By Bob Allen
Baptist clergy are lining up on both sides of a debate about a proposed fairness ordinance dividing city commissioners in Frankfort, Ky.
Hershael York, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, joined 14 other area Baptist clergy in a July 14 op-ed piece in the Frankfort State Journal opposing a ban on discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation.
The Sunday, July 7, Lexington Herald-Leader, meanwhile, carried a commentary by Chuck Queen, senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, supporting the measure, which received an official first reading July 22 with a final vote expected Aug. 26.
“It is the policy of the City of Frankfort for all individuals within the City of Frankfort to be free from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation because of race, color, religion, national origin, familial status, age, disability, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation,” the ordinance reads in part.
The proposed ordinance exempts religious organizations and calls for creation of an 11-member city human-rights commission broadly representative of employers, religious and human-rights groups and the general public.
Queen, who aligned himself with Frankfort Fairness Coalition, said the ordinance is needed because there are no state or federal laws that prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians.
“I support such an ordinance as a citizen who believes in equality and fairness,” Queen wrote. “I also support this because I am a Christian and a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“When I read the stories of Jesus in the Gospels, I see Jesus continually breaking down walls, crossing borders and boundaries to accept, welcome and include the very people marginalized and excluded by the religious and social establishment,” Queen said.
“I cannot understand why any Christian would be opposed to an ordinance that is about fairness and equal protection of rights under the law,” he continued. “Of course, I can’t understand why so many Christians opposed civil rights legislation either, but they did.”
York and the other pastors, meanwhile, contended that tolerance is a two-way street.
“The proposed fairness ordinance is coercive and damaging to people of faith who are being asked to violate their consciences,” the article said. “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? 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.”
The pastors said they are not reassured by the ordinance’s promise that religious institutions will be exempted because of their experience with the Sunrise Children’s Services, an agency of the Kentucky Baptist Convention involved in litigation for 13 years after firing a lesbian employee.
Family therapist Alicia Pedreira, fired in 1998 by the agency then known as Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, lost a discrimination claim, but taxpayers suing on her behalf settled with the state of Kentucky in May over the alleged use of taxpayer funds for religious indoctrination.
York and the other ministers described the ordinance as unnecessarily divisive, claiming no evidence exists that members of the LGBT community in Frankfort are currently being deprived of housing or jobs.
“As ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we love all people,” the ministers said. “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. 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.”
York, a past president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, is no stranger to political controversy. In 2012 he was an outspoken opponent to casino gambling.
Other ministers signing the commentary were pastors Brad Hockensmith of Evergreen Baptist Church, Mike Hamrick of Sand Spring Baptist Church in Lawrenceburg, David Rayborn of Providence Baptist Church, Larry Brown of East Frankfort Baptist Church, Everett Hawkins of Faith Baptist Church, Gary Hagar of Westview Baptist Church, Tom Troth of Hillcrest Baptist Church, Michael Hail of Crestwood Baptist Church, Sean Post of Thornhill Baptist Church, Scott VanNeste of Bellepoint Baptist Church, Steve Weaver of Farmdale Baptist Church, Jeff Eaton of Hope Community Church, Jeff Sargent of Bethel Baptist Church and Howard Beauman, director of missions for Franklin Baptist Association. All are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Immanuel Baptist Church is aligned with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Queen, author of A Faith Worth Living: The Dynamics of an Inclusive Gospel and The Good News According to Jesus: A New Kind of Christianity for a New Kind of Christian, described the proposed city ordinance as “the opportunity to do some very good work for the common good.”
“I suspect there will always be religious voices that reflect deeply entrenched biases, but our city commissioners do not have to listen to them,” Queen said. “It is my hope our city commission will do what is right, just, good and fair by passing this ordinance. Let’s make Frankfort a community of inclusion, not exclusion; a community of compassion, not condemnation.”