Love Thy ‘Gay-bor’: Religious Pro-LGBT Ads Target Baptists in the Deep South

Mary Jane Kennedy is a self-described “Bible-believing, born-again Christian.” The Mississippi mother of three sons has taught Sunday school and Bible study at her Baptist church.

When her middle son was about to graduate from college, he came out to Kennedy as gay.

“Nothing in my life had ever prepared me for that,” said Kennedy. “I said, ‘What’s going to happen? This is going to tear our family apart.’ ”

She was most concerned about how her husband would take the news.

“It’s hard to talk to somebody and tell them something you know is going to break their heart,” she said.

But they both took it in stride, and Kennedy is now sharing her story in a video that’s part of a four-week media blitz—using TV and online advertisements, phone banks, door-to-door visits, and public education efforts—launched by the Human Rights Campaign in Mississippi this week. Dubbed All God’s Children, the campaign to promote LGBT acceptance and marriage equality doesn’t shy away from religion when it comes to changing minds in the heart of the Bible Belt. 

The civil rights group has enlisted “everyday” Mississippians, from an openly gay Iraq war veteran to a transgender woman, to share their stories in this series of ads. Kennedy’s testimony is the first to air, and her story is one many will be able to relate to, said Brad Clark, director of HRC’s Project One America, which focuses on improving LGBT equality in Southern states.

“Seeing the love that she has and the faith that she has, really resonates with so many people,” Clark said.

The ads will air on major networks during peak hours, such as in commercial breaks during the nightly news, said Clark. The $310,000 campaign is the first of its kind in the South; its focus is on one specific demographic: the faithful.

That is why Mississippi is ground zero for this fight. For starters, it’s the most religious state in America, according to a 2013 Gallup poll of more than 174,000 people all over the country. In Mississippi, 61 percent of the population was deemed “very religious.” This means more than half the population surveyed said that religion is an important part of their daily lives and that they attend religious services every week or almost every week.

An estimated 55 percent of the state’s population is Baptist, the Human Rights Campaign reports, one of the most conservative denominations of Christianity. So the group has focused its message accordingly, saying humans need to treat one another with respect and leave the judgment to God. 

“Many of us grew up with the golden rule,” said Clark. “And regardless of how we believe on various political issues, that is a common value we all hold dear.”

But the majority of Southern Baptists may not feel the same way. Although Mary Jane Kennedy has “every right to voice her opinion,” she is at odds with most of the other churches in the Mississippi Baptist Convention, William H. Perkins Jr., spokesman for the board, wrote in an email to Take Part.

Perkins cited portions of the church’s official statement of faith to prove his point. He wrote that Christians are told to oppose “all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography” in the Baptist creed, which also specifies heterosexual marriage as the only acceptable variety.

“It is difficult to misinterpret those passages to represent that most Mississippi Baptists would be anything but fully opposed to the Human Rights Campaign’s efforts in this state,” Perkins wrote. “$300,000 is a lot of money to spend on a program that is doomed to fail.”

That sum is just the start for Project One America, whose overarching $8.5 million initiative, of which All God’s Children is one part, aims to extend into Arkansas and Alabama. These Southern states are highly conservative and religious, and they are being targeted because they have no state nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people in employment, housing, or public accommodations.

All God’s Children arrives at the perfect time in Mississippi. A lawsuit pushing for repeal of the state’s gay marriage ban has landed before a federal judge, and the two sides will present their arguments in court on Wednesday. 

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Original article from TakePart