Showing his Baptist stripes, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal made his strongest statements to date against controversial “religious liberty” legislation that critics say mask a hidden agenda of discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Deal, a graduate of Mercer University and member of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-aligned First Baptist Church in Gainesville, Ga., told media at a March 3 ribbon cutting for a new driver’s services building that he will reject any measure that “allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith.”
“I’m a Baptist, and I’m going to get into a little biblical philosophy on my part right now,” Deal, a Republican, said in video posted online by Atlanta television station CBS46.
“I graduated from a Baptist institution when we were required to take classes in both the Old Testament and New Testament,” the governor said. “I think what the New Testament teaches us is that Jesus reached out to those who were considered the outcasts — the ones who did not conform to the religious society’s view of the world — and said to those of belief, ‘This is what I want you to do.’”
Deal said as a Christian, he does not believe his religion requires him to discriminate against anybody.
“If you were to apply those standards to the teachings of Jesus, I don’t think they fit,” he said. “Why, for example, would he reach out to the woman at the well? She was an outcast, because of her social mores, and she was being rejected. She had to come in the heat of the day because she couldn’t come when the rest of the women came to the well to draw the water. I think what that says is that he says that we have a belief in forgiveness and that we do not have to discriminate unduly against anyone on the basis of our own religious beliefs.”
Deal, who celebrates his 50th wedding anniversary this summer, says his wife and he “are traditional marriage people” but do not feel threatened by others who hold a different view.
He urged lawmakers to “just take a deep breath, recognize that the world is changing around us, and recognize that it is important that we protect fundamental religious beliefs.”
“But we don’t have to discriminate against other people in order to do that,” Deal said. “And that’s the compromise that I’m looking for.”
For the second consecutive year, Baptists in Georgia are lining up on both sides of a debate over religious liberty and LGBT rights.
Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated Georgia Baptist Convention said Feb. 2 there need to be stronger safeguards to protect Christians from religious discrimination.
Two weeks later a group of interfaith clergy spoke out against discrimination toward gays and lesbians. One pastor at the Feb. 17 press conference sponsored by Faith in Public Life is employed by the CBF, a group formed 25 years ago around principles including the separation of church and state.