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10/24/97 Church leaders endorse ENDA; SBC rep decries their defense

WASHINGTON (BP)–Officials from two mainline church bodies joined corporate leaders and senators in endorsing legislation that would provide employment protection for homosexuals.
In an Oct. 23 hearing before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, Oliver Thomas of the National Council of Churches and Herbert Valentine of the Presbyterian Church (USA) expressed their organizations’ support for the Employment Non-discrimination Act. The bill establishes homosexuality, under the title of “sexual orientation,” as a classification deserving protection in the same way race, ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, religion and disability now have protected status in the workplace.
The hearing was cut short by a procedural move that prevented Thomas and Valentine from testifying, but they explained their organizations’ positions in written testimony submitted to the committee.
Discrimination based on “sexual orientation is morally wrong,” said Thomas, the NCC’s special counsel for civil and religious liberties.
“Since current federal civil rights laws do not cover this kind of discrimination, gay and lesbian people are currently deprived of basic human rights that should belong to all Americans. Critics argue that this legislation creates ‘special rights’ for gay and lesbian people. We kindly disagree. This bill eliminates this form of discrimination, and thus it enlarges the level playing field for all Americans,” said Thomas, a former general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Public Affairs, which once represented the Southern Baptist Convention on church-state issues.
Valentine, executive presbyter of the Baltimore Presbytery, said passage of ENDA is “the Christian thing to do.”
“If you sat down to read what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, you would find it short reading,” Valentine wrote to the committee. “You will discover that homosexuality is not a prominent biblical concern.
“If Jesus had an opinion in this matter, he didn’t express it. Please do not treat the Bible as a divine Ouija board or the great answer book, but as an entry point for understanding.”
Afterward, a representative of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy agency said he “walked away from the hearing both sad and angry.”
“I’m sad for our nation that we have come to the point where we would seriously consider legitimizing homosexual behavior, which is sin against God, and give it equal status with legitimate human rights,” said Will Dodson, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s director of public policy.
“I walked away angry because there were actually church leaders who were there to support the bill. As Christians, our response to this issue should be to love the sinner and hate the sin. It is infuriating to hear church leaders suggest that we are showing love for the sinner by accepting his sinful behavior. Christians ought to be helping them to escape a sinful, harmful lifestyle. I can understand how those without Christ would defend their lifestyle. However, it is inexcusable that Christians would defend lifestyles which are contrary to Scripture.”
ENDA failed to gain passage in the Senate by only one vote, 50-49, last year. While the legislation may have a chance at success in the Senate this session, it has little hope of adoption in the House of Representatives.
No committee vote is scheduled, but it might be considered by the panel in January or early February, a committee spokesman said. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass., chief sponsor of ENDA, may attempt to attach the legislation as an amendment to another bill.
At the hearing, Kennedy said to those who say ENDA “does not reflect traditional American values, I say you’re wrong. Bigotry is not an American value.”
In a statement of support for the bill, committee chairman James Jeffords, R.-Vt., said, “I expected that we would have witnesses yearning for the chance to testify in opposition to the bill. In fact, I have been told that my staff scoured the country for witnesses with differing opinions, to no avail. Even those who had expressed a desire to testify changed their mind.”
While the Traditional Values Coalition and Rutherford Institute, both ENDA opponents, were marked out on the printed witness list, at least four Washington-based organizations that oppose the bill were not contacted about testifying. Representatives of the ERLC, Family Research Council, Christian Coalition and Concerned Women for America all said their organizations were not asked to provide testimony.
Two witnesses, Kendall Hamilton of Oklahoma City and David Horowitz of Phoenix, said they were rejected for jobs because they are homosexuals. Meanwhile, Raymond Smith, chief operating officer of the Bell Atlantic Corporation, and Thomas Grote, CEO of Donatos Pizza, endorsed the legislation.
Before Thomas and Valentine were able to testify, the hearing was halted because a member of the Senate, not necessarily a committee member, invoked a little-used rule prohibiting committees from meeting more than two hours after the Senate begins its day. A Labor and Human Resources Committee spokesman said he did not know if the procedure was directed at the ENDA hearing.