Two prominent Christian groups are backing the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity as categories to federal nondiscrimination law in exchange for religious exemptions, a move that is dividing Christians.
The boards of the National Association of Evangelicals and the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities have both recently approved motions as part of a long-term effort to preserve religious freedom, World magazine reported Wednesday.
In October, the NAE passed a motion called "Fairness for All" which asks Congress to consider laws that regard human beings as made in God's image and that sexual relations be reserved for the marriage of a man and a woman; that long-standing civil rights laws and First Amendment protections guaranteeing the free exercise of religion be supported; and that no one should be discriminated against, face harassment or violence because of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
The Council of Christian Colleges and Universities also voted on a similar motion. CCCU President Shirley Hoogstra told member presidents in August that the board would vote on the motion, but did not make that announcement public.
“As Christian higher educators, we are increasingly persuaded that the most viable political strategy is for comprehensive religious freedom protections to be combined with explicit support for basic human rights for members of the LGBT community,” wrote Houghton College President Shirley Mullen, who serves on both the CCCU and NAE board, in a position paper provided to NAE board members.
Greta Hays, director of Communications & Public Affairs, noted to CP that "the CCCU has been and remains on the record as exploring a Fairness for All approach."
Seventy-five Christian leaders have publicly rejected the "Fairness for All" measure, signing an opposition statement titled "Preserve Freedom, Reject Coercion," among them Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the only NAE board member to do so. Seventeen other signers of the opposition statement are linked with CCCU institutions.
Denny Burk, a professor of theology at Boyce College, called the motions "a disaster."
"Two major evangelical organizations have decided to endorse legislation that would force Americans to embrace — and live out — certain beliefs about human sexuality. I will do everything I can to oppose NAE and CCCU in this," Burk said on Twitter, encouraging constituents and members of the groups to use whatever influence they have to get them to reverse course.
"Far from 'Fairness for All,' these laws are not about protecting the freedom of people to live as LGBT but about coercing everyone else to support, facilitate, and endorse such actions," he said, quoting the summary of an article from Heritage Foundation scholar Ryan Anderson.
Anderson, who is also the author of the book When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, commented that something "has gone seriously wrong when the president of a Christian college thinks sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) policies are 'basic human rights,' and is willing to trade protection for a real human right (religious liberty) for SOGIs," referring to Mullen's words.
Critics argue that the NAE's and CCCU's efforts are ill-timed given that the Trump administration and the Supreme Court are friendlier toward religious liberty concerns.
Mullen, in an email to World, insisted that time is of the essence.
“The fact that these basic human rights for the LGBT community are already secured for nearly 60 percent of the country at either the state or local level suggests that the window for this exchange of protections at the national level is narrow,” she said.
“There is an opportunity in this moment that is not likely to last.”
Johnnie Moore, president of the KAIROS Company and an NAE board member who serves on President Donald Trump's evangelical advisory board, is supporting the motion "because it puts down markers in an important conversation," he told World.
“I haven’t found any board member that I’ve interacted with that was willing to give an inch on religious freedom protections,” he said.
“It would be myopic to say because members of the board are willing to have this conversation they are slipping away from orthodoxy.”
The NAE reportedly met Wednesday to discuss the "Fairness for All" measure for the third time in the past three weeks.