SAN ANTONIO (BP)—A new San Antonio nondiscrimination ordinance likely will prevent the Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention from holding annual meetings in the city’s convention facilities, according to an attorney who represents both conventions, referencing the law’s requirement that contracting parties not discriminate on sexual orientation or gender identity.
James Guenther, general counsel for the SBC and SBTC, told the Southern Baptist TEXAN, “The likelihood is that if there is any ambiguity in the minds of the conventions as to what it is they’re agreeing to, [the] city will simply be bypassed. Or at least the city-owned facilities will be bypassed.”
The ordinance, passed by an 8-3 vote of the San Antonio City Council on Sept. 5, also provides for the removal of city officials from office if they discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and it forbids businesses in the city, with few exceptions, from discriminating based on their opposition to homosexuality. An earlier draft of the ordinance that would have made it illegal to demonstrate “bias by word or deed” was removed in the final version in favor of the term “discrimination.”
Violation of the law by businesses or property owners is a Class C misdemeanor.
Multiple groups have announced plans to file legal challenges to the ordinance, and efforts are underway to recall Councilman Diego Bernal, the measure’s author, and Mayor Julian Castro, who supported it. Elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R.-Texas, and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, have raised concerns as well.
It’s not clear how the new ordinance would apply to a convention leasing the city’s facilities, Guenther said. One possible interpretation is that no official statement of the convention would be allowed to denounce homosexuality. Another interpretation is that the convention would only be barred from denying seating to homosexual messengers.
Either interpretation is problematic, Guenther said. Neither SBC nor SBTC governing documents specifically exclude homosexuals from being messengers, he said, but they forbid churches that affirm homosexuality from sending messengers.
The SBC last met in San Antonio in 2007 in a city-owned convention hall. The SBTC met in San Antonio last year but at Castle Hills First Baptist Church.
The SBC constitution, Article III, states, “The Convention shall consist of messengers who are members of missionary Baptist churches cooperating with the Convention.” It goes on to specify, “Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.”
The SBTC constitution, article IV, states, “The SBTC will not consider for affiliation or continued affiliation any church that has taken action affirming, approving, or endorsing the practice of homosexuality. Such actions include but are not limited to the licensure or ordination of homosexuals, marriage or blessing of homosexual relationships, and endorsing homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.”
The document only allows affiliated churches to send messengers to annual meetings.
Whether either convention “discriminates” against homosexuals is a “nuanced” and complicated issue, Guenther said.
But “if a church sent a person as a messenger and that person was known to be one who himself was homosexual or one who championed homosexual causes, that would raise the question of whether the church is in friendly cooperation. And if the church is deemed to be not in friendly cooperation, as evidenced by the church’s selection of that messenger, then the convention could act to deny the seating of that messenger,” Guenther said.
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