White Rock Community Church pastor attends “‘historic civil rights’ event
The Rev. James Walker, pastor of White Rock Community Church, likes to keep his politics out of his church work, but he made an exception this week.
Walker was one of more than 200 members of the clergy from across the country who went to Washington, D.C., this week to lobby legislators for passage of bills protecting LGBT people from hate crimes and employment discrimination.
“I had never done anything like this before so it was a first-time experience for me,” said Walker, who was accompanied by his partner. “It was pretty interesting to be there, telling folks about White Rock and our people and folks who have suffered under discrimination and suffered from hate crimes.
“We were telling personal stories and making connections. That was really gratifying for me, and I’m glad we were able to go and our church was supportive of us taking part.”
Walker was one of eight members of the clergy from Texas scheduled to attend the event, and the only one from Dallas.
The Human Rights Campaign called on clergy members from across the nation from different faiths to ask legislators to pass the two pieces of civil rights legislation. The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, known as the Matthew Shepard Act, would add sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability to existing federal law. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
HRC leaders said the presence of so many clergy from such diverse faith backgrounds standing together represented a historic moment of religious support for civil rights legislation.
“For too long, there has been a false perception in American politics that faith and religion stand diametrically opposed to equality for GLBT Americans,” said Joe Solmonese, president of HRC. “The hundreds of clergy joining us are here because they understand that we are all God’s children, and our differing sexual orientations and our differing gender identities are not shameful sins, but rather amazing gifts from God.”
Walker said he felt compelled to participate in the lobbying effort, even though he usually avoids taking any sort of political stand.
“I believe strongly in separation of church and state, but I do also believe that clergy have first-hand knowledge of discrimination and hate because we deal with people who suffer from that all of the time,” Walker said. “So I was glad to offer a different perspective than the religious right offers. In this instance, I felt called by God to take part and make my voice known to folks who can change policy that affects our people.”
Walker noted that White Rock Community Church as a whole avoids political stands.
“I don’t see the mission of White Rock as a political mission,” Walker said. “Our purpose and mission is to point people to Christ.”
But Walker said he believes the cooperation of clergy members in the HRC event was appropriate and he would consider similar efforts involving clergy.
“It was really a shot in the arm for the HRC people,” Walker said. “They were very moved by our presence and the support we offered them.”
Walker said the people he met in the legislative offices welcomed the clergy members.
“One of the things we kept hearing in the offices we visited was how much they appreciated people coming to Washington and meeting them to make their points about legislation,” Walker said. “They were pretty impressed to see that many clergy involved.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, April 20, 2007.