On June 12, the Tucker, Georgia City Council voted in favor of a Non-discrimination Ordinance (NDO). This ordinance, while professing to be non-discriminatory, will actually set up opportunities to discriminate against people of faith.
Plain and simple: Non-discrimination Ordinances that use the force of law to protect sexual orientation or gender identity can end up being a form of religious censorship, discrimination, and persecution.
One pro-LGBT businessman said in a 2017 article that LGBT activists are “going into the hardest states in the country,” and “going to punish the wicked.” And who are the wicked? From his point of view, it’s those (in many cases Christians) opposing the LGBT agenda. His determination to “punish” had to do with passing laws related to LGBT non-discrimination.
These laws seem on the surface very innocent – who wants to “discriminate” against anyone, including people who identify as LGBT? But NDOs have the potential of infringing on churches and people of faith who refuse to change their religious convictions based on the changing culture.
In an interview, Senior Pastor Troy Bush of Rehoboth Baptist Church in Tucker said that the new ordinance presents “something like minefields for every church and religious organization.”
While this NDO exempts “religious organizations” from its provisions, it defines that term to include only churches and IRS-approved charities (and of course, a future City Council could exercise its power to redefine the term essentially out of existence). And even what counts as a “church” activity exempt from the NDO is up for debate. There is valid concern about the ability of churches to provide adequate protection for women and girls in private spaces and sports events which might be categorized under the ordinance as “public accommodations” that must yield to the demands of the LGBT agenda.
Jane Robbins, an attorney and resident of Tucker, made the following statement about some of the concerns of NDOs in general and the Tucker ordinance in particular:
“One problem is that, as with the Tucker NDO, the exemption is usually drawn very narrowly and worded in very vague terms. Will an informal church basketball league be able to protect girls’ competition from trans-identifying boys? Will a church that hosts the Saturday games be able to prevent males from entering the girls’ private spaces (locker rooms and restrooms)? Like many NDOs, the Tucker ordinance is unclear.”
Another critical concern that we should all have is that individual church members will be threatened as well. You see, once they leave the church grounds and try to operate their businesses in accordance with their faith – for example, if they decline to use their creative gifts in baking or floral design to participate in a same-sex ceremony - they will become fair game for potentially some of the same legal action as churches. Churches must oppose this kind of ordinance for the simple reason that Jesus instructs them to protect all their sheep.
Therefore, this is not just a church issue, but a business issue too. We all must understand that the First Amendment is not something that is just limited to beliefs expressed within the church walls. The First Amendment is about the “free exercise of religion” in the public square, not just in a church building.
We as Georgia Baptists support civil rights -- we just have a problem with “special rights” that are generated from behavior choices and that are used to trample the civil rights of Christians and other people of faith. Note the following Christian Index article I wrote on this: COMMENTARY: Sexual orientation and gender identify laws can lead to censorship and discrimination - The Christian Index
Therefore, it is time for the church to stand up to the rising tide of religious discrimination and persecution. It is also time that our state legislature passes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) so that the rights guaranteed in our First Amendment will be upheld.
A RFRA would give Christians a better chance of prevailing if dragged into court for living out their faith, by forcing the government to meet a proper balancing test available for court cases involving religious freedom. It would make sure that the rights of citizens and the responsibility of the government to protect those rights are properly addressed. A RFRA would make it more difficult for the government to infringe on the free exercise of faith under the guise of “non-discrimination.” See the following informational video on RFRA: https://vimeo.com/252717648
But in addition to enacting a state RFRA, Christians and all people of faith must oppose these NDOs whenever they are proposed. These laws fundamentally change the culture in which we try to live our lives, raise our children, and advance the gospel through evangelism and missions.
NDOs threaten not only our religious practices in general but our families, our culture, and the church itself. So now is the time for citizens to speak and stand up for their constitutional rights before it is too late!
Mike Griffin is the Public Affairs Representative of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.