Proposition 5 campaign reaches into pews

Many pastors take a public stance on divisive ballot issue.

Anchorage Daily NewsMarch 31, 2012 

As Tuesday's vote nears, campaigns for and against Proposition 5 are playing out in the pews and from the pulpits of Anchorage's churches.

Both sides of the proposed Anchorage Equal Rights Ordinance, which would add "sexual orientation or transgender identity" to the city's anti-discrimination code, have mobilized church leaders and their congregations.

Organizers hope the faithful will become motivated voters when the ordinance goes up for a vote Tuesday.

Both sides say pastors, who have signed public letters, organized and attended rallies, written op-ed articles, spurred donations and preached about the ballot measure, represent a pivotal part of their campaigns.

"They are an instrumental part of all that we're doing," said Jim Minnery, the head of Protect Your Rights -- Vote No on Prop. 5, the main opposition group.

Same goes for One Anchorage, the group leading the campaign in favor of Proposition 5, said spokesman Trevor Storrs.

A group calling itself Christians for Equality has garnered support from more than 45 leaders of liberal denominations, including Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal and Quaker groups.

Pastors are key members of our community, he said.

Among the most vocal and supportive opponents of Proposition 5 have been pastors of evangelical, Catholic and historically African-American churches, Minnery said.

More than 80 church leaders signed an open letter to the community against Prop. 5.

The Catholic archbishop of Anchorage wrote an open letter March 19 asking parishioners to "look carefully into the dangers of this Proposition 5 initiative."

"If you see the dangers in this bad legislation as I do, to join me in opposing Proposition 5," wrote Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz.

Others, like outspoken Proposition 5 foe Rev. Jerry Prevo of the Anchorage Baptist Temple, have addressed the issue from the pulpit.

The Baptist Temple donated $80,000 to an effort to defeat the proposition through a ballot group. Over the past two Sundays, Prevo has delivered a multi-part sermon making the case against Proposition 5.

Alonzo Patterson, the senior pastor at one of the city's oldest and largest African-American churches, the 1,200-member Shiloh Missionary Baptist, said his strong opposition to Proposition 5 has infused his messages to his congregation for the past weeks and months.

"Of course it comes out in my sermons," he said.

This Sunday, he'll be talking about the election. And his congregation, he hopes, will be voting.

"If I've got anything to do with it they will be," he said. "I will emphasize it greatly that we need to get out to vote, that it makes a statement."

Minnery said more than 100 Anchorage pastors, chaplains and lay ministers have publicly stated their opposition to Proposition 5.

His group held a pastors briefing lunch and has sent out sermon talking points and church bulletin inserts.

Some churches, Minnery said, have tables with campaign materials in their buildings.

"There's churches that are basing their entire sermons on Proposition 5" the Sunday before the election, Minnery said.

But for others, it's a delicate balance between politics and preaching.

Nick Morlet, a pastor at the Filipino Bible Church, a 100-person Baptist congregation on Raspberry Road, said he signed a letter opposing Proposition 5 but hasn't directly spoken about it with his congregation.

His Baptist congregation is conservative but might be hesitant to get involved with a political issue, he said.

"The majority of Filipinos in the church probably wouldn't say a thing about it," he said.

Some pastors, Minnery said, are worried that by publicly joining the anti-Proposition 5 campaign they'll open themselves to criticism or alienate their congregations.

Churches that go public with anti-Proposition 5 views are maligned, he said.

Others, said the Rev. Michael Burke, a leader of the Christians for Equality group, which supports the ordinance, would rather not take a stance on a ballot issue.

"Some feel their role is purely spiritual and this is political," said Burke, the head of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Midtown.

Jim Schulz, pastor of Crossroads Assembly of God in Anchorage, said he may have a personal stand on the proposition but he'd let any public statements come from higher-ups at his regional office.

"Legally, pulpits are not for that purpose," he said.

A regional Assembly of God representative was not available for comment this week.

Some church leaders take pains to say they're speaking out as pastors but not necessarily on behalf of their congregations.

Pastor Julia Seymour of Lutheran Church of Hope in West Anchorage said she supports Proposition 5 and has worked with the One Anchorage and Christians for Equality campaigns on educational efforts.

But she hasn't talked about it in from the pulpit.

"I have not preached about nor discussed this proposition in my congregation," she wrote in an email. "I would not mention any ballot measure or candidate by name in preaching or during a worship time."

The issue can be divisive, Burke says.

Burke says he's received a flood of calls from people who were upset after hearing their pastors preach against the proposition in recent weeks. People have approached him in Fred Meyer saying the same thing, he said.

"A woman said she can't be in her church anymore -- it's too painful," he said.

Burke's group formed from email conversations over the fall among clergy members. The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alaska, the Rt. Rev. Mark Lattime, endorsed the cause.

Burke and Minnery agree that despite the fact that they deeply disagree on many things, the campaign has, in an unexpected way, brought them together. They've met and even prayed together.

"Jim and I do not agree on everything," Burke said. "But he's a fellow Christian. And his beliefs are as strongly held as mine."


Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.

Proposition 5

Here's the wording on Tuesday's ballot: Shall the current Municipal Code sections providing legal protections against discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, marital status, age, physical disability, and mental disability be amended to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender identity?

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