CHARLOTTE — In 1973, Charlotte’s Myers Park Baptist Church welcomed its first openly queer minister to address the church. By the late 1990s, MPBC was considering the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people within the church.
Several years later, there was progress again.
“Eventually the church made a statement in 2000 that they were going to be a welcoming and affirming congregation,” said Rev. Dr. Ben Boswell, senior minister at Myers Park Baptist Church.
“Then we were summarily kicked out by the Southern Baptists of the state of North Carolina, and it said ‘Evicted’ on the front page of the [Charlotte] Observer.”
Boswell says he identifies as a “straight, cis white man who is in the cause for social justice for all people.”
“I am a father, I am an activist, I am a civil rights organizer, and I am a co-conspirator for LGBTQ rights and inclusivity,” Boswell told Channel 9′s Jonathan Lowe.
“So it’s been a long journey for me; I grew up in an evangelical community, and I did not have progressive views on LGBTQ folks when I was growing up in the church,” Boswell said. “The thing that changed me was not reading any theologian, it was an LGBTQ couple, a lesbian couple. One night, we were hanging with them ... she said, ‘A lot of people think I’m this way because I chose to; why would I choose to be hated by my family and by society? Why would I choose that?’”
He said that conversation shook him out of his “rigid thinking.”
Boswell has preached to the congregation that he believes the intense focus on sexual purity has been a “colossal distraction from the real problems that we face as a country.”
In 2017, years after being kicked out of the Southern Baptists, MBPC made a statement affirming a “free pulpit” and “free pew,” saying that the “ministers and congregation are free from control by any higher Church authority.”
“My name is Rev. Tara Gibbs, my pronouns are she/her, I am a Black, bisexual, queer, lesbian, cis woman.”
Gibbs is the associate minister of spiritual growth at Myers Park.
“I asked the question that many people ask, if you could do anything and be paid, what would it be, and for me it was, gosh, I wish Sunday school teachers got paid because I would love to be a full-time Sunday school teacher,” Gibbs said. “I shared that with a counselor and a friend, and they said, do you want to be a minister? Maybe that’s the closest version we have.”
“This church is definitely a gem in the South; we’re in the heart of the Bible Belt,” Gibbs said. “I’m so glad this space this here, not just for myself, but for my youth who are questioning, for their families who are questioning, to know that in the middle of the Bible Belt, there is at least one church, one place that you can feel the love of God in who you are and how you identify.”
“If someone doesn’t agree with me, my biggest thing, whether we’re talking about this topic or a different theological topic, God bless you,” Gibbs said. “I’m not gonna argue my identity first and foremost, I’m not going to argue my purpose for existing, my very rights to be a human and treated with respect, I’m not going to argue that, ever, I’m past that.”
Carla Hines calls herself a “proud lesbian” as one of her many identities.
“I identify as a woman who is over 60, I’m African American,” Hines said. She’s also a member of the Myers Park Baptist Church congregation.
“I always hope that our presence as a church encourages people to realize they can be true to the identity, we can step out on that stage, be it at the parade, or the booth, that we have a space that’s going to encourage people to turn back to God,” Hines said.
“You have to keep your mind open to welcoming people as they are, what they are, and the love of God is not something to be questioned.”
You can find a church that welcomes LGBTQ members near you at this link.
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