Pastor, flock: ‘We stand up and speak out against homosexuality’

Minster Thomas Taylor sings as Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church holds a town hall meeting against gay marriage in Norcross, Friday, June 26, 2015. In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday that the Constitution requires states to license same-sex marriage and to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed elsewhere. KENT D. JOHNSON /KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

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Minster Thomas Taylor sings as Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church holds a town hall meeting against gay marriage in Norcross, Friday, June 26, 2015. In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday that the Constitution requires states to license same-sex marriage and to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed elsewhere. KENT D. JOHNSON /KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Members of Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Norcross locked hands, prayed together and voiced a proclamation Friday night.

“We stand up and speak out against homosexuality and the social ills facing our community,” Senior Pastor William Sheals said.

About 250 Hopewell congregants poured into the sanctuary to voice opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on same-sex marriage.

The 5-4 decision, which overturned state bans on same-sex unions, now requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize those unions across state lines.

The mood was mostly prayerful as congregants gathered to strategize.

A woman led the congregation in Scripture, reading from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.

The purpose for the night was to launch what Sheals called “The We Party.” The idea, Sheals said, is to start “finding solutions to degradation in the black community.”

“It is time we stand up as believers,” Sheals said. “We have to do God’s work.”

But opposition to same-sex marriage wasn’t the only reason for Friday’s town hall.

“We are here because our schools are failing, our neighborhoods are crumbling, and our neighborhoods are falling apart,” Sheals told the congregation. The congregation cheered.

Although Hopewell, which boasts more than 12,000 members, has been at the center of a national fight to protect the sanctity of marriage in recent months, Sheals said he and his congregation want to “protect the black community.”

Mary Smiley, a leader at the church, said people who support same-sex marriage have to start getting in alignment with God.

“We have to start following God’s orders,” Smiley said. “And we have to start protecting our children from the culture music and violence has created.”

Sheals said the agenda his church stands for is one that must also unite churches across the country.

“We as a body of Christ want to make it clear that we stand against same-sex marriage, racism, police brutality, and black-on-black crime,” Sheals said.

Sheals and Smiley also asked why leaders have not been more vocal on issues facing the black community in recent years.

“Where are the leaders?” Sheals asked. “Where is the church? Where is the outrage in the U.S. Congress and the National Baptist Convention? We have to mount a grass-roots effort.”

Sheals said the congregation hopes to institutionalize ‘The We Party’ and get out into communities.

“We want to continue to press for federal funding in our communities and our neighborhoods. We have to do this for the children.”

Hopewell Missionary Baptist church has been around for over 115 years.

“God will take care of us,” Sheals said. “I know that.”