This historic Raleigh church has supported LGBT equality since the 1950s

RALEIGH – Founded in the late 1800s, Pullen Memorial Baptist was one of the first churches in Raleigh, North Carolina, to embrace LGBT rights.

In the 1950s, Pastor William Wallace Finlator championed civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights.

Nancy Petty is a symbol of her heritage.

In 2002, after a decade spent in ministerial and associate leadership positions, Petty became the first woman and lesbian pastor to lead this historic 500-member church.

“It was a real moment of blessing, of affirmation and at the same time it was almost surreal. Like, is this really happening?” said Pastor Petty.

It was a gradual decision – years in the making.

In the early 1990s, same-sex couple Kevin Turner and Steven Churchill – both members – asked the church to bless their committed union.

“I think it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made,” said Steve Smith, a member of Pullen since the 1970s.

Longtime member Steve Smith remembers Pullen pastor Mahan Siler praying about it, supporting the idea, and then letting the church decide.

Smith says about 90 percent of members voted to be more inclusive, and two-thirds voted to endorse same-sex blessings.

The fallout was staggering. It was at the height of the AIDS epidemic, when society as a whole demonized and stereotyped homosexuals.

ABC11 found a paid advertisement published in the Raleigh News & Observer on August 16, 1987, citing biblical scriptures against homosexuality.

“We have been picketed. We have been kicked out of local, state and national Baptist associations,” Smith said. “Expelling a congregation for a decision of faith is about as non-Baptist as anything you can do. We have gained new members. Gays, lesbians and people like my wife and I who wanted their families to grow up in a community like this. “

This is what led Dave Parnell and Jeff Evans to Pullen in the mid-90s.

Parnell read an op-ed in Pastor Siler’s N&O that was welcoming and affirmative.

In February 2004, the couple celebrated their holy union here in church.

“It was just the greatest blessing we could have imagined,” Parnell said.

“It’s hard or difficult for us to talk about it without being hushed up because we just didn’t think it would ever happen,” Evans added. “The horror. The terror. The evil that we have suffered for 20 years or more is what the younger ones do not know. People have called us perverts.”

Fast forward to today. Standing from a church pulpit this summer, North Carolina’s first black Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson has received praise and national backlash, including from the White House, for his stance on LGBT books in schools public.

“There’s no reason anyone anywhere in America should talk to a kid about transgender, homosexuality or all that filth. And yes, I called it filth,” he said. he declared.

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Pastor Petty says Robinson’s comments anger her.

“Our transgender siblings, our young people are out there and right now they need our voice as badly as I needed it, and Jeff and Dave needed it 30 years ago,” Petty said. . “The work continues and we need to focus on this work.”

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About Larry Struck

Larry Struck

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