Politics & Government

Wichita pastor performing same-sex weddings reports receiving death threats

Shelly Walston, left, and Mallory Rine talk with Jackie Carter, a pastor at First Metropolitan Community Church, at the Sedgwick County Courthouse on Nov. 13.
Shelly Walston, left, and Mallory Rine talk with Jackie Carter, a pastor at First Metropolitan Community Church, at the Sedgwick County Courthouse on Nov. 13. File photo

A Wichita minister says she has received death threats for performing same-sex weddings after the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a federal judge last month.

The Rev. Jackie Carter, pastor of the First Metropolitan Community Church, said the church has been getting at least one phone call a day threatening to kill her or to perform acts of violence against her congregation. The church belongs to a denomination that embraces the gay and lesbian community.

Carter said she had received threats before the ruling, but they have escalated since she performed a wedding ceremony for 15 same-sex couples on the steps of the Sedgwick County Courthouse on Nov. 17.

“Monday was probably the most scary time for me,” Carter said. “The phone rang and I went to answer the phone and it was just somebody heavy breathing on it. Then somebody rang the door bell and then somebody started throwing rocks at the windows.”

Some callers tell her “to repent so I don’t have to suffer inhumane death at the hands of Satan,” she said. Others have threatened specific acts of violence. Before the group wedding ceremony last month, two callers threatened to chop off her head and put it on a stake.

“Honestly, I’m beginning to get more scared every day that this goes on,” she said. “I’ve kind of talked myself into trying to be more calm about it and realizing that there are more people out there that are supporting us than threatening harm to us.”

She said the church has instructed people to leave the building in pairs, especially at night, for safety. Carter said that she has reported some of the threats to the Wichita Police Department, but that the department’s ability to investigate is limited because the callers have been anonymous and no number shows up on the church’s caller ID.

“It always says ‘Unknown,’ ” Carter said. “So the couple of times that I’ve made reports, they’ve (the police) said, ‘What do you want us to do? There’s nobody here. There’s no phone number.’ So they take the report and tell me to be careful.”

Mayor Carl Brewer said Friday he would need to discuss the matter with the police to know more details, but he called the threats against Carter unacceptable.

“Certainly no citizen in this community should be threatened based on their views or opinions,” Brewer said.

“It’s our responsibility and law enforcement’s responsibility to protect everybody’s rights and no one, no one, should ever be threatened on anything, whether it be death threats or any other type of physical threats,” Brewer added.

Police did not comment about the reports last week. On Monday, Lt. James Espinoza, spokesman for the police department, told The Eagle that new technology makes it more difficult to track blocked numbers, but that the police department takes these threats seriously.

“It is unfortunate that this is happening to her,” Espinoza said. “We are looking into to it to see if we can come up with something on who’s contacting the pastor with these threats.”

Kerry Wilks, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the ban, is a member of Carter’s church. Wilks said the majority of people she talks to underestimate the prejudice that gay and lesbian people face regularly.

“I think sometimes people get lulled into complacency and think, ‘No, that’s too far off, that won’t happen,’ ” Wilks said. “And yet if we don’t stand vigilant, discrimination can be legalized, people will continue to get death threats, perhaps they’re even acted upon…and then all of sudden it doesn’t sound so far-fetched.”

Carter said that most the calls are of a religious nature.

Terry Fox, a conservative Wichita pastor who has led activism against same-sex marriage, called the threats against Carter despicable.

“Anybody who does something like that, there’s nothing Christian about threatening someone bodily damage or something like that. In fact it’s about as unchristian as anything can be,” Fox said. “And it helps no one’s cause. If anything, it hurts that cause. It breaks my heart to hear that anyone would have to endure those kinds of threats from the right or anywhere else.”

Fox said that he has also received death threats in the past because of his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Carter said that she and the Metropolitan Community Church, a denomination with 300 churches worldwide, believe that Christ’s message is to embrace groups not accepted by all of society, such as the LGBT community. She said she was turning to her faith as a way to cope with the threats.

“My faith informs me that this is exactly the message that Christ came to bring, that we were to include all people. And look what the world did when they heard that message to the bringer of the message?” Carter said. “I don’t think we’re called to suffer, but I do believe if we bring the actual message of Christ we will anger people who don’t want to include all people.”

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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