By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist megachurch is lending its membership roll of 37,000 to a petition drive seeking repeal of a non-discrimination ordinance in Plano, Texas.
Petitions will be available this weekend at Prestonwood Baptist Church opposing changes by the City Council in the suburban Dallas town approved in December. The changes added sexual orientation, genetic information and gender identity as protected from discrimination in matters of public accommodations, employment, housing transactions and city contracting.
A group calling itself Plano Citizens United needs about 3,800 signatures by Jan. 20 to force the council either to repeal the ordinance or take it to a public vote. Opponents claim the ordinance “strips religious freedoms, forces citizens to sue each other, threatens public safety and will waste millions of tax dollars on attorneys.”
“We believe the Plano City Council is attempting to silence people of faith in the workplace,” Mike Buster, executive pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, told the Dallas Morning News.
Prestonwood was host of an “Emergency Plano Pastor Briefing” on Dec. 17 to launch a referendum petition drive similar to the one in Houston last summer. That effort fell short when Houston’s city attorney ruled there were not enough valid signatures to force a vote. On Jan. 13 a judge ruled that a lawsuit challenging the Houston ordinance should go to a jury trial.
Prestonwood’s senior pastor, Jack Graham, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, opened the Dec. 17 meeting with full support of the petition effort, according to a report by the U.S. Pastors Council, calling the council vote taken with little advance notice “doing business in darkness.”
Prestonwood is serving as the primary collection location for petitions signed at various locations, which must be delivered to the Plano City Secretary by 5 p.m. on Jan. 20.
In recent days, the church’s high-profile involvement prompted some to question the congregation’s own moral authority, based on unanswered questions about the handling of a former staff member accused of sexual abuse in the late 1980s convicted of molestation in Mississippi in 2013.
Voters in Fayetteville, Ark., repealed an anti-discrimination ordinance similar to Plano’s in a special ballot Dec. 9 organized with support from the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and Cross Church of Northwest Arkansas, where current SBC President Ronnie Floyd is pastor.