Jimmy Creech is executive director of Faith in America, a new organization founded and funded by Mitchell Gold, CEO of the successful Taylorsville furniture company Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams.
"Last year, Jimmy Creech and I realized that an organization just didn't exist that was focused on educating people about religion-based bigotry," Gold said at a press conference.
Gold is 56, gay and Jewish. Creech is 62, not gay and Christian. Together, they've launched an advertising campaign to educate Americans about "the misuse of religious teachings to discriminate and isolate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people."
"During my 29 years of ministry, it became clear to me that the fundamental reason for the discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people is religion," said Creech, a former Methodist minister who lost his minister's credentials in 1999 after performing a marriage ceremony for two gay men in Chapel Hill.
"As someone committed to the Christian church and the ministry, I felt it was incumbent upon me to begin to challenge the misuse of religion," he added.
Faith in America's campaign, "Call to Courage," will use newspaper ads, billboards, yard signs, bumper stickers and direct mailings to start a discussion among people living in the early presidential primary and caucus states. They started in Iowa, where the first newspaper ad ran on May 6.
What's the reaction been so far?
I was braced for a flood of e-mails and phone messages left on our toll-free number, just angry and hostile and upset about what we're doing. Surprisingly, the great majority of responses we've gotten have been positive. Of course, at the same time, I've gotten calls like "You're really doing a disservice to blacks and women by equating gays to their struggle." But the conversation has been initiated, and that's what we wanted to do.
You have an event coming up at the end of the month?
May 31, we're having a Town Hall meeting in Ames, Iowa, at the Ames City Auditorium. It's right downtown. In fact, it's the building that houses the city council, the police department, everything. I'm going to facilitate it and it's my hope I can keep it focused on the rights and protections guaranteed by the Constitution.
You have invited the head of the civil rights commission for Iowa to participate, as well as the Rev. Irene Monroe, an African-American lesbian and religion columnist.
While we are a diverse people and some of us interpret the Bible in a certain way, that doesn't give that part of us the right to deny others their rights or protections. We're saying you can interpret the Bible that way if you want to, but you don't have the right—based on your interpretation—to deny any group of people their full citizenship. I'm not going to debate interpretation. That's a no-win.
The next stop after Iowa is...?
We have Reno, Nev., Greenville, S.C., and Manchester, N.H., on the horizon, but we want to learn from our Ames experience. We're going to evaluate what we've learned: what worked, what didn't work. Then we're going to being organizing in those three communities, and that will take place in July or August.
Do you really think this is going to work?
I think that is has already, in terms of what we want to do. We want to create a national conversation about religious-based discrimination and about the need to separate people's religious beliefs from the laws that impact everyone. We can hold on to religious beliefs for ourselves, but in this democratic society, there's a line that's drawn regarding how you can use those beliefs. You cannot use those beliefs to harm others. If we can get that conversation going, it's going to be helpful.