SBC leaders defend religious liberty against gender laws

Scales of justiceMore than 20 leaders of Southern Baptist institutions have endorsed a new statement that defends religious freedom by rejecting sexual orientation and gender identity laws.

The document—"Preserve Freedom, Reject Coercion"—says even "narrowly crafted" sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) measures "threaten fundamental freedoms, and any ostensible protections for religious liberty appended to such laws are inherently inadequate and unstable." The Colson Center for Christian Worldview released the statement on Dec. 14 with 79 original signatories.

SOGI policies seek to add sexual orientation—which includes homosexuality—and gender identity—which is how a person perceives himself regardless of his biology at birth—to the classifications protected in civil rights law. The new statement says such measures at the national, state or local level are unnecessary and endanger the livelihoods of individuals and the accreditation, licensing and tax-exemption of organizations.

Among the document's signers are the presidents of four Southern Baptist Convention seminaries: Daniel Akin of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jason Allen of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; R. Albert Mohler Jr. of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Paige Patterson of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Other signers include former SBC President Fred Luter and the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, as well as the presidents of several Baptist universities.

Moore told Baptist Press in written comments, "Every person bears the image of God, and thus is deserving of dignity, respect and just treatment.

"At the same time, many of these legislative attempts at fairness actually end up implicating the consciences of believers in participating in actions we believe to be wrong," he said. "We must not negotiate away our convictions in the name of fairness, especially when the result is the incarceration of the conscience. There are better ways to co-exist in the public square."

SOGI policies have especially affected professionals who serve at weddings—such as bakers, florists and photographers who disagree with same-sex marriage. Some have lost their businesses as a result of government rules.

Adoption agencies, religious colleges, ministries for the needy, businesses and churches are among the organizations that have faced legal action, the statement says, for their commitment to marriage as a male-female institution, their determination to maintain policies in keeping with their beliefs and their willingness to protect privacy by preventing people of the opposite sex from using restrooms and locker rooms.

Some evangelical Christian leaders have sought recently to find a way to protect both sexual orientation/gender identity and religious liberty by including religious exemptions in SOGI laws. The new statement serves as a rejection of that approach.

Three problems exist with such reasoning, said John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center, in a Dec. 14 commentary for Breakpoint. He wrote:

• "First, Christians must be truth tellers, and Christians cannot endorse a falsehood, even if for self-protection. ... Who we are as God's image bearers is no small part of the Gospel story, and SOGI laws deny who we truly are as people.

• "Second, while these accommodations may protect houses of worship and some Christian institutions, they don't protect all Christian institutions and certainly don't protect all Christians, especially those in the public square or world of commerce ...

• "Third, by establishing sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class of people, we're allowing ourselves to be placed automatically in the category of bigots."

The new statement says, "SOGI laws empower the government to use the force of law to silence or punish Americans who seek to exercise their God-given liberty to peacefully live and work consistent with their convictions. They also create special preference in law for categories based on morally significant choices that profoundly affect human relations and treat reasonable religious and philosophical beliefs as discriminatory."

The signers affirm in the statement every person is made in the image of God and should be treated "with love, compassion, and respect." They also assert the United States should guard the freedom to speak and live out—publicly without concern for legal action or state censorship—the beliefs that people are created male and female and "this complementarity is the basis for the family centered on the marital union of a man and a woman."

Among other Southern Baptist signatories are Bruce Ashford, provost of Southeastern Seminary; Barry Creamer, president of Criswell College; Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University; Samuel (Dub) Oliver, president of Union University; Robert Sloan, president of Houston Baptist University; Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware; David Whitlock, president of Oklahoma Baptist University; and Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters.

Other signers include Mark Bailey, president of Dallas Theological Seminary; author Rosaria Butterfield; D.A. Carson, president of The Gospel Coalition; Robert George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University; William Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty; John MacArthur, pastor and president of The Master's Seminary; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Alan Sears, president of Alliance Defending Freedom; and Roland Warren, president of Care Net.

The statement may be read and signed at http://www.colsoncenter.org/freedom.

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.

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