North Carolinians heard God speaking in contradictory voices during the weeks leading up to the vote on May 8 when voters approved Amendment 1, which added to the state constitution a provision that “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized … .”
In the campaigns leading up to the decisive vote, hordes of priests and ministers, mostly from mainline Protestant churches, lent their names to advertisements and correspondence invoking religious values in opposition to the amendment.
On the other hand, Billy Graham and many lesser-known religious leaders declared confidently that the proposed amendment was in accord with God’s plan.
Were these different groups of priests and preachers in touch with the same God?
Or are some North Carolinians beginning their prayers with, “Hello, up there, are there really two of You sending us different signals?”
In the Old Testament, when there was a dispute in Israel about which god to worship, the prophet Elijah called down fire from heaven to burn a sacrifice to his God, after the prophets of Baal had failed in similar efforts.
Today there is no prophet like Elijah to call on the Lord to bring down fire to show the confused people which of God’s spokesmen to follow. There is no Elijah, no fire to show the correct altar or the voice of the one true God.
But, for those who want to understand more about the power that religion holds in our state’s life and politics, there is help in new books by North Carolina authors.
Wiley Cash’s debut novel, “A Land More Kind than Home,” set in the mountainous Madison County in the mid-1980s, shows the complex and conflicting attachments people in a small church feel towards their pastor as he speaks his version of God’s word. This pastor, guided by the words of Mark 16:18, leads his congregation into handling snakes and drinking poison to demonstrate and test their faith. They attempt to bring God into miraculous healings using rough methods. Most of this preacher’s members follow him even when their activities fail and result in multiple deaths.
Popular Hendersonville author Ann B. Ross confronts her heroine with a variety of religious challenges in her latest novel, “Miss Julia to the Rescue,” set in the mountains of contemporary times. Miss Julia encounters devoted snake-handling church people who worship their God with the aid of poisonous snakes much like the church in Cash’s novel. Horrified and frightened, she is nevertheless impressed by the loyalty and devotion of the congregation.
Even more challenging to Miss Julia is her encounter with the advocates of a new “Church of Body Modification,” where commitment is demonstrated by tattoos and attachment of heavy metal objects to the believer’s body, “which test and push the limits of flesh and spirit.”
At the end of the book after her encounters with a variety of religious experiences, Miss Julia finds comfort in the pew of her own Presbyterian church, thinking, “Give me the King James Version, a hymnal and Communion every quarter.”
In two other books, already mentioned in recent columns, religious views and experiences are key factors. In Susan Woodring’s “Goliath,” church and personal religious commitments undergird the response of her fictional town decimated by the closing of its furniture factory.
In “Billy Lynn’s Last Halftime Walk,” the superficial religious pronouncements of worldly, military-service-avoiding characters complicate the experience of soldiers who are home on a break from fighting in Iraq.
In short, God is not dead in North Carolina life. Although our people may hear and understand God’s voices differently, many are listening. And, as the recent Amendment 1 contest demonstrated again, the different voices of God still move people into action.
— D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV, with and past programs at 11:30 a.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch/.