When it came to North Carolina’s debate over LGBT rights, Lee County had a clear head start.
Late last year, a full three months before House Bill 2 came out of the General Assembly, Lee Christian School in Sanford had asked its families and some students to take a new pledge.
On the school's website it’s called the "LCS Biblical Lifestyle Statements and Covenant."
Lee Christian required families and students as young as sixth grade to sign the three -page document as a promise to abide by its rules if they wanted to attend the school in 2016-17.
The pledge spells out in great detail Lee Christian’s commitment to a lifestyle in school and at home that is governed by biblical directives.
While the Bible outlines scores of sins, the pledge focuses particularly on those involving homosexuality, gay marriage and transgender lifestyles.
On sexuality: “Sexual relationships outside of marriage and sexual relations between the same sex are immoral and sinful. The depth of sinfulness of homosexual practice is recognized, and yet we believe the grace of God sufficient to overcome both the practice of such activity and the perversion leading to its practice.”
On marriage: “God’s plan for sexuality is that it is to be expressed in a monogamous relationship between one man and one women within the framework of a biblical marriage.”
On gender identification: “... There is no argument for a ‘third gender’ among humans. Gender confusion and dysphoria are ultimately the biological, psychological, social and spiritual consequences of the human race’s fallen condition. This state of depravity affects all persons individually and collectively.”
There are consequences for not following the new guidelines. When “the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home or the activities of a student are counter ... to the biblical lifestyle the school teaches,” the pledge states, enrollment can be denied or terminated, the pledge states.
That goes for the school’s teachers, staff and board, too.
Newly appointed school head Don Payne presented the pledge to the school's board of directors and parental advisory committee last December. Once approved, it was sent to the school’s parents and current or prospective students. The reaction carved predictable lines across Sanford and Lee County, a largely rural area about 100 miles east of Charlotte.
At the heart of the debate over Lee Christian’s new rule was a philosophical question: Is the pledge in step with Christ’s principles or a misrepresentation of them?
Mike Stone, a former legislator and the father of two Lee Christian students, said the school is blending a Christian education with more emphasis on a Christian lifestyle.
“That should first and foremost tell you that anyone with true Christian beliefs should have no problem supporting this,” he told the Sanford Herald.
The Rant, an online news blog in Sanford co authored by former newspaper editor Billy Liggett, called the pledge discriminatory and contrary to the “moral fibers of Christianity.”
Reached last month, Liggett said the bullying tone of the pledge caught some of the school’s devout Christian families off guard. Maybeth Williams, though, welcomed the new rule.
“With so much of this transgender trash in the news, it is becoming acceptable,” she wrote the Herald, “and I feel LCS is just trying to stand up and say it is not OK.”
Sergio and Dana Guevara applauded the pledge as a logical step for a Christian school to take. “No different than taking your child to karate class ... If you expect them to learn, understand and practice it,” they said.
Several families, David and Sara Guth among them, removed their children from Lee Christian rather than sign the pledge, which they believed unfairly singled out the LGBT community.
“It’s not our job to condone or not condone certain sexual behaviors,” David Guth told the Herald. “We’re trying to teach our son tolerance, compassion and love for all people.”
Ashley Palmer-Secor also said the pledge had driven her and her children away from Lee Christian after six happy years at the school.
“... When did Christians start ranking sins?” she asked in her comment to the Herald’s story. “Why do we need three pages to sign about homosexuality and transgender? Where are the pages on thousands of others of sins?”
The Observer contacted several families who left Lee Christian rather than sign the pledge. None wanted their names used out of concern that it would resurrect the controversy.
“Lee Christian School was wonderful for our family and we miss it terribly,” one parent said. “(I’m) just saddened by the paperwork we were asked to sign.”
Reached in August not long before the start of the first school year with the pledge in place, Payne, the school’s headmaster, wouldn’t discuss the situation.
“Lee Christian School has made our stand on Biblical principles very clear,” he said in an email. “We have nothing more to add.”