The pastor of a Texas Baptist church which recently went on record as welcoming and affirming of gays has opposed pending legislation to allow faith-based adoption and foster care agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.
In testimony prepared for a state Senate hearing April 19, Griff Martin, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Austin, said Senate Bill 892 — legislation designed to allow faith-based child welfare groups that contract with the state to discriminate against LGBT children and families on basis of religious doctrine — would threaten the rights of families in his church.
In testimony prepared for the Senate Health and Human Services Committee but instead posted online after ministry responsibilities prevented him from attending the hearing, Martin said two same-sex couples in his congregation who have adopted children in hardship cases defy stereotypes of what is a “normal” family.
One set of parents was victim of a racist hate crime after adopting black children, Martin said. They responded by inviting individuals using hate speech into their home to get to know them as a family.
The other has adopted children with disabilities. Last year they buried one child and sacrificed time and income for another to have surgery.
“Surely we would never want to deny any child in our foster and welfare system the right to have a family, traditional or non-traditional,” Martin said in his statement posted with permission by the Texas Freedom Network, which opposes the legislation and other bills currently before the House and Senate deemed discriminatory against gays.
The Southern Baptist sponsor of SB 892, Sen. Charles Perry, a deacon at Southcrest Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas, said the measure is needed because “the faith-based community has been discriminated against” when it comes to child-placement services since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.
Randy Daniels, a vice president at Baptist-affiliated Buckner International who testified last month in favor of a companion bill in the House, told senators that without protections allowing them to “live out our faith based beliefs as we see them,” many faith-based providers “would feel forced out of the foster care and child welfare space,” causing even more harm to children in the pipeline of the already overloaded system.
Other witnesses supporting SB 892 included representatives of both the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas, competing statewide affiliates of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Gus Reyes, head of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, the BGCT ethics and justice ministry that he said “speaks to 5,200-plus Baptist churches in Texas,” said the proposed measure “maximizes the number of homes available to foster children.”
“We believe it is possible to respect sincerely held religious beliefs and work for the best interest of the child,” Reyes told the Senate panel.
In February the BGCT, historically the more moderate of the two Texas conventions, declared First Austin and two other member churches “outside of harmonious cooperation” for affirming “any sexual relationship outside the bonds of a marriage between one man and one woman.”
Cindy Asmussen, ethics and religious liberty adviser for the 2,600-church Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said “litigious activists” are making it difficult for ministries like the SBTC-affiliated Texas Baptist Home for Children in Waxahachie to continue their historic ministry of orphan care.
“When I hear the opponents of this bill say it’s a license to discriminate, it’s actually the opposite,” Asmussen said. “It is a license to participate that prevents government from discriminating against churches, people of faith, and government picking winners and losers.”
Martin urged lawmakers not to allow “fears and ignorance” to “stop us from giving children a home.” In a posting on Facebook the pastor said the proposed legislation would “greatly impact many of our beloved members” and encouraged church members to email both Sen. Perry and House sponsor Rep. James Frank, a member of First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls.
“Both men are deacons at their Baptist churches, and I am sure they would love to hear from their fellow Baptist brothers and sisters,” Martin wrote.