Jacksonville, Fla., is the latest U.S. city where clergy are arguing both for and against proposals to bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The pastor of one of the largest churches in Jacksonville, Fla., says the city doesn’t need a human rights ordinance protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodation.
First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., recently invited pastors to a closed-door lunch to discuss “The Threat of the HRO and its Impact on the Church.” Guests included Barronelle Stutzman, a Southern Baptist florist who gained national attention for refusing to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding.
First Baptist Pastor Mac Brunson gave an exclusive interview to the Christian Examiner — one of several online sites along with the flagship Christian Post owned by Christian Media Corporation International, based in Washington, D.C. — terming the HRO “totally and completely unnecessary.”
Brunson told former Florida Baptist Witness associate editor Joni Hannigan that no one has produced evidence that discrimination against persons in the LGBT community is a problem in Jacksonville. He said discrimination claims are meant to “incite” the LGBT community.
“It is simply a way for those in that community to have a rallying point and a cause,” Brunson said.
Brunson said there are enough laws on the books to protect the legitimate rights of gays and lesbians, describing the proposed Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) as a “Special Privilege Ordinance (SPO)” that would open the door for preferential treatment applying to a number of “fill in the blank” situations.
Brunson also took a jab at a fellow Baptist, Baptist Health CEO Hugh Greene, who supported bolstering LGBT protections in a series of “community conversations” led by Mayor Lenny Curry.
Saying private companies like Baptist Health are free to enact policies that reflect their beliefs, Brunson commented: “Now, however, the CEO of Baptist who enjoyed that freedom wants to determine that everyone else in the city of Jacksonville must enact the same policy.”
Greene is a member of Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church, a congregation identified with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Hendricks Avenue Pastor Kyle Reese, current board chair of Baptist News Global, was among 75 faith leaders at a press conference in December showing support for the Jacksonville HRO.
A faith leader statement from the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality says:
“Love for and respect of one’s fellow human beings are among the most prominent and universal core values of the many spiritual and religious traditions shared among all spiritual and religious traditions. Though each tradition differs one from the other, all spiritual and religious persons and groups can at least agree with this basic tenet: We have a deep and abiding obligation to love and respect others. Indeed, not treating others respectfully or as we would want to be treated is seen by the various faith traditions as moral failure.
“As leaders representing a wide variety of spiritual expression in northeast Florida, we strongly support the full civil rights, including protections from discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. We see such support as being very consistent with our spiritual belief.”
HRO supporters say Jacksonville is the largest American city that lacks human rights protections for LGBT people and by failing to stand against discrimination citizens send an unintentional message that they condone it.
Opponents have adopted tactics from similar controversies in cities like Houston, deriding the HRO as a “bathroom bill” that would allow male sexual predators to sneak into women’s restrooms by pretending to be transgender.
Brunson said passing an HRO in Jacksonville will lead to “never ending lawsuits and additional legislation” and would not solve “the perceived persecution and the sense of rejection those in the LGBT community struggle with.”
“The fact is, their struggle is not with those who live a different lifestyle,” said. “Their struggle is within themselves.”
During a worship service, First Baptist Church honored city council members who voted against a similar measure rejected in 2012 as “persons who stood in the gap for us and represented us in their votes.”