Denison Forum – Supreme Court ruling protects gay and transgender workers: Questions about religious freedom and three biblical certainties

“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.” This is the conclusion of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion handed down yesterday. The court ruled that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful “for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The court, by a six-to-three margin, ruled that “sex” applies to homosexual and transgender persons.

When I saw the news, I thought immediately about religious liberty. Does the ruling mean that churches, Christian schools, ministries, and other religious institutions could be forced to violate our biblical convictions regarding gender and sexuality? If your church’s pastor declared that he was transgender, would your congregation be able to end his employment on that basis? Could a ministry refuse to hire a gay person on the basis of their sexual identity?

Let’s discuss what we know so far, then we’ll focus on three biblical responses to this issue.

“Questions for future cases” 

Jesus taught us to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). A free church in a free state is the biblical ideal, a conviction protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Yesterday’s ruling notes the objection that “complying with Title VII’s requirements in cases like ours may require some employers to violate their religious convictions.” Justice Gorsuch writes: “We are also deeply concerned with preserving the promise of the free exercise of religion enshrined in our Constitution; that guarantee lies at the heart of our pluralistic society.”

Then he adds: “But worries about how Title VII may intersect with religious liberties are nothing new; they even predate the statute’s passage.” He notes that Title VII includes an exception relating to “the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on . . . of its activities.” (In other words, Christian churches cannot be forced to hire Muslim ministers, or vice versa.)

He adds that the court has recognized that the First Amendment can protect religious institutions and its ministers from the application of employment discrimination laws. And he cites the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which “might supersede Title VII’s commands in appropriate cases.”

The court did not rule on this issue yesterday, since the employers whose cases it decided did not claim religious liberty infringement. Rather, Justice Gorsuch concludes that such religious liberty issues are “questions for future cases.”

In his dissent, however, Justice Samuel Alito warns that the ruling could have implications regarding bathroom access, women’s sports, housing, healthcare, employment by religious organizations, and freedom of speech. He believes that the court’s decision “will threaten freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and personal privacy and safety.”

Three biblical certainties

We do not know the full implications of yesterday’s ruling for religious freedom, but three biblical certainties are worth remembering today.

One: God creates us as male and female (Genesis 1:27; Mark 10:6) and intends sex for the covenant marriage of a man and a woman (Genesis 1:28; 2:18; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10). (For more, see my article, What Does the Bible Say about Homosexuality?)

Two: God loves all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In a biblical passage censuring “men who practice homosexuality,” we also find these other sinners listed: the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). Do you recognize yourself? The good news is that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). All of us.

Three: We must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), no matter how unpopular that truth becomes. I expect yesterday’s ruling to escalate public acceptance of LGBTQ lifestyles, which will also escalate public condemnation of those perceived to be “intolerant” on this issue. But as the apostles declared unpopular truth to the religious authorities of their day (cf. Acts 5:27–32), so we must proclaim God’s word “with all boldness” (Acts 28:31) and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

In responding to yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, ethicist Russell Moore notes: “We can be the people who recognize that those who disagree with us are our mission field, to be persuaded, not a sparring partner to denounce. We must have both conviction and kindness, both courage and patience, both truth and grace.”

How to outlove our critics 

The enemy is using our commitment to biblical sexuality against us by inciting our secular culture to condemn Christians and Christian beliefs as bigoted and intolerant. The best way to respond is to outlove our critics.

It is to love LGBTQ persons enough to risk their rejection by sharing God’s best with them in compassion and humility. It is to love our lost friends enough to risk their rejection by sharing God’s saving love with them in the same way.

However, we cannot give what we do not have. Before I can share God’s love with you, I must experience God’s love for myself. Craig Denison notes: “We’re meant to love others out of the overflow of God’s love for us.” He encourages us to make time to meet with our Father today and experience his transforming love. Then we can “ask him for his heart for people around you, and follow through with courage in love.”

Craig concludes: “If you will make it your goal to see God’s heart proclaimed through your life, you will experience more joy and purpose than you can imagine.”

Will you make this goal your passion today?

 

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