A Transcendent God & the Equality Act

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Someone asked me about the Equality Act, recently passed by the 117th Congress. As of February 26, the bill waits in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It has 48 co-sponsors. The stated purpose of the bill is to include protections against LGBTQ discrimination into the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. It bans discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. So, it’s obviously controversial.[1]

Although the bill in various forms has been around for a few years, different groups find things to love and hate about it. The American Civil Liberties Union,[2] Anti-Defamation League,[3] Human Rights Watch,[4] Southern Poverty Law Center,[5] National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,[6] and American Association of Retired Persons[7] are among the 500+ organizations that support the bill.[8] The Heritage Foundation,[9] Mormon Church,[10] National Association of Evangelicals,[11] Southern Baptist Convention,[12] Council of Christian Colleges and Universities,[13] and the American Family Association[14] are among the groups that oppose the bill. Quantifying the number of groups that oppose the bill is challenging because different groups oppose it for different reasons. E.g., some oppose the infringement on religious liberties, whereas others do not believe in LGBTQ equality.

I am not qualified to speak to legal precedence or the far-reaching implications of a new law. I am qualified to address the theology of such an act. I thought about the theology of the Equality Act because someone shared with me an article from Franklin Graham. He wrote, “…for ministries of faith, the Equality Act is a threat to life as we know it in our nation today.”[15]

I looked at the Act and failed to see how Graham drew his conclusions. However, even if he is accurate, his sentiment reminds me that God does not need “ministries of faith” or, in other words, the church. The church needs God. If Graham were right (& I don’t think he is), it might be what we in the church need. Christ-followers have struggled since Constantine and arrival of Christendom. Jesus never built great structures. He sought transformation and liberated the captives. He preached good news for the oppressed. Targeting the LGBTQ community for exclusion or ostracism does not have a gospel parallel. To my non-legally trained mind, the Equality Act appears to protect a group of people from being excluded.

Churches or other organizations that do not wish to include LGBTQ people probably have nothing to worry about. LQBTQ people will not likely seek to be part of those organizations. This news story reminds me of an experience I had in a small town when the Boy Scouts of America lifted their ban on gay men.[16] I was the minister in a church that sponsored a scout troop. After the news broke, the local scout leader stormed into my office and demanded to know what we were going to do about this travesty. I replied, “Do you have any gay men who want to lead our troop?” He said no. I told him to let me know when a gay man applies to join our troop and we can figure it out then. This didn’t address the issue, but it is unnecessarily to look for a fight where none exists.

Problems sometimes take care of themselves. If the Equality Act passes, and Graham’s prediction comes true, then “ministries of faith” can reform, reorganize, and find a new way to be in the future. God transcends the threats confronting us. If including and recognizing the personhood of LGBTQ people threatens “life as we know it in our nation today,” then we might have missed some parts of the gospel stories about Jesus. It seems like we have created God in our image when God starts hating or excluding the same people as us. We are created in God’s image and called to experience transformation.

Whether or not the Equality Act becomes law, followers of Christ have more important work than worrying about it. We need to figure out how to represent a transcendent God to an apathetic world. We need to address the issues Jesus cared about: praying, loving God, loving our neighbors as ourselves, loving one’s enemies, and building up the kingdom of heaven. There’s so much work to do. We need to work at overcoming our differences and learning to talk with one another. And, we could all be better listeners.

[1] https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/3185

[2] https://action.aclu.org/send-message/pass-equality-act

[3] https://www.adl.org/news/letters/letter-to-the-house-of-representatives-in-support-of-the-equality-act

[4] https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/02/02/united-states-still-needs-equality-act

[5] https://www.splcenter.org/news/2021/01/22/ordering-equal-access-biden-acts-advance-racial-social-justice-day-one

[6] https://naacp.org/latest/u-s-house-passes-naacp-supported-equality-act/

[7] https://press.aarp.org/2019-7-3-Equality-Act-LGBT

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equality_Act_(United_States)  N.B. I do not normally cite Wikipedia. However, in this case, it provides more groups that oppose and endorse the Equality Act.

[9] https://www.heritage.org/gender/heritage-explains/the-equality-act

[10] https://www.deseret.com/2019/5/13/20673121/read-the-church-s-full-statement-on-the-equality-act

[11] https://www.nae.net/equality-act-religious-freedom-protections/

[12] https://erlc.com/resource-library/issue-briefs/erlc-opposes-h-r-5-the-equality-act/

[13] https://www.cccu.org/news-updates/fairness-for-all/

[14] https://www.afa.net/who-we-are/press-releases/2018/american-family-association-equality-act-is-a-wrecking-ball-to-religious-liberty/

[15] https://decisionmagazine.com/urgent-prayer-alert-from-franklin-graham-on-the-equality-act/

[16] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/boy-scouts-america-allow-gay-scout-leaders-n399241

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