Matthew Lee Anderson on How We Got to the Equality Act

A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington. Photo by Duncan Lock/Creative Commons
A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington. Photo by Duncan Lock/Creative Commons

Over the past decade, significant pillars of the evangelical community have wavered in their convictions about marriage and human sexuality. In 2014, World Vision announced it would hire Christians in same-sex relationships—only to reverse course after a backlash threatened donations.

Things have gone differently for Bethany Christian Services, one of the country’s leading adoption providers, which recently disclosed its plan to place children with same-sex couples. While the organization stressed that “discussions about doctrine are important,” the decision effectively severs a Christian doctrine of marriage from the practice of adoption.

Conservative evangelicals have reacted by trying to purify the ranks of the faithful. In 2017, the Nashville Statement, put out by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, responded to weakening evangelical adherence to Christian teachings on sexuality. The ill-fated effort did little to build evangelicals’ confidence that their witness on sexual ethics would be simultaneously orthodox and also welcoming toward LGBT individuals.

Nonetheless, there is reason to be seriously concerned about the future of evangelical communities in an increasingly post-Christian America. The Supreme Court’s decisions in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized and legitimized same-sex marriage, and Bostock v. Clayton County, which extended nondiscrimination protections to LGBT individuals, have ratified the long reshaping of America’s norms on marriage and sexuality.

They have also raised serious questions about the rights of faith communities. Despite enjoying unprecedented access to the White House during the Trump administration, evangelicals secured few religious liberty wins. For example, the First Amendment Defense Act, championed by conservatives as a robust form of protection, never made it out of committee, despite a united Republican Congress. President Trump himself said it was a “great honor” to be called the most pro-gay president ever, and the First Lady publicly endorsed gay and lesbian equality.

Earlier this year, the Equality Act introduced yet another hurdle for orthodox Christians. The bill—which in February passed the first stage of becoming law—would have wide-ranging implications for Christians. Most notably, it would throttle religious liberty protections for Christians who dissent from the emerging regime of LGBT rights.

The Equality Act is unlikely to pass the Senate. (Its outcome is yet unknown at the time of publication.) But even if it doesn’t, the bill carries symbolic and cultural significance. As an inflection point in the life of our nation, we should be unnerved and also chastened by it. The headwinds against socially conservative positions on marriage and religious liberty are stronger than ever.

Evangelicals should unequivocally oppose bills of this nature (and there will be more). But we should accompany those noes with a good-faith effort to live together as fellow democratic citizens with LGBT individuals. One way to do that is by helping to secure nondiscrimination protections for them that simultaneously offer substantive religious liberty protections.

Congressman Chris Stewart recently re-introduced one such bill: Fairness for All, which attempts to expand LGBT rights while preserving religious exemptions. The legislation is imperfect, but it offers Americans a potential way out of the zero-sum game that conservatives and LGBT activists have been locked in for the past 40 years.

Talk of compromise is perilous, of course. Progressives often express open hostility toward conservative Christians. Evangelical activists have also seen those on the Left engage in a disingenuous “dialogue” that effectively aims at changing the church’s teaching on human sexuality.

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Source: Christianity Today

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