NASHVILLE (BP) — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto of legislation that would have protected the religious freedom of that state’s citizens signals “something entirely new in human history” — “the rise of erotic liberty at the expense of religious liberty,” according to R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Brewer, a Republican, vetoed the bill Feb. 26 after days of deliberation under intense pressure from gay advocates, corporations, the NFL and even Christians. The bill garnered so much national attention that similar legislation in Tennessee was shelved without consideration.
Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joined Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in supporting Arizona’s religious liberty bill, which was intended to clarify an existing state law.
Though the two-page bill did not mention sexuality, without it Arizona business owners such as photographers, florists and bakers could be forced to use their creative talents in celebration of same-sex weddings and other life events that violate their conscience, Moore and Mohler said.
Proponents of gay marriage said any business owner’s refusal to serve same-sex couples violates the couples’ civil rights, and several outspoken Christians also expressed that view.
Kirsten Powers, a political analyst who recently announced her conversion to Christianity, wrote in USA Today Feb. 19 that Christians supporting a religious freedom bill in Kansas were arguing for “homosexual Jim Crow laws.”
Powers quoted Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Ministries, the second-largest church in the United States, who said Christians should not use their faith as a reason for discrimination.
“Serving people we don’t see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity,” Stanley said. “Jesus died for a world with which he didn’t see eye to eye. If a bakery doesn’t want to sell its products to a gay couple, it’s their business. Literally. But leave Jesus out of it.”
The next day, Jonathan Merritt, Southern Baptist and senior columnist for Religion News Service, echoed Powers. Merritt wrote that Martin Luther King Jr. would likely have seen the denial of services to same-sex couples as a civil rights violation.
He urged readers to “consider the context into which King’s words were spoken. The basis upon which many pre-Civil Rights Southerners refused services to ethnic minorities was theological, not just cultural. For them, mingling races was not just improper or wrong; it was sinful.” Merritt said the same was now true of how many Christians respond to homosexuals.
Such claims, however, have been rejected by Southern Baptists to whom the legacy of the struggle for civil rights means the most: black Southern Baptists.
At the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans in 2012, messengers to the convention approved a resolution submitted by pastors Eric Redmond and Dwight McKissic, both leaders of black SBC congregations and active in the convention’s National African American Fellowship. The resolution stated, “Homosexuality does not present the distinguishing features of classes entitled to special protections, like the classes of race and gender.”
It also said, “It is regrettable that homosexual rights activists and those who are promoting the recognition of ‘same-sex marriage’ have misappropriated the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement.”
After the vote approving the resolution, McKissic said in an interview with the Associated Press the comparison between the push for gay rights, such as same-sex marriage, and the Civil Rights Movement is “unfair.”
There is no indisputable evidence that homosexuality is innate like skin color, McKissic said, and by equating gay rights and civil rights, “they’re equating their sin with my skin.”
Fred Luter, the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention, also opposed the comparison, saying nothing in the Bible speaks to the inferiority of a particular race. That makes the biblical argument against racism compelling, he said, but with homosexuality the Bible is clear.
“I believe that nothing, nothing can be politically right if it’s biblically wrong,” Luter told the Florida Baptist Witness in 2012. “The Word of God says marriage is between one man and one woman…. No president, no governor, no mayor, no politician can change that fact.”
In equating gay rights and civil rights, Merritt cited a 1961 speech in which King said a business owner “should not have the freedom to choose his customers on the basis of race or religion.”
What Merritt did not cite was King’s earlier published view in 1958 that homosexual tendencies were problematic, were likely “not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired,” and something that should be addressed with the help of a psychiatrist.
Merritt also did not address the assertion of multiple leaders from the Civil Rights era who argued against the homosexual lobby “hijacking” the Civil Rights Movement.
For instance, according to The Blaze, Alveda King, niece of the slain Civil Rights leader, said in 2012, “Neither my great-grandfather, an NAACP founder, my grandfather Dr. Martin Luther King Sr., an NAACP leader, my father, Rev. A.D. Williams King, nor my uncle Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. embraced the homosexual agenda that the current NAACP is attempting to label as a civil rights agenda.”
Even though black Southern Baptist leaders rejected comparisons between the Civil Rights Movement and the homosexual movement, they emphasized in the 2012 resolution that homosexuals should never be forced to endure hatred or bigotry. The resolution acknowledged the “unique struggles” of homosexuals in particular areas and called on Southern Baptists to express love to “those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who are engaged in the homosexual lifestyle.”
Moore and other Southern Baptist leaders see threats to religious liberty looming for Christians who own businesses. Already, the American Civil Liberties Union and Washington state have sued a florist who refused to provide services for a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony.
In New Mexico, a Christian photographer was sued for refusing to photograph a commitment ceremony for a same-sex couple. That state’s high court sided with the homosexual couple, claiming anti-discrimination laws trumped religious liberty.
Bills protecting the religious liberty of business owners have cropped up in multiple states in recent months as a result. The bill in the Kansas legislature died in committee, but others in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota and Oklahoma still have legs and may receive votes.
Moore said in an ERLC podcast Feb. 21 that Christians need legal protections because forcing them to participate in activities that violate their consciences is wrong. He also said there is no guarantee that same-sex weddings are the only things Christians will be forced to support with their labor.
“Does that apply only to the morality of marriage?” Moore asked. “Should a Christian (or Muslim or Orthodox Jewish or feminist New Age) web designer be compelled to develop a site platform for a legal pornography company?”
Merritt and Powers responded to Moore’s thoughts in a joint column Feb. 23, writing that religious liberty was not in play in situations such as same-sex marriage. They also wrote that Christians like Moore are selective in which beliefs from the Bible they wish to apply, particularly the remarriage of divorced men and women.
“Rather than protecting the conscience rights of Christians, this looks a lot more like randomly applying religious belief in a way that discriminates against and marginalizes one group of people, while turning a blind eye to another group,” they wrote. “It’s hard to believe that Jesus was ever for that.”
Merritt and Powers said the Bible does not teach that providing services to people with different lifestyles is an affirmation of that lifestyle. “Yet, Christian conservatives continue to claim that it does,” they wrote.
The hypocrisy charge from other evangelicals is one thing, Moore said. “It’s quite another thing for the state to coerce persons through fines and penalties and licenses to use their creative gifts to support weddings they believe to be sinful,” he said.
In a speech at Brigham Young University Feb. 25 and during his daily radio briefing Feb. 27, Mohler said the danger same-sex marriage poses to religious liberty is not hypothetical. Mohler said the Arizona veto and the Feb. 26 decision of a federal judge in Texas to overturn that state’s constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage is about “the rise of erotic liberty at the expense of religious liberty.”
Mohler said in his briefing the Arizona bill was opposed by establishment Republicans and businesses such as the NFL, which plans to hold next year’s Super Bowl in a Phoenix suburb, largely because opponents of the bill misrepresented “its words and intent.”
“This bill, in terms of its actual language, stipulates in a specific way what is already arguably in the law of Arizona,” Mohler said. “What we have here is something larger than it appears on its face. What we have here is a major shift in terms of the negotiation of liberties in our society. From a Christian worldview perspective we have to realize that no liberty is absolute in terms of its application when it comes into collision with other competing liberties.
“What we’re talking about here is something entirely new in human history,” Mohler said. “In other words, the demand of people that their erotic and romantic activities, their orientations and relationships be sanctioned is now in our society on the ascent. It is now considered dominant even when it runs into collision with one of the most basic freedoms the United States was founded upon, and that is religious liberty.”
Andrew Walker, director of policy studies at the ERLC, wrote in a column for The Christian Post Feb. 20 that circumstances where bakers, florists and wedding photographers are asked to participate in same-sex ceremonies may seem harmless, but Christian business owners have a “duty to obey what their conscience tells them is true.”
“If Christians can be compelled to lend a craft to something their conscience objects to, what can’t they be compelled to participate in? We’re talking about precedent; and the cases before us are bellwether test cases about whether private actors can be forcibly mandated to go against their conscience,” Walker wrote.
Walker said religious liberty is being “reduced to bigotry.”
That disappoints Mohler, who said even Christians who depend on religious liberty for their ministries have been willing to give away religious liberty and “throw other Christians to Caesar, effectively throwing them to the legal lions, by suggesting this bill [in Arizona] would discriminate.”
Mohler said every law and government discriminates, and people count on them to do so because discriminating means “to clarify.” The word, he said, is meaningful and important.
“To clarify is to make distinctions, and the law will continue to do that and so will every sane person because any moral code, no matter how liberal or conservative, requires discrimination,” Mohler said.
“It’s a question of whether the discrimination is righteous and just, equitable and based in what is true and reasonable. That’s why the State of Texas or the United States government, or any government for that matter, continues to discriminate,” Mohler said. “We count on our government discriminating, ourselves discriminating, and our neighbors discriminating when it comes to making the right kinds of moral decisions. It takes the power of discrimination to know the difference between right and wrong.”
Gregory Tomlin is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).