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Finding religion's open arms 

The need for inclusivity in a conservative climate

It's been at least four years since I cracked open my Bible. Please don't tell my mom.

I've been thinking about my religious upbringing a lot lately. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was proposed in North Carolina (two versions, actually), which would supposedly protect individuals against laws that go against their religious convictions, even if it meant all-out discrimination.

There's not been too much movement on the bills, but last week, IBM's top North Carolina executive, Robert Greenberg, told Gov. McCrory and state lawmakers the technology giant, which employs thousands in the Triangle area, strongly opposes any legislation that might open the door to "discrimination against anyone on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion."

The group that's pushing for North Carolina's religious freedom bill, and others like it across the nation, is the Alliance Defending Freedom. The Christian conservative legal organization is profoundly anti-gay, anti-abortion and pro-religious liberty. In 2013, a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center found that ADF spent three years advocating to keep a section of Belize's criminal code in tact that offered imprisonment as a punishment for homosexual sex. Locally, ADF had a hand in "fine-tun[ing]" the language of North Carolina's terrible Defense of Marriage Act, the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman (which was overturned last year). In a 2012 issue of ADF's magazine Faith & Justice, the organization's senior counsel Austin R. Nimocks explains: "Having attorneys who understand the subject and can advise on using different types of language to accomplish different objectives is vitally important. That's where Alliance Defending Freedom comes into play. We've advised legislatures and marriage proponents across the country on language that's appropriate for constitutional amendments, bills and other legislative avenues to make sure they get it right."

ADF advocates "for the right of people to freely live out their faith," as stated on its website, even if that means trampling on the freedoms of others.

As this organization and other conservative groups like it continue to push an agenda I think is contrary to the true message of Christianity, I thought I'd share some suggestions for communities that preach a message of love and inclusivity. It wasn't a tough mission; the question recently appeared in a women-only Facebook group I'm subscribed to, so I asked a couple of the respondents to elaborate.

Brianna Smith, 29, recommends Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, where she's been a member a few months. For her, a progressive church is LGBT affirming, celebrates diversity, focuses on social justice and civil rights and doesn't ignore women for leadership roles. "I don't need all the bells and whistles and I don't particularly like all the bright lights and loud music that I found at a lot of the churches that were recommended to me," she wrote in an email. "I want to be in a community who follows Jesus, loves each other, loves their community in tangible ways and seeks truth in their own lives. Holy Trinity does that."

Another member of that Facebook group, Melissa Bowlin, has been a member of Sardis Baptist Church for almost 17 years. She believes a progressive community is marked by its ability to accept all people, regardless of race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or whatever. "We affirm each person's religious beliefs and are open to non-threatening conversations about our differences," says the 56-year-old. "We understand that everyone is on a journey of faith, which involves questioning and discernment. We agree to disagree, and each person's viewpoint is respected."

Even though I don't carry my Bible around anymore, I do have a semi-regular place I attend on Sunday mornings, cringe-free. Watershed, a nondenominational community, meets at Plaza Midwood International Cultural Center. In addition to offering a slew of small group opportunities (called Blocs) during the week to unpack real-life stuff, it is all about social justice locally (they volunteer at Walter G. Byers School) and globally.

More importantly, for me anyway, is the seemingly staunch refusal to get involved in politics. On the last baby dedication service I witnessed, I watched a same-sex couple hand over their young one to the pastor to be prayed over. It was beautiful.

That's what Christianity is about.

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