McDowell Commission chairman: No to unity statement

MIKE CONLEY/MCDOWELL NEWS

Commission Chairman David Walker said Monday he could not agree with a statement in support of unity and against racism – which was supported last year by numerous local leaders and groups – because that statement also includes sexual orientation.

The chairman of the McDowell County Commission said Monday he could not agree with a statement in support of unity and against racism – which was supported last year by numerous local leaders and groups – because that statement also includes sexual orientation.

Commission Chairman David Walker said he would support the rest of the joint statement submitted by the West Marion Community Forum and the Marion East Community Forum except for that one part.

“I’m a Christian and the Bible is clear on sexual orientation,” said Walker at Monday’s regular County Commission meeting.

Near the conclusion of the meeting, the commissioners held their regular citizen comment portion where the public can talk about any item not on the agenda. Ginger Webb of the Marion East Community Forum and Dawna Goode Ledbetter with the West Marion Community Forum came forward and spoke to the commissioners about their activities and invited them to attend their meetings. Walker said he recently attended a meeting of the Marion East Forum and commended them for the work they are doing.

Then, Webb and Ledbetter asked the commissioners if they would give their support to a joint statement of unity that was issued in August of last year as a response and a call to action regarding the tragic events in Charlottesville, Va.

The following is the text of that August 2017 joint statement:

“In light of the events in Charlottesville, VA, we, the leaders of the West and East Marion Community Forum stand against racism, bigotry, neo-Nazis, and white nationalism. We value and are committed to diversity, inclusivity, and respect for the integrity of all community members, regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, gender, or religion. These principals of inclusion are fundamental to our forums, as we work towards a stronger and more unified McDowell County.

“We encourage community members to take action in the following ways:

• Hold each other accountable and speak out against racism in all spheres: family, friends, jobs, businesses, schools, clubs, churches, and neighborhoods.

• Start a conversation in church to commit to being anti-racist and dismantling oppression.

• Go outside of your comfort zone – talk to your neighbors and build bridges with communities of color.

We appreciate our initial set of community partners, listed below, who stand united and in strong agreement with this statement of unity and call to action. If you would like to add your nonprofit, business, organization, or government agency to this list, please email: mcdowellcountyhealthcoalition@gmail.com and/or westmarioncommunityforum@gmail.com. New signatures will be added to the West and East Marion Community Forum Facebook Pages.”

The list of community members in the statement of unity was later amended to include disability.

The statement was quickly supported by Mayor Steve Little, the entire Marion City Council, City Manager Bob Boyette, Police Chief Allen Lawrence, Sheriff Dudley Greene, the NAACP of McDowell County, the Democratic Executive Council, Centro Unido Latino-Americano, YMCA of Western North Carolina, the McDowell Health Coalition and The McDowell News.

Later, attorney, Sharon L. Parker, McDowell Arts Council Association. attorney Donald Fred Coats, Crooked Door Coffee House, McDowell County School Board and Superintendent Mark Garrett added their names in support.

As of Monday, no county commissioners had given their support towards this statement from last year. Webb and Ledbetter asked them to consider it.

Walker said usually the board doesn’t take action during citizen comment portion of their meetings. He then added he could not support it because of the sexual orientation part of the statement.

Following the meeting, Walker talked about the matter with both The McDowell News and WBRM radio station.

“My personal conviction, based upon the Bible, is that men marry women and women marry men so therefore I support everything but that one item and that is why personally I could never support that,” he said.

The unity statement does not address the issue of same-sex marriage.

A McDowell News reporter asked if he was aware that other Christians feel differently.

“That’s their opinion and take on the Bible,” he said. “I am not going to argue that whatsoever. That is my personal conviction based upon the Bible.”

The McDowell News reporter pointed out, to the best of his knowledge, the other people who endorsed this statement are Christians as well. Walker declined to comment on this.

 A reporter with WBRM asked if the board as a whole approves it, whether he would stand by the vote.

“Each board member can vote how they so desire and so therefore I can’t comment on a future vote of the board and I don’t know what the other board members how they would vote but I know how I would vote,” said Walker to the WBRM reporter.

“Each board member can vote how they so desire and so therefore I can’t comment on a future vote of the board and I don’t know what the other board members how they would vote but I know I would vote,” said Walker to the WBRM reporter.

Following the meeting, Webb said she was disappointed by the commissioners.

“It was not what I was hoping for,” she said Monday. “We’re trying to make a better, more unified McDowell.”

On Tuesday, she added that all county residents should feel safe and respected.

“I understand that everyone has a right to their personal convictions, but elected officials need to remember that they represent all residents, regardless of their beliefs or lifestyles,” she said.

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