Local Churches Promote Inclusion Ahead of Durham Elections

Elizabeth Street United Methodist Church located in Durham.

Sylvester Williams, a candidate for the mayor of Durham and former financial analyst, is now a pastor at The Assembly at Durham Christian Center. 

This campaign will mark Williams’ fourth time running for the mayor of Durham. During his previous run in 2017, Williams received less than 2% of the vote. 

Despite his three unsuccessful campaigns, Williams said his platform remains the same, which is to speak the truth and let citizens of Durham know what’s happening in their city. 

Williams mentioned that some of the policies he plans on pushing for will benefit local churches in Durham. He said that the city of Durham limits the density downtown by only allowing a certain amount of people inside buildings based on parking spaces outside of the building. 

According to Williams, this policy he’s running on will give him support from other churches in the city. 

William has been questioned repeatedly about his stance on LGBTQ rights. He said that he wants to help members of the LGBTQ community, and prevent them from being gender-confused.

“It doesn’t take a lot of brain power to understand this: a woman does not have sperm, and a man does not have a menstrual cycle,” he said. “So to allow them to believe that thing, you’re only further confusing them.”

According to an article in The 9th Street Journal, Williams described same-sex relations as a path of deviance and is the reason for an increase in crime and violence in Durham. He also said that members of the LGBTQ community tend to have a high rate of drug abuse because of their confusion.  

Julia Webb-Bowden is the pastor at Elizabeth Street United Methodist Church, which is near downtown Durham. Bowden said she serves a progressive church with a very diverse congregation. 

According to Bowden, about 20% of the congregation are people of color, there are numerous members of the LGBTQ community and there is a wide spectrum of political beliefs. On the church website, the United Methodist Church logo includes a rainbow flag background. 

Because of his stance on LGBTQ rights, Bowden said she would not support William’s campaign for mayor. 

“I don’t support Sylvester Williams primarily based on his antagonistic posture on the queer community,” Bowden said. 

Reverend Dr. Jay Augustine is the senior pastor of St. Joseph AME Church, located just south of Durham’s city center. 

While Augustine said that under federal law, churches are not allowed to endorse specific political candidates, he said that he is a self-described political pastor. He said he is only political, however, with respect to certain issues, not candidates themselves. 

Augustine said that his congregation affirms all human beings, and that he certainly recognizes every possible variation of human existence. As a New Orleans native he said he likes to give sermons that allude to the famous Louisiana dish, gumbo. 

“There’s no attempt like the melting pot to sort of water things down or make you fit in by acclamation,” he said. “Instead with the gumbo, you are celebrated for your authenticity and uniqueness.”

Augustine pointed out that he feels strongly that all of God’s children are supported and everyone’s rights are upheld, and he feels his congregation is also affirming diversity in every way. 

The congregation at St. Joseph AME Church advocates for civic engagement and political participation heavily in a non-partisan way, according to Augustine. On Oct. 29, he said his congregation will be holding an event that they refer to as Souls to Polls. 

The event begins at St. Joseph AME Church with a worship service at 11 a.m.. Immediately following the service, the congregation will caravan to North Carolina Central University Law School to vote. 

“We do all we can to provide transportation to assist individuals, and to provide church as a place not just of worship, but a place where we can rally and come together and unite behind the common cause of civic engagement and participation in community,” Augustine said.