Sometimes compromise can help strengthen and grow a relationship. But sometimes, it is just code for a bad bargain. Unfortunately, the so-called Fairness for All Act is the latter.
Its supporters claim that the bill, which was reintroduced in Congress earlier this year, balances the interests of religious Americans and individuals who identify as LGBT, and it looks good enough on paper to garner the support of some religious leaders. But, in practice, FFA does not adequately protect religious freedom. It does not fully protect the rights of individual Christians to live out their faith freely.
By undermining the freedom of Christians to proclaim the Gospel through their lives and work, FFA undermines the very purpose of the church. I pray that Christian leaders who have expressed support for FFA will reconsider that support as they learn more about the threats this misguided law poses to the church’s mission.
FFA has been offered as an alternative to the egregiously misnamed Equality Act, which restricts religious freedom for individuals and institutions in nearly every aspect of life. The Equality Act could prevent churches from hiring people who live according to the church’s teachings about marriage and sexual morality. It could require churches to open sex-specific facilities to members of the opposite sex, and it specifically prohibits religious individuals and groups from using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to defend their rights.
Advocates of FFA present it as a compromise between religious leaders and LGBT activists. It offers limited exemptions for religious organizations like adoption and foster care agencies, religious colleges, universities and schools, and churches. But in many contexts, it does not protect Christians and other religious individuals: those who work as doctors and nurses, who own small businesses, who teach in public schools, and who run charitable organizations to care for the least among us. It does not adequately protect the rights of Christians to love God wholly, with their whole hearts and minds and strengths, in every area of their lives.
Christians are the hands and feet of Christ, and FFA does not give them and other people of faith enough protection. As a result, this proposal would undermine the mission of the church, which is to equip Christians to live out the Gospel in every area of their lives. Church leaders who support FFA are giving a mixed message to the faithful, telling them that laws that prevent Christians from living out their faith are good—which is simply not true.
FFA could force religious doctors to participate in procedures that violate their conscience, like “gender reassignment” surgeries for minors. It could compel religious creative professionals to use their creative skills and talents to celebrate same-sex weddings, even if they believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. It could force girls to share locker rooms, bathrooms, and showers with biological males who identify as females.
It could punish religious business owners who serve everyone but cannot express every message. It could force all employers—even those who hold the biblical belief that gender is an immutable, biological gift from God—to pay for puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and “gender reassignment” surgeries through their healthcare plans.
In other words, FFA tells Christians that their beliefs are fine in church, but they cannot live according to those beliefs at work, at school, or in many aspects of their private lives. It says that as long as we behave well at church, stay in our church schools, and make church activities exclusive to church people, we’ll retain our tax-exempt status and our federal funding, and we will not be threatened with being shut down.
That is not a compromise. That is a blow to the very heart of our faith.
That is not the Gospel. The Gospel does not say, “Go therefore and make disciples, but only in church.” It says, “Go therefore into all the world and make disciples.” Jesus’s Great Commission sends us out from churches into the world to share the truth of His love with everyone.
What is at stake here is the church’s ability to do her mission: equip and encourage her members to follow Jesus Christ. The Gospel says that we are to surrender every area of our lives to Christ. The local church exists to help Christians learn to hold nothing back. It exists to equip Christians to love God with their whole being, and to spread the Gospel everywhere they go.
FFA hampers the freedom of Christians to do that. It is vital that church leaders learn the truth, see through the misleading language, and withdraw their support for this harmful law that would hamstring the faithful and forbid them from living out their beliefs.
Christians who choose to share their beliefs outside the four walls of the church already face serious consequences today. FFA would only make it worse.
I have personal experience with how sexual orientation and gender identity laws like FFA threaten religious freedom. During my time as the fire chief of Atlanta, I wrote a short book for men about how to live out their Christian faith. I briefly mentioned the Christian teachings on marriage, sexuality, and gender—teachings that billions of people around the world share. Even though I wrote this book in my spare time and in my personal capacity, LGBT activists used a sexual orientation and gender identity law very similar to FFA to attack me.
Without warning, I found myself fired from my job, even though an investigation showed that I had never discriminated against anyone based on my beliefs. By God’s grace, I was blessed to be excellent at my work; I was the first Black fire chief for the city of Shreveport, and I received “Fire Chief of the Year,” among other honors. After I served as U.S. fire administrator in the Obama administration, the mayor of Atlanta “begged” me to return (his word, not mine). I do not share these things to boast, but merely to say that if I, with this track record of excellence, could lose my job for my beliefs, anyone could.
Fortunately, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, I received justice. But it was a hard fight, and victory was in no way guaranteed. If FFA becomes law, every American Christian could find himself or herself in my situation: losing their job, their career, and their reputation simply because of their deeply held beliefs.
The Bible tells us to let our light shine before others. But FFA offers little to protect those who boldly do so. It would have us pigeonhole our faith rather than live it out. Living the Gospel outside of church would risk severe government punishment. By leaving Christians vulnerable to such consequences, FFA encourages them to keep the light of Christ hidden under a bushel.
That is not a bargain Christians can accept.
Kelvin Cochran is the former fire chief for the city of Atlanta who fought to defend his religious freedom in Cochran v. City of Atlanta.