The rejection weighed on Mr Thomas, but he eventually found his way back into the benches as a staunch Tory. Before graduating from high school, he had two Confederate flags engraved on his class ring – which he no longer uses.
But college life at Texas Seminary changed his perspective, exposing him to debates he had never encountered in Enterprise. He learned of the differing views on women in the church and on Gene Robinson, the Kentucky clergyman who became the first openly gay bishop of the episcopal church.
“These were the things my Sunday school teacher never told me,” he said.
By the time he entered the workforce, Mr Thomas could see that his politics had changed and told his wife, Sallie, that it might be wise for them to move to the east coast, where they were. liberal Baptist churches. But as a southerner, he had few connections outside of his home country, and the only church that hired him was back in Alabama.
From the start it wasn’t a good fit. The racial tensions that Mr. Thomas wanted to leave behind always seemed to simmer there.
On a hot summer day, Mr Thomas was in his office when several African American children were playing basketball outside, he said. One of them came to ask to use the water fountain in the church and Mr. Thomas pointed the child towards the door where the water was.
When a worshiper, who was white, saw the black child approaching, Mr Thomas said he closed the door to prevent the boy from entering. The pastor was upset – it was not the first time he had seen this behavior.
“It was around then that I said, ‘OK, I have to rewrite the old CV,'” he said, and he decided to leave Alabama for good. .