A Twitter post by a Charlotte City Council member saying she won’t patronize a restaurant opening in her district has created a social media stir around local restaurateur Jim Noble.
After The Observer reported Nov. 16 that Noble plans to open a barbecue restaurant called Noble Smoke on Freedom Drive, LaWana Mayfield posted on Twitter on Nov. 24, and included a link to The Observer’s story:
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Mayfield’s tweet refers to a 2015 letter to the City Council drafted by a conservative group, the Alliance Defending Freedom. The letter laid out four points against the city’s then-proposed non-discrimination ordinance, including the right of transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. The ordinance was passed by the city, then overturned by the N.C. Legislature’s approval of House Bill 2. Among other things, the legislation required that people use the bathroom that corresponded with their birth certificate.
A report by a local LGBT publication, QNotes, on Mayfield’s message appears to have been shared 2,500 times, and posts on Facebook were receiving lengthy comments, both for and against Noble.
Mayfield told the Observer on Wednesday that her tweet was meant as a personal statement and wasn’t a call for a boycott of Noble’s businesses.
“I did not and I am not calling for a boycott,” she said. “I’m just saying we (her family) have chosen not to spend our money at his establishment.”
While she has not patronized any of Noble’s restaurants since 2015, she said she spoke out now because of Noble’s plans to open a business in the district she represents.
“Any business that is within my district where I know that they signed on to the letter to support discrimination through legislation, I will not patronize knowingly,” she said. She said she knows of no other business in her district whose owner signed it.
Noble, who is also an ordained minister, was one of 94 signers of the letter, including prominent Christian conservatives such as Dr. Mark Creech of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. Others included business owners, realtors, educators, medical professionals and two captains for USAirways/American Airlines. The only restaurant owners were Noble and Joseph Acovski of Joey’s Fine Food and Pizza in Denver, N.C.
The alliance is currently in the news for providing the legal defense for Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. That case, seen as a landmark issue pitting freedom of speech against anti-discrimination laws, is being heard this week by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Noble said Tuesday that he signed the letter because of the bathroom provision, which he felt could expose customers’ children to potential risk.
“We have laws on the books that we can’t discriminate already,” he said. “The main thing was the bathroom issue. That’s why I didn’t like it. The same as I’m responsible that everybody who works for my company is protected, I have to protect little kids of customers. That part’s the part I didn’t like.”
A longtime restaurateur in Charlotte and Winston-Salem who owns two locations of the restaurant Rooster’s, Noble also runs The King’s Kitchen, which operates as a nonprofit and provides financial support and some employment for people struggling with problems such as homelessness and addiction.
Noble signed the letter as both the owner of Noble Restaurants and a pastor of Restoring Place Church. Noble has long been open about his evangelical Christian beliefs, and has sometimes held worship services in his closed restaurant on Sundays.
“I’m a business owner, and I’m a pastor,” he told the Observer Tuesday. “I don’t discriminate against anybody for race or anything else. If you come to work for me, your background is your background. I don’t discriminate – I can’t, it’s against the law. If (Mayfield) knew me, she’d love me. But she doesn’t know me.”
Elected in 2011 and serving her fourth term, Mayfield is the city’s first openly gay council member. She’s active in organizations including the National League of Cities REAL Race, Equity and Leadership Committee and has served as president of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Local Officials. In 2014, she was awarded an LGBT Leadership Fellowship and completed the Kennedy School of Government program at Harvard.
In addition to Noble’s signature on the letter, Mayfield said she has been bothered by language he has used in referring to the people he targets through his restaurant-based ministry, calling it “elitist and judgmental.”
In an 2013 article for the now-closed publication Beacon, journalist Jeff Chu described a visit to The King’s Kitchen in which Noble showed him a poster that was headed “Wanted: For the Kingdom of God,” followed by a list: “Drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, pimps, all sick people, gangbangers, gamblers, strippers, AIDS victims, homosexuals, blind, confused, shoplifters, depressed, suicidal people, demon-possessed, and those who are unsaved and cursed by witchcraft.”
“You don’t have to talk about people in a negative way as if they have no value,” Mayfield said. “Is it really coming from a place of service?”
Noble said that he has since changed the poster to say “sinners” without listing specific descriptions. But he insisted that the poster is intended only to spread the message that all kinds of people are welcome to turn to God.
“All of us, according to the Bible, are born according to sin,” he said.
Pressed on whether he considers homosexuality a sin, Noble responded more than once: “I have to go by what the Bible says to determine what is or what isn’t sin.”