Christian groups fighting against government measures toward equality are not new. Christians have been using the Bible as an excuse for legal discrimination since Christianity first became a dominant American religion. From the Southern Baptist Convention (founded by pro-slavery Christians) rejecting Civil Rights and integration, to the fight against women’s suffrage by conservative Christians who believed women voting was against “natural law,” to popular evangelical college Bob Jones University not admitting a black student until 1971 and refusing to drop a policy against interracial dating until the year 2000 – the use of the Bible in discrimination is as old as discrimination itself.
But just because we’ve seen this before doesn’t mean we have to accept it now. Make no mistake – what conservative Christians are trying to do now with LGBT rights is the exact same thing they tried to do (and in some places still do) with African-American and women’s rights before. And, like before, their arguments are grounded in a stark misunderstanding of scripture.
Scripture, when looked at as a whole, offers no support for “Religious Exemptions” to legal equality.
1) Jesus Was NOT Political or Concerned with the Law
On the eve of His persecution Jesus was asked by Pilate if He was a King. Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Pilate seemed to struggle to fully grasp what this meant, as do a lot of Christians today. But Jesus clarified that His kingdom was separate from the government’s many times; when questioned about paying taxes to Caesar, when retreating to the mountains after feeding the 5, 000 to prevent the people forcefully making Him king, and when deflecting the disciples’ request that He “restore” Israel.
Jesus was not political. He did not once try to change Roman law, nor did He ever urge His followers to use their time on earth toward that goal. Some would say there’s a difference between the government in Rome and the U.S. government today, as ours is founded on “Christian principles,” but that belief still has no biblical defense as far as Jesus supporting laws that specifically protect Christians.
2) Jesus Never Taught That Christians Should Have Special Treatment
Jesus spoke on how His disciples should expect to be treated many times. He said they would be hated, arrested, flogged, and rejected. He told them how hard following Him would be. This was almost always said with a reassurance that He was not “of” the world, and therefore neither were His disciples, so they should not expect to be welcomed by the world.
What Jesus didn’t say was that His disciples, by virtue of being His followers, deserved special treatment under the law. He didn’t say that they should seek to find exemptions to avoid following legal orders. Paul, one of the most famous apostles of Christ, also supported this belief that while on earth believers should submit to the law of the land. Religious exemptions go against this teaching, because they say that, “these laws shouldn’t apply to us.” But the claim that the laws against employment discrimination are “unbiblical” or “threaten religious liberty” are false. We need to look no further than Jesus to see why.
3) Jesus Did Not Discriminate
While on earth, Jesus surrounded Himself with people that, at the time, were outcasts. The former professions of His disciples are important – they show that Jesus didn’t discriminate. That the majority of His disciples were uneducated fishermen was in itself a statement. Religious teachers and rabbis didn’t take on fishermen as students or disciples. Religious leaders were much higher on the social scale than fishermen and did not travel in the same circles. It’s significant that Jesus did not choose His disciples from the wealthy and aristocratic Sadducees or the less wealthy but still respected Pharisees, and instead antagonized these majority religious groups. Doing this showed that the gospel was not just for the religious elites but for everyone.
If Jesus, who was fully God and fully man, chose to surround Himself with “non-religious” people, why should Christian organizations be fighting so hard against employing people who might have different beliefs about what the Bible says? Remember: the President’s order doesn’t say that Christian organizations have to hire every single LGBT person who applies, only that a person can’t be refused employment simply because they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. So if a woman walks into your door with every qualification you’re looking for, and her life shows the fruit of the spirit of the Bible she holds dear, why should you say that, if she also has a wife, you are justified legally in not hiring her? What teaching of Jesus, specifically, would you use as a reason to reject one person for “sin” yet hire another, who surely has just as many if not more sins that they commit everyday?
Where in the Bible does it say that, in order to follow Jesus, you have to have legal protections against hiring your neighbor?
4) We Need to Heed Jesus Warnings on Sodom
It is true that Jesus never spoke about homosexuality. He spoke about marriage and divorce, but those are completely separate issues than that of employment discrimination. Again, same-sex marriage has nothing to do with the discussion on employment discrimination. What does have a lot to do with this discussion though is Jesus’ warnings to His disciples about Sodom.
Stay with me.
In the gospels of Matthew and Luke, while instructing His disciples as they went out to spread the Word, He warned that:
“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”
These instructions to His disciples were specific about the kind of bad treatment and rejection they might encounter along their journey. Because He sent them out without money or even a change of clothes, the disciples were totally dependent on the hospitality and kindness of others. So the fact that Jesus mentions Sodom in this chapter – a place that was destroyed over its haughtiness and inhospitality to the poor and needy – is hugely significant. It shows how important Jesus values kindness and treating strangers with respect.
If His teachings on the greatest commandment was not enough to convince us, then this warning about the fate of people inhospitable to the gospel should be.
But, some might say, the religious groups aren’t wanting to reject the gospel, they’re seeking the right to reject LGBT people – that’s different.
Setting aside the fact that the LGBT people who most likely will be seeking jobs at Christian organizations and charities are Christians – despite what the “Gays Vs. Christians” debate may seem, there are many, many LGBT Christians who would like equality too – there is the fact that, according to Jesus, when you reject people in need, you reject Him. And Jesus said repeatedly that He was the gospel.
So if a Christian organization is faced with someone, Christian or not, who needs a job (someone who is technically in need) and instead of hiring them if they meet the qualifications, simply rejects them for “sinning” differently than their other employees, who’s really being rejected?
That the people fighting the hardest to oppose equal rights are the same ones who were commanded to love their neighbors as themselves is beyond sad. It’s nonsensical.
There are no “exemptions” in the Bible on who we’re commanded to love. But you can’t love your neighbor if he needs a job, you have a job, and you refuse to give it to him. It’s too bad that the religious leaders who signed that letter to the President can’t understand that.