pederasty which was an institution where a man who was usually married and had a wife and kids at home took on a young boy, became his mentor, provided his education and housing and all this sort of thing, in return for passive sexual favors. This was a part of the culture in which he lived with which he took exception, and I also would take exception with that. I don't think that adults having sexual relationships with children who are in a powerless relationship is appropriate whether you're heterosexual or homosexual. What is not in the Bible is a way of dealing with people who are constitutionally oriented toward the same gender and who are in committed, long-term, faithful relationships. Who are in the same kind of moral situation as a husband and wife in terms of their obligations to each other. That's not in there. And so we have to deal with the kinds of principles that we derive from scripture and from our understanding of

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the life and ministry of Jesus in particular in trying to deal with the things for which there are not prescriptions. And it seems to me that mutuality and faithfulness and generosity and forgiveness and love are the kinds of things that one would look for in a relationship between two people regardless of their gender as making it a moral relationship.
How have people responded to this? To your idea of this reconciliation? Especially people who are maybe in opposition whenever you explain this to them?
Well, this is something I've learned from my mother, I guess. I don't assume that there is one right answer to questions. I assume that there is a lot of information and some of it can be very helpful. And the point is to make available the information and to be willing to listen and dialogue where people are interested in doing that. Generally at Pullen, people have been very open to understanding things in other ways than may be traditional for religious communities. And so there has been a mutual respect involved in this whole process within the church which has been really remarkable to me. I mean, there's been no name-calling, there have been no shouting matches, there has been no condemnation of people. There have been some very strong disagreements on the wisdom of various courses of action, but that's different. And generally people are open to hearing these points of view whether or not they accept them as their own opinion, or as, heaven forbid, the only way to look at it, I've had some real good conversations and correspondence with people about this. Basically, it's not my own wisdom I'm talking about, it's the research that I've gleaned from a lot of other people. And I just share what I know and show them what the sources are, and they can take it from there.

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Have you ever found yourself put on the defensive by anyone who challenges this point of view?
Not really. As long as you think you're unworthy you're on the defensive. Once you can hear the news that God loves you then it doesn't matter what people say. Because that's the first thing. That's the one thing that really matters. What we may or may not agree on around the edges is not a threat to who I am. There's a lot of anger in my life but it's not around this issue, because I know where people are coming from. I spent a lot of years of my life believing exactly what they have been taught to believe. I know where they're coming from and I know how it feels to be there and I know especially how it feels to be there and look in the mirror and believe those things. And so I'm not mad at somebody who doesn't see it the way I see it. I may be able to give them some tools that will be helpful to them. And if they are that's great. And if they still disagree with me then that's their privilege. That doesn't threaten me. It was kind of neat the Sunday after the vote there were picketers at church. These guys rented the sidewalk, they got a permit for the sidewalk across the street. We later found out that they had been hired. And we were on our way to Sunday School and I decided to stop and talk to them instead of going to Sunday School so I invited them to worship with us, you know, I told them who I was and gave them a handshake, nobody gave me a name or a hand and they declined to set foot in the den of iniquity that was being led straight to hell and that sort of thing. It was pretty clear early on that our interpretation of Biblical stuff were at two ends that were not likely to ever meet. And I didn't try to convince them. There are people whose ears and hearts are open, for whom information can be helpful. There are

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people who aren't going to hear it. So I just sort of let that be. But the good thing about that morning was knowing that these guys couldn't threaten me, these signs about, "God Hates Fags," they can believe that if they want to, for whatever reasons, but they can't get—they can't harm me anymore. There was a time when they could have devastated me. So it takes a lot of the pressure off of the confrontations.
Have you been a gay rights activist outside of the church?
Yeah. I've been to various demonstrations, I've testified before Raleigh City Council and the State Legislature, I've written letters to the editor and done some phone banking and stuff I think it's important for those of us who have the luxury of being out to make good use of that. It's real easy for folks to assume all the stereotypes about being gay if the only people they recognize as gay is the extreme, the rebellious against society, the folks that are going topless to a march, or in leather, or whatever, that people will pick up right away as being gay. Most of us are just so ordinary. You know? We go to work every morning, we rake our yard, we take out the garbage, we pay our taxes, we go to the movies; we're just very boring. There's nothing remarkable about this household except that both of us happen to be female. But we work on our relationship the same way husbands and wives do; in fact, there was a Wednesday night class offered at church on couples' relationships. And we were accepted as part of that. There were five gay couples and probably twelve straight couples and after everybody just sort of figured out, "Well, yeah…we're all working on the same stuff." And that was one of the little blessings, one of the little serendipities, if you will, of being at Pullen in the aftermath of this decision, that something like that could happen. That two gay men could dedicate

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their adopted son, along with all the other babies. Just things like that that are pretty amazing. I'm not sure I stayed on your question there.
Yeah, you did. How would you describe your style of activism?
I am definitely not an in-your-face, angry, give it to me now or else activist. I am a "this is right, and these are people who deserve it, and it's time we spoke up" kind of activist. And as I said, I mean, the first thing I say—the political stuff is important. the recognition of our households as units of society is important. And being able to see your partner in the emergency room without getting somebody else's permission is important. But the central piece is letting people know that God loves them as they are. And that's got to be a piece of whatever it is I'm doing.
Do you think that the whole experience at Pullen, the education process, the decision to have the gay unions, has changed the tone of the church on other controversial issues?
Not really, because Pullen had a long history of taking controversial stands on issues. You know, as Elmer Johnson, who is Vice Chair of the Deacons, and all ([unknown])—somebody asked him if this was a watershed and he said, "No, this comes rather naturally to Pullen." We've almost gotten kicked out by the Baptists several times before. We elected women deacons in 1924. We were part of the Civil Rights movement. We made an explicit—we made it explicit shortly after Edwin McNeill Poteat died, that is something that he had been working for some time, that members of all races are welcome as members at Pullen. We made a decision not to require that Christians who were joining Pullen from other denominations be re-baptized by immersion if they had

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not been baptized by immersion. That was scandalous. I mean, that almost got us kicked out. Bill Finlator had lots of things to say about the Vietnam War, and that caused some dissension within the congregation as well as from outside. There were some people who left over that. So this is a hot button right now, it would have been even hotter any time before now, but it's one of a string of things.
Are you optimistic that other churches will follow in Binkley and Pullen's footsteps in possibly becoming more accepting of homosexuality?
It's happening. What you have going on now—well, I get real optimistic when I look back twenty years. Because to see where we have come, I mean, it's a conversation now. It used to be you didn't bring it up at the table. And it's a conversation. It's in the media on a regular basis. It's gotten to be just normal to see articles about gay issues. And even ten years ago that was pretty new. There are networks of congregations now in seven or eight denominations and they are growing at a considerably faster rate than they were five years ago. We've come so far. Now, there's further to go, but I have to feel like the momentum is in the right direction and the progress we've made is significant. At the same time there's a backlash against it. There's a very violent conservative backlash against the progress that we've made both on the political front and on the religious front. Sometimes you may feel like you've made one step forward and two steps back but the other way I have been offered to look at that is that it's the last gasps of a dying way of life. That people scream loudest when they feel like what they have taken for granted is being undermined. And there are lots of—you know, the other piece of that is that all oppressions have a lot in common with

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each other. And people have not been overly anxious to make common cause with gay and lesbian people because we're perhaps the most unpopular form of oppression. But misogyny and the oppression of the poor—there is a power structure that has existed for a very long time that has white males at the top—white heterosexual males at the top—and to the degree that you differ from any of those characteristics you are further down the ladder. And heaven help you if you are a lesbian, female, black…you know. There have been books written about these multiple disadvantages. But I think the whole system is changing significantly. And we're just a piece of that. And the momentum of history, if you will, is in our favor.


Actually in 1986 I proposed a resolution to the Board of Deacons that Pullen leave the Southern Baptist Convention for a whole string of reasons, none of which had anything to do with homosexuality. Because they had taken so many positions that were at considerable variance with what Pullen people believe. And I was encouraged to withdraw that because if we had left the Southern Baptist Convention, the people who are members of our congregation who also worked for the Baptists would have their jobs at risk. So I did. It was kind of ironic, again. But, when in fact we were kicked out by the Southern Baptists there were seven people in our congregation who had to choose basically between their jobs and our church. And there were folks who opted for their

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jobs and there were folks who opted for the church and there were some who managed to keep both. But that was a very serious dilemma for a number of folks. Personally, I had been apologetic about being Baptist up until this process because to me it connoted the kind of behavior that I was seeing in the Southern Baptist Convention. I was Baptist because Pullen was Baptist. But during this process, thanks to Mahan, I learned a lot about folks like Felix Manz and the Anabaptists, and about the core principles on which being Baptist is centered. About the priesthood of the believer, that Baptism is, in fact, intended as a choice by a believer who knows what they are doing rather than something that is done to an infant without their knowledge. That each of us, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit is competent to interpret scripture. That we don't have a mediator between us and God, there's direct access. These sorts of things. Democracy is a very central part of Baptist life. And the way this decision was made is very Baptist. It wasn't handed down from a hierarchy. It wasn't made just by the minister and imposed on the church. It wasn't even made by a Board of Deacons and handed to the rest of the congregation. It was made by everybody, and that's how Baptists work. I really realized that I am very Baptist and want to be. The Southern Baptist Convention left us. Now, we've always been the lunatic fringe. We've always been the gadfly, the burr under their saddle, I suppose, for a long time. But the Southern Baptist Convention really left Baptist principles and left a great many of the members of the denomination in this very conservative and very political takeover. Of course, we had seen that happen with Southeastern. We had lots of members who were Southeastern faculty and who were students there, and to see what happened to Southeastern and grieve through that process,

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I mean, that was just another piece of losing what that institution and what Baptist life had been. But as far as leaving the church for say, MCC, I mean, I'm a child of God first. I have been a Christian—I don't want to be in the ghetto. I don't want to go to a church that accepts me as gay because it's a gay church. Now, I've been to MCC. I've been to St. John's on a number of occasions and have enjoyed worshipping with them. And I understand perfectly well why there's a need for Metropolitan Community Church. I mean, there are lots of people who've been so beaten up in their own churches that the only place they could hear good news is a place like MCC where they knew they were safe. You know, we had not been safe in our own churches as a group. So I appreciate the need for it and I'm glad it exists but it's not who I am or what I need. Most of my friends have been heterosexual all my life. It's only in the last few years that I've found out that there are a lot of really great gay and lesbian people in the world and it's okay to be one. [Laughter] But I wouldn't want to lose the diversity of being in a mixed community like Pullen. You know, diversity is a two-way street. It's not just the majority accepting us, it's being in the melting pot.
What motivated you to write your book, Enlarging the Circle?
Well, the short answer is Mahan Siler. The longer answer is that before my partner's change in employment I was working half-time for the Raleigh Religious Network, and part of that was setting up a resource library which now belongs to Community Works. And part of that was doing a history of the Network. And I did a lot of interviews like this and transcribed them all and was in the process of writing that history when I had to find a full-time job, quickly. And the full-time job ended up being

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more than full-time and I didn't get back to the book for some time. Basically, this is the piece that's gotten out. There are half a dozen chapters that are written, one of them has been printed, but this is the piece. And really, the Network no longer exists, for a variety of reasons. A lot of the key players have moved on, are no longer in this area. And a lot of the people are involved in more issues than this, as is appropriate, so am I. But the time and the funding, and the ongoing nature of the Network were all lacking in terms of finishing the whole piece. It was real clear that this story needed to get out, and it really should have gotten out sooner than this. But Mahan was real clear that this needed to be produced in a way that people could use. And I had been collecting material from day one. I have boxes in there of all these articles and stuff from which this was done so I finally got this much finished in August.
Do you feel as though, since all of this took place that the way people in the church, for better or for worse, have treated you, has changed at all?
I suppose more people know me. Well—yeah, that's probably fair. If anything, I feel there is probably some additional respect. For the new gay people who have come to Pullen since all this happened, I guess I am a kind of "foremother." [Laughter] And I suppose there are instances in which I am invited to participate in some things both because I am lesbian, and that helps represent the whole congregation and because of other commitments and experience they've had with me. I was invited to preach this July, I did the same last July. Not something I expected to happen, but for health reasons I am less actively involved in outside work than I was. So I guess that I have backed off

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of a lot of things a little, but I am still very much a part of the congregation, and they are my family.
Have you ever thought of going back and pursuing ordination?
Do you think that's still a possibility?
Oh, I'd give my eye-teeth and several other things if that were. But what I have discovered is that there's a great deal that you can do anyway. And so I'm trying to do some of that.
Well, is there anything else that you want to add?
Yeah, you asked a question in there that we didn't get to, how I met my partner. After I had gone to the Board about the Reconciling Congregations Program, I wrote an article as an invitation to the first discussion meeting, and one of my partner's best friends was at that time head of the Religion Department at Meredith. He'd been after her to come to Pullen for about fifteen years. And when this article came out he told her about it and she decided to come to Pullen. So she walked down to Finlator Hall that night along with about fifty folks that showed up for that first meeting. It's the first time she'd been to church in twenty years. And that's how we met.
Did she join Pullen?
Yeah. She decided that night when she came to that first Open Forum meeting that any church that could do this, she wanted to be a part of. So she had decided to join already. And she came to her first four Sunday morning services, and as is the case with many of us, we feel like Mahan has read our minds, and is speaking directly to us, and

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how could he possibly know so well exactly what is going on with us? So she cried through her first four Sunday morning services, and she joined in December, and has sense been very busy. She has been on Building and Grounds for a number of years, everytime the roof leaks or a sink backs up or whatever, she's at church working on it. She has been on Finance Committee, was chair of that, she's substituted in Sunday School, just being real active. And not being a shy person at all, she is well known.
How long have the two of you been together?
We met six years ago, and we've been living together a little over five. And our service was three years ago last August.
Are there a lot of gay unions performed at Pullen now?
To my knowledge there might have been eight or nine total. We were number two. I've been to several others in the sanctuary that were fairly large occasions. There are some folks who want to do this fairly quietly in the chapel, so people may not generally be aware. But there hasn't been a great flood of people. One of the requirements is that at least one member of the couple be a member of the church. And so it's not—we haven't had a lot of folks coming to Pullen simply for the purpose of having the service and not being otherwise connected with the church. There's a significant gay community within the church, there's also a much more significant heterosexual community, and there are lots of—one of the arguments against doing this was that it'd drive all the families with children away and there'd be no future in the church. Well, we have a larger Sunday School now than we've ever had, and we have more young families joining all of the time. In fact, the interesting thing was that during

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the process we had join the church—heterosexual people—join the church so that they would be able to vote in favor of it. So the predictions of gloom and doom have not turned out to be true. There has been some real pain in all of this for anybody who was involved, and who cared. You know, it's been a difficult thing to deal with. But some of the memories I have of the good stuff that happened in this process—there's just nothing like it that I've ever experienced. I'm grateful to these people for the kind of people they are, not because they let me have a service but because they're just amazing people.
What aspect of your involvement in the entire process are you the most proud of?
Hmm…I hadn't thought about it from that point of view. I guess I just hope I was faithful, to the best I knew.
Do you feel as though Pullen has healed?
There's been a lot of healing. It's not like all the pain has gone away but there's been a lot of healing. I think some of the folks who disagreed but stayed have been reassured by the way things have unfolded. We have not become a one-issue church. That's the last thing I would want to see. And our commitment to international relations and to the homeless and to death row inmates, and lots of other things in which we are involved have continued, and have rightly taken a more center stage than they did during the process. But you know, there are some folks who aren't there, that it still hurts me. Two in particular. One woman who joined Pullen as a bride, and is now in her late seventies. And I sang in the choir with her for years. And she's not there because this happened. And one man who is not much older than I am, who himself doesn't

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understand why it affected him the way it did. Who was so much involved at church, he made every kid that walked in the door feel welcome, and he's not there. We have made a number of efforts to keep in touch with folks. And you know, I think there are still some real friendships and mutual respect with some of the folks who've left, gone onto other congregations, you still see them, sometimes socially, or sometimes you just run into them at Logans, or whatever. But there's real, genuine gladness to see each other. But I'm mostly hurt for the people who don't have in their lives this community that they used to have. I still have it. And I want so much for them to be a part of a community like this, even if it isn't this one. That's all.
Well, is there anything else that we haven't covered?
[Laughter] Well, I suspect we've hit the high spots.