By Bob Allen
Baptist preachers opposing a ban on discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation in Frankfort, Ky., don’t speak for all members of the Baptist faith, moderate and progressive ministers contended in an op-ed and letter to the editor to the Frankfort State Journal newspaper.
Bob Browning, pastor of First Baptist Church in Frankfort, said in a letter published Sunday, Aug. 11, that if the city commission passes the fairness ordinance, he will be even prouder to call Frankfort home.
“As Christians, we have no higher calling than to love God with every fiber of our being and our neighbor as ourselves,” Browning said. “At all times and in all places, we must abide by the Golden Rule. There are no exceptions.”
In July, Hershael York, a seminary professor, pastor and past president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, joined 14 other area Baptist clergy in an op-ed piece denouncing the proposed fairness ordinance as “coercive and damaging to people of faith who are being asked to violate their consciences.”
“If a landlord believes that she would be acting contrary to Scripture by renting to a heterosexual couple who live together without being married, shouldn’t she have the right to refuse them regardless of how many units she owns or where they are?” York contended. “We believe that any people whose conscience is violated by providing a place for activity which they believe to be inconsistent with their faith and contrary to their morals should not be coerced and forced by the government to do so.”
Browning said in an e-mail circulated to ministry colleagues that he disagrees with his fellow Baptists.
“Civil authorities are responsible for protecting the rights of all citizens so they can care for themselves and contribute to society,” Browning said. “Our obligation to love our neighbor, treat him or her with respect and make sure he or she has access to the same privileges and opportunities I do is the heart of the gospel.”
Jim Holladay, pastor of Lyndon Baptist Church in Louisville, penned an Aug. 11 op-ed signed by nine other Baptist pastors and leaders describing the argument posed by York and the other Baptists as “troubling on several fronts.”
“Beyond the arguments of where rights begin and end, we are dismayed at the underlying argument offered by our fellow Baptist pastors,” Holladay said. “Essentially they contend legal constraints to discrimination against LGBTQ people is not only unfair to Christians, but it actually harms us by prohibiting us from withholding housing and employment from people whose lifestyles (and maybe very presence) violates a perceived ethical norm.”
In his op-ed, York said he and his fellow Baptists “love all people.”
“We love them enough to feed and clothe them when they are poor and hungry, to shelter them when they are homeless, and to give of our own resources when circumstances or bad decisions render them unable to make rent or utility payments,” the ministers said. “But we also love people enough to be honest with them about what God says about sin, both theirs and ours. No city ordinance should put any of our members in the position of tacitly approving of or enabling what we sincerely believe to be contrary to God’s will.”
Holladay and his colleagues said that statement raises a couple of questions.
“Does the Christian conscience only compel love of LBGTQ people when they are poor and destitute?” they inquired. “Why is opening my door, sharing my table or giving my money to someone in need more meritorious than preventing someone from getting in that situation in the first place?”
“We pray Christians throughout Kentucky will come to see people within the LGBTQ community not as an issue or an affront to some ethical standard, but first and foremost as neighbors for whom Christ died, and who we are called to love with more than just words,” the ministers said.