The North Carolina Council of Churches recently elected an openly gay man as its new president. The group chose Stan Kimer to head up the council. This is the first time a Southern state church council has elected an openly gay person as a leader.
Kimer, 55, is a Raleigh resident and a retired IBM sales executive. He is a member of the Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination specifically for LGBT folks, with about 200 churches around the country. The Council, however, is made up of churches from multiple denominations, including Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Roman Catholics.
"A lot of our member denominations have internal battles about this," says Reverend George Reed, the council's executive director. "But the governing board felt the fact that he is a gay man was not a disqualifying factor."
Despite there being 33 similar councils in the United States, Kimer is only the second openly LGBT person in the country to ever be elected as president of a church council. The first was a lesbian in California in the 1990s. But this sort of visibility in the South shows a real shift in perceptions toward gay and lesbian people.
As President, Kimer will lead a 35-person board on issues relating to a variety of social topics - everything from immigration to health care to environmental conservation. Shortly after the Metropolitan Community Churches became a part of North Carolina's council, Kimer joined the board as a representative of St. John's MCC, one of the denomination's seven North Carolina churches. He's been a member of the Raleigh church for 18 years.
"I have a strong belief that as a Christian I'm called to make the world a better place. I like to spend my time with groups where I can see an impact," says Kimer, who believes he was elected president because he was able to convince the board of a broad agenda that goes beyond issues of sexuality.
There was friction when the Metropolitan Community Churches joined the Council in 1993. In fact, the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church objected and withheld dues for nine years. Despite that, there was no theoretical consensus required for Kimer's election, says Reverend Steve Hickle, a Methodist pastor who sits on the governing board.
"The point of interreligious conversation is to continue to find common ground and understanding," Hickle says. "We want to work together on social justice whenever we can."