As a pastor, I’m awed by what I saw when the Methodist church split in NC

Kaitlin McKeown/kmckeown@newsobserver.com

Welcome to NC Voices, where leaders, readers and experts from across North Carolina can speak on issues affecting our communities. Send submissions of 350 words or fewer to opinion@newsobserver.com.

NC Methodist church split

On Nov. 19, the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church met to determine if 249 N.C. churches could leave the denomination in a split over same-sex marriage and ordination of gay and lesbian clergy. I’m pastor of two of those churches.

Bishop Leonard Fairley addressed the more than 1,200 people present, urging us to respect each other as both viewpoints continue to work side-by-side to serve God and spread the gospel.

“Friends, this is a burden that breaks my heart to bear,” he said. “But if bearing it means making space for God’s new things to be birthed, then bear it I must.”

He reminded everyone that “Jesus Christ is still the Lord of the Church” and “this is God’s story to write, and not ours.

“I pray we do not depart from each other in bitterness or in despair. ...I pray we stop demonizing and spreading vicious rumors about each other, as a means to win people over to our side when the side we should be winning people to is Christ.”

The vote was overwhelmingly in support of allowing churches to disaffiliate. There was silence.

What I found most amazing in all of this is that a group of 1,200 people faced what is one of the most difficult decisions such a body can face — the breakup of the body — with grace and forbearance for one another. No one was threatened, no harsh words exchanged.

Without bitter debate, the people called Methodist in North Carolina acknowledged their deep theological divide and made way for God to work in the lives of those on both sides.

This decision allows N.C. Methodists to end decades of wasteful, debilitating and distracting debate on which viewpoint is right. It allows each side to concentrate on following their deep theological convictions to honor God in the way they best know how. Both sides departed respectfully and lovingly. We will pray for the welfare of each other because that is what people of God do.

Bryan Lassiter, Newport

Do more to protect NC firefighters

The writer is an Occupational and Environmental Medicine physician.

Being a community hero comes at a cost. Firefighters serve as essential workers across North Carolina, bearing physical demands and health risks to save others from burning buildings.

Recent studies have shown that firefighters have a higher mortality from cancers, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and testicular cancer. The culprit? The protective equipment they rely on puts them at risk.

Firefighting equipment and extinguishing foams contain PFAS, a “forever chemical” that is resistant to degradation and can build up to high levels in humans and the environment. PFAS from firefighting foams can seep into groundwater and contaminate wells where used frequently, including at firefighting training facilities.

International and U.S. firefighter unions have demanded removal of PFAS from their gear and foam. Already more than 15 states ban use of PFAS in firefighter equipment and foams.

North Carolina has yet to pass any legislation against use of PFAS.

Last year, the N.C. legislature passed the Firefighters Fighting Cancer Act of 2021, which provides supplemental insurance to firefighters diagnosed with cancer on or after Jan. 1, 2022. That’s only a Band-Aid.

Viable PFAS-free alternatives have existed since 2019 and there are more than 100 fluorine-free foams available. As a result, many states have enacted PFAS bans.

The U.S. military has spent over $1 billion treating PFAS contaminated water near firefighting training facilities. These excess costs prompted the Department of Defense to prohibit PFAS containing substances on military bases around the country in 2022. The FAA ordered hundreds of large airports to cease use of PFAS containing foam.

Despite these national efforts, North Carolina has yet to take action.

While North Carolina’s 2021 Firefighters Fighting Cancer Act will provide much relief to N.C. victim’s families, it doesn’t address the looming threat of PFAS for current and future firefighters. Our firefighters will always face the risk of running into a burning building. By banning use of PFAS, their risk of cancer can at least be extinguished.

Dr. Margaret Murray, Durham