One magistrate in North Carolina — who’s also an ordained minister — is using the very same scriptures conservatives have used to blast legal same-gender marriages to instead defend it.

Forsyth County Chief Magistrate C. John Phillips is the Liberty University-educated pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Independent Baptist Church, and his views on the separation between civil and holy matrimony were cited yesterday in a state court official’s response to Republican leaders’ calls to allow registers of deeds and magistrates to opt out of performing legal, civil same-gender marriages.

Phillips’ comments were sent to John Smith, director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. In an earlier Oct. 14 memo, Smith had already told magistrates across the state that they must perform legal marriages for all couples or risk disciplinary action or removal. Republican state Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and more than a dozen of his colleagues then called on Smith to revise his order, and Berger says he’ll seek legislation next session giving judicial officials those rights.

Smith answered yesterday, firmly telling Berger to shove off — well, in more diplomatic and legal language, of course.

The kicker in Smith’s message to Berger, though, was this letter sent to him by Forsyth County Magistrate Phillips (our emphasis added):

Hon. Judge Smith, Director:

As an ordained minister and chief magistrate, I have given much consideration to the question of same-sex marriage long before it became the law in North Carolina. I think I have reached a reasonable conclusion that should satisfy the concerns of most concerned parties. I offer the following for your consideration and use as you see fit. Should magistrates be required to either quit their jobs or violate their conscience in being forced to marry people of the same gender? It is a matter of Church vs. State, and in this area the Scriptures give us guidance. Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is Gods” (Matthew 22:21). Civil marriage is an act of the State. Same-sex marriage, like the coins that were struck with the graven image of Caesar – a violation of the 2nd Commandment but necessary for the Jews of that day to use to engage in commerce and survive in their secular culture – belongs to the State. Holy matrimony still belongs to the Church. Magistrates are not ministers, so let’s not confuse the two. Same-sex marriage is a function of the courts performed by a judicial magistrate who has sworn an oath of office to uphold the laws of the State. Holy marriage, the sacred union of a man and a woman, remains a sacrament of the Church performed by an ordained minister who has pledged a vow of holiness unto the Lord. Civil marriage and Holy matrimony are not the same even though semantically they use the same word. While moralistic, I hope this does not come across as too judgmental. Hope this helps!

Chief Magistrate of District Court
21st Judicial District/Forsyth Co.

Read Smith’s entire memo to Berger here (PDF).

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.