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Terry H. Schwadron

June 22, 2020

Coming as it has amidst a renewed push for inclusion and racial equality, the reactions among evangelical Christian leaders that there is something fundamentally wrong about the Supreme Court decision to block discrimination against LGBTQ people in the workplace is intriguing — and horrifying.

The weeks following the police killing of George Floyd have unleashed a huge, pent-up smack of society’s face for institutional hypocrisy about living up to morals surrounding equality.

In words, at least, if not in immediate reparative deeds, there seems pretty widespread acceptance that as a society at large, America has put up with an avalanche of policing that punishes blacks far more than whites, as well as a host of other unfair practices in housing, health, financial lending, education and other endeavors in which whites thrive demonstrably better than blacks.

That there are continuing rallies and protests in 750 cities, sometimes under police tear gas, sometimes with hooligans’ vandalism, is a marker that a substantial majority of Americans want both acceptable policing and attention to matters of equality.

The question quickly then turns to whose equality.

And therein lies the reaction to a Supreme Court decision that is all about removing legal barriers to gay and transgender people in the workplace. The Court said it is now illegal to discriminate against workers who identify as gay and transgender.

And evangelistic leadership is fighting back, arguing that this move for equality is not equal for them.

Assessing the Reaction

Rev. Franklin Graham and others attacked the Court’s legal reasoning, but his most significant

remarks said the ruling had placed religious freedom in grave danger.

Graham argued, “I believe this decision erodes religious freedoms across this country. . . Christian organizations should never be forced to hire people who do not align with their biblical beliefs and should not be prevented from terminating a person whose lifestyle and beliefs undermine the ministry’s purpose and goals.”

It’s a formula for inequality in the name of religious freedom.

He is saying that people of faith who run companies in accordance with their version of God should never be forced to hire people who follow a different version of faith of life style.

“These are the freedoms our nation was founded on,” said Graham.

Stated differently, the freedom to believe or not in some deity that is not Graham’s, or to follow a life style in conflict with Graham’s, conflicts with the American freed0ms to go to work or to pursue happiness or individual choice. Thus, whose freedom wins?

Carrie Severino of Judicial Crisis Network expects a “tsunami of new litigation” resulting from the Court decision, from others who have been fired or passed over for promotion by companies operating under evangelical thinking who not want to promote a gay or transgender life style.

“The Supreme Court left a lot of really important issues open, like, how do you balance this with religious freedom? How do you balance it with freedom of speech? If you’ve got a law, for example, saying that using someone’s preferred pronoun is mandatory — or you can be fined [for non-compliance], how do we balance that with some of these other important and even constitutional questions? she said.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote that the ruling will make it harder for employers to operate according to their sincerely held beliefs.

Acceptance Tests? Oaths?

Larry Taylor, head of The Association of Christian Schools International, which serves 2,700 schools in the United States, says his group opposes same sex marriage, and hires teachers who need to teach that view and who personally “uphold a standard of conduct consistent with our faith.”

Just how do evangelical religious institutions or acceptably sympathetic Christian-owned companies determine that employees agree with the owner or with Graham? A test? A signed oath? Or just by having employees not mention any untoward private behavior or beliefs?

I’m guessing that if gays are out, so are Jews, Muslims, atheists, witches, Jehovah’s Witnesses, polygamists, people who have coveted a neighbor’s wife, those who spend Sundays playing golf rather than in church, who send their children to public school or maybe even people who are not white. What about White Supremacists who swear that they are not gay? What about presidents who say they grab women with abandon, who cheat on their taxes and who lie daily?

One conundrum for me is why anyone who would risk labeling as some kind of heretic would want to work for such an employer.

My mom, a Jew who survived the Nazis and Japanese troops while locked up in China, once tried to get a secretarial job with a communion wafer maker. Once there, she realized they did not really want her, and left.

It has never been clear to me why believing that same sex marriage is okay necessarily has anything to do with fulfilling workplace resp0nsibilities to, say, write, work on an assembly line or sell toys. One of the people in the Supreme Court cases worked for a skydiving company, and another for a funeral home. How did their home practices affect their workplace behavior?

That’s why the Court called it discrimination.

But the lesson of street Scripture this week is even broader — we are living in an America that survives only if we extend equalities beyond ourselves. Amen.


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Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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