By / Jun 27

Last week, the Equality Act was once again introduced into the House of Representatives and the Senate for consideration. This legislation intends to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) and would revise every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code. Last Congress, the Equality Act passed in the House, but the bill died in the Senate. 

The ERLC affirms the full dignity of every human being. At the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Messengers passed a resolution to “reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for every single human being, without any reservation.” But the Equality Act does not advance the cause of human dignity. 

If passed, the Equality Act would punish faith-based charities for their core religious beliefs about human dignity and marriage and would undermine decades of civil rights protections for women and girls. The alarmingly detrimental consequences of the bill pose a significant threat to the deeply held religious beliefs of millions of Americans who honor God’s design for sexuality.

What does this bill mean for religious liberty?

This bill would substantially undermine religious liberty protections in the United States. America has long been a place where people with different views and beliefs have lived at peace alongside each other. Though America has not perfectly lived up to this ideal of a shared nation, it was central to our founding as persecuted religious minorities sought safe harbor in this land. Though cleverly named, the Equality Act is out of step with that American ideal. Equality cannot be achieved while eliminating other basic, fundamental freedoms. Of particular note, the bill would essentially gut the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a bill which passed with broad bipartisan support and was signed by President Clinton.

By undermining RFRA, the Equality Act would force faith-based child welfare organizations to abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down by the state. The state-forced closures of such agencies is especially detrimental at a time when multiple crises—including the post-pandemic effects and the ongoing opioid epidemic—have led to increases in the number of children in need of services.

What does the bill mean for women and girls?

Most strikingly, the Equality Act undermines decades of hard fought civil rights protections for women and girls. Single gender spaces, such as locker rooms or shelters, would no longer be protected by law. This departure from a legal understanding of gender as male and female makes women and girls vulnerable to biological males being in their private spaces. For example, shelters for those women and girls escaping domestic abuse or homelessness would be forced to house biological men who identify as female. This legislation disregards the privacy and safety concerns women rightly have about sharing sleeping quarters and intimate facilities with the biological opposite sex.

Another example of the harm this legislation poses to women and girls is in athletics and academics. Since 1972, Title IX has advanced women’s sports and scholarship in remarkable ways. If enacted, the Equality Act would threaten female competition as both areas would then be open to biological males as well.

Are there pro-life concerns in the Equality Act?

Yes. The Equality Act would be the most pro-abortion bill ever passed by Congress. It would redefine the term “sex” to also include “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.” This language would roll back federal law that protects the consciences of pro-life nurses and physicians who object to participating in abortions because of their deeply held religious or moral beliefs. These conscience protections carry decades of bipartisan consensus—a consensus that no person should be compelled to participate in an act they believe to be gravely immoral. The Equality Act would also jeopardize the longstanding Hyde Amendment that protects federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortion. There is nothing equalizing about forcing Americans to fund abortion through taxpayer dollars.

How has the ERLC been involved?

The ERLC has worked tirelessly to defeat this bill. We have partnered with a broad coalition of more than 85 faith-based nonprofits, religious entities, and institutions of higher education to highlight the dangers of the Equality Act. We have raised these concerns with members of Congress and the administration through coalition letters and countless meetings with members, administration officials, and their staff. We have also engaged in public advocacy against the bill by producing a suite of resources to inform Christians and the broader public about the pernicious threat of the so-called “Equality” Act.

What’s next?

In the prior Democrat-led House, the Equality Act passed 224-206, with three Republicans joining all 221 Democrats. In the 118th Congress, Republicans narrowly hold the majority seats, but the bill is unlikely to make it to the floor for a vote. Two of the three Republicans who voted in favor of the bill are no longer in Congress, which makes it even more difficult for Democrats to force a vote on the bill. Another obstacle is Speaker McCarthy’s commitment to unifying the Republican majority’s voice in the House to present a strong front before the American people. 

While it is unlikely the bill will be passed in this Congress, its continued appearance presents a larger, on-going threat to human dignity and religious liberty. The ERLC will continue to highlight how the Equality Act erodes fundamental freedoms and undermines the ability of Americans of diverse beliefs to work together for the common good.

By / Jan 16

The Bible was central to the thought, rhetoric, and development of the Civil Rights Movement. This was influenced by the essential role of Black churches and preachers in the organization of the movement. Not only was the movement characterized by meetings in churches and the singing of Negro spirituals, it was also marked by biblical themes and biblical rhetoric.

An example of biblical rhetoric

A prime example of popular civil rights rhetoric is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on August 28, 1963. The speech reflected King’s criticisms and hopes for America set in the language of the prophets of the Old Testament. For example, he said satisfaction would not come until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). This was familiar language in the Bible-literate America of that day.

In the conclusion, as King soared into describing his dream, he described a day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together” (Isa. 40:4-5).

Furthermore, it should not be taken for granted that the celebrated leader of the Civil Rights Movement was a Black Baptist preacher.

The biblical teaching behind the movement

The central intellectual strain behind the movement focused on the issue of the equality of all humans, since they were “created . . . in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27), whether Black or white. Throughout the Black freedom struggle in American history, the biblical teachings on creation and human dignity were foundational to the arguments being put forth, both by scholars and by everyday people. Even those who were illiterate knew from the rhetoric of the movement that God had created all people from one man (Acts 17:26).

In his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail written April 16, 1963, King resorted to biblical examples as a defense when he was accused of being an extremist for participating in demonstrations, sit-ins, and boycotts. He asked whether Jesus was an extremist when he said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). He also cited the prophet Amos and the apostle Paul, asking whether their words and actions were not also “extreme.” Finally, reflecting on Jesus’ death at Calvary, he wrote that “Jesus was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness.”

And in his appeal to white ministers for support, King commonly cited biblical texts and the examples of Christ.

Conclusion

The Bible was central to the pulse of the Civil Rights Movement. In planning meetings, preachers and laypersons read from its pages. In public disputes, everyday people quoted its promises and its truth regarding the dignity of all humanity, regardless of skin color. It truly would not be a stretch to suggest that the Civil Rights Movement would have lacked moral fiber (and one might further say divine blessing) without the underlying truth claims drawn from the Bible.

By / Apr 1

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law, making lynching a federal hate crime. “Racial hate isn’t an old problem. It’s a persistent problem,” said Biden. “Hate never goes away, it only hides under the rocks. If it gets a little bit of oxygen, it comes roaring back out, screaming. What stops it? All of us.”

The new law ends a 122-year effort to make lynching a federal crime. The first attempt occurred in 1900 when antilynching legislation was introduced by Rep. George Henry White of North Carolina, the only African American in Congress at the time. That bill failed, as did the nearly 200 an­tilynch­ing bills introduced in Congress during the first half of the 20th century. Between 1890 and 1952, seven presidents petitioned Congress to end lynching. And between 1920 and 1940, the House of Representatives passed three strong antilynching measures, though none passed the Senate. 

The enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was the closest Congress ever came in the post-Reconstruction era to enacting antilynching legislation until 2020. In that year, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act was passed by the House by a vote of 410 to 4. But it was held up in the Senate by Sen. Rand Paul, who wanted an amendment that would apply a “serious bodily injury standard” for a crime to be considered as lynching.

Here is what you should know about lynching and the new antilynching law. 

What is lynching?

Lynching is a form of violence in which a mob kills or attempts to kill a person suspected of a crime, under the pretext of administering justice without trial. The term has become a synonym for execution by hanging, but lynching can take many forms and often includes inflicting torture and corporal mutilation. The current legal definition of lynching ​​ includes “serious bodily harm.” 

Lynching is a form of terrorist activity since it is intended to affect not just the victim but to spread fear to a particular group of people. “Lynching has typically sent a message to an entire community that ‘you’re not safe here’ or ‘you could be next.’ Lynching has typically been motivated by racial animus and harms an entire community,” said Justin Hansford, a law professor at Howard University.

How common is lynching?

From the end of the Civil War to 1968, 15 U.S. states had Jim Crow laws, legislation that legalized racial segregation. These laws provided legal cover for acts of violence against Black Americans. 

During this period (from 1882-1968), 4,743 recorded lynchings occurred in the United States. Almost three-fourths of the victims were Black (a total 3,446 victims), while just over 1-in-4 were white (1,297 victims). More than three-fourths of all lynchings (79%) occurred in the South. Across the South, someone was hanged or burned alive every four days from 1889 to 1929. Mississippi had the highest number with 581, followed by Georgia with 531, and Texas with 493. 

Five states had no lynchings during this period (Alaska, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut), while seven states (Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Nevada, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin) had no recorded lynchings of those who were Black. In 16 states, a greater number of white people than Black people were lynched (California, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming). Most lynchings outside the South were of those who were white, and usually for such crimes as murder or theft of livestock.

The last recorded lynching in the United States occurred in 1981. But since 2000, there have been at least eight suspected lynchings of Black men and teenagers in Mississippi, according to court records and police reports.

 What is a hate crime?

According to the Justice Department, when used in a hate crime law, the word “hate” does not mean rage, anger, or general dislike. In this context “hate” means bias against people or groups with specific characteristics that are defined by the law.

At the federal level, hate crime laws include crimes committed on the basis of the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. The “crime” in hate crime is often a violent crime, such as assault, murder, arson, vandalism, or threats to commit such crimes. It may also cover conspiring or asking another person to commit such crimes, even if the crime was never carried out.

What changes does the new law make?

The new law amends 18 U.S. Code § 249, the hate crime acts, to include:

(5) LYNCHING.—Whoever conspires to commit any offense under paragraph (1), (2), or (3) shall, if death or serious bodily injury (as defined in section 2246 of this title) results from the offense, be imprisoned for not more than 30 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both.

(6) OTHER CONSPIRACIES.—Whoever conspires to commit any offense under paragraph (1), (2), or (3) shall, if death or serious bodily injury (as defined in section 2246 of this title) results from the offense, or if the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, be imprisoned for not more than 30 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both.

Who was Emmitt Till?

Born in 1941, Emmett Till grew up in a middle-class black neighborhood in Chicago. In August 1955, at the age of 14, he traveled to Mississippi to spend time with his cousins. Three days after arriving in Money, Mississippi, Till and a group of teenagers entered Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. Till purchased bubble gum and, in later accounts, was accused of either whistling at, flirting with, or touching the hand of Carolyn Bryant, a white female whose husband, Roy Bryant, owned the store.

Four days after the alleged incident at the store, Till was kidnapped from his uncle’s home by Bryant and Bryant’s half-brother, J.W. Milam. The two men brutally beat the teenager, shot him in the head, tied him with barbed wire to a large metal fan, and tossed his body into the Tallahatchie River. When Till’s body was discovered three days later, his face was so mutilated he could only be positively identified by the ring on his finger — a signet ring engraved with his late father’s initials that his mother had given him a day before he left Chicago.

The teen’s body was sent back to Chicago, and his mother opted for an open casket to show the world how her son was brutally tortured. Tens of thousands of people came during the five days Till’s body was on display at his church. Two black publications, Jet magazine and the Chicago Defender, published graphic images of the body. The reaction to the murder helped spark the civil rights movement. Rosa Parks is reported to have said she was thinking about Till when she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

By / Feb 24

Many who think of the civil rights movement often picture it through the lens of its great male leaders. Martin Luther King Jr sharing powerfully about his dream for America. John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) giving a speech before the March on Washington. Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) marching on the front lines at Selma. 

However, these men were not the only figures who led during the movement. Women worked and marched and bled alongside the men during the freedom struggles, even if they were not as prominent in media appearances. As Andrew Young, who worked closely with MLK as part of the SCLC has said, “There could not have been a civil rights movement without the sacrifice, the vision, the support and the hard work of the thousands of women.” Below are just three of the women who were crucial to the work of the freedom struggle. 

Septima Poinsette Clark (1898–1987)

Septima Poinsette Clark was described as the “mother of the movement” or the “queen mother” of civil rights because of her long activity in the struggle for freedom. Born in 1898 in Charleston, South Carolina, to a former slave and his wife, she would go on to become a teacher in the state at a Black school on Johns Island. She was active in the work of the NAACP, even participating in a lawsuit that gave equal pay to Black and white teachers in South Carolina. However, she was fired from her job in 1956 when the state passed a law forbidding state employees from belonging to civil rights organizations. 

Rather than forego her civil rights work, she left her position as an educator. She went on to focus her time more on the activism that she had begun earlier. She was already working with the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee which was focused on training activists and leaders in the civil rights movement (Rosa Parks was one of the trainees just a few months before her refusal to give up her seat in Montgomery). Clark led the institute in providing literacy training, citizenship information, and helping African Americans complete voter registration forms. She would go on to work with the SCLC in their Citizenship Education Program performing similar work to what she had done at Highlander. 

She was eventually recognized by President Jimmy Carter for her work in civil rights. Furthermore, in 1976, the state of South Carolina admitted that she had been unjustly fired and reinstated her teacher’s pension. She stands out because her work began long before people traditionally think of the civil rights era, but was crucial for the legislative and judicial victories that would occur during the 50s and 60s.  

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977)

The work of the civil rights movement would not have occurred without the activity of local, grassroots organizers. Mississippian Fannie Lou Hamer serves as a powerful example of the ways that Black women were crucial in mobilizing people in support of the movement. Born to poor sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta in 1917, she would leave school at age 12 to pick cotton with her family. In 1944, she would marry her husband Perry Hamer, and the couple began working for B.D. Marlowe as sharecroppers on his plantation. In 1961, she attended a meeting of SNCC and SCLC were she began her role as a SNCC organizer. 

The next year, she and a group attempted to register to vote in Indianola but were denied because of a literacy test. As they were leaving, they were harassed and fined $100 by the police because the bus they were on was “too yellow.” Hamer was also fired by Marlow (though her husband was required to stay on and complete the contract), and after the season was complete he confiscated much of their property, necessitating their move to Ruleville, Mississippi, where she became a leader in organizing individuals to vote. She would be arrested and jailed in Winona in 1963 because she sat at a “whites-only” bus station restaurant. During her night in jail, she was beaten, leading to lifelong injuries. 

Hammer was also a founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) which protested the work of the local Democratic Party’s exclusion of African Americans. At the 1964 Democratic National Convention, the MFDP asked to be recognized as the official delegation rather than the all-white delegation sent by the Mississippi Democratic party. Though national leadership attempted to deny her press coverage, her impassioned speech, with its descriptions of injustice in the South, was televised. She was also instrumental in the organization of Freedom Summer which brought college students to the South to help register African Americans to vote. At the grassroots level, Hamer is representative of the thousands of women who organized in their communities, worked tirelessly, and mobilized others in the fight for equal rights and justice. 

Diane Nash (1938– )

Diane Nash is representative of the many college students who were crucial to the ativism that led to the end of the Jim Crow system. Though she initially started college at Howard University in Washington, D.C., she transferred to Fisk University in Nashville after a year. As a native of Chicago, it was in Nashville that she experienced the full weight of Jim Crow and its effect on African Americans. She began attending nonviolence workshops led by James Lawson, and though initially skeptical, she came to agree with their effectiveness. 

Nash was one of the leaders of the students who participated in department store sit-ins in Nashville to protest segregation because she ably presented herself to the press and police. She was especially noted for her refusal, when arrested, to post bail. In one instance, she along with her fellow detainees, told the judge that to pay bail would be “contributing to and supporting the injustice and immoral practices that have been performed in the arrest and conviction” of the protestors. Nash and her fellow students were not going to let the state profit off their protest or validate the actions of the state in unjustly arresting them. 

Nash played a role in the founding of SNCC, eventually assuming the role of leading their direct action campaigns. She also helped to continue the Freedom Rides of 1961 through coordination and support. She would eventually be arrested in Mississippi on the charge of contributing to delinquency of minors because of her role in teaching them nonviolence. Though pregnant, she opted to serve her sentence rather than post bail, continuing her long-standing principle of “jail without bail.” The judge chose to suspend her sentence rather than face the negative publicity likely to arise from sending a pregnant woman to jail. Nash, and the many college students like her, were often on the front lines of direct action and leaders in the nonviolent movement. Her activity in coordinating and organizing that activity was crucial to the work of freedom.

Clark, Hamer, and Nash deserve to be lauded and remembered for their tireless efforts in the civil rights movement. Each of these women — along with those whose names we might never know — contributed to the long-overdue recognition of every human being’s right to be treated equally and with dignity. May we all have such a heart for our fellow man and for the pursuit of justice. 

Image caption: The House of Representatives met today to affirm seating of its Mississippi members, as Civil Rights demonstrators massed in silent support of their claim that the State’s elections were illegal because blacks were barred from the polls. They are, left to right: Fannie Lou Hamer, Victoria Gray, and Annie Devine.

By / Jan 17

A local Baptist association in Alabama once adopted a resolution that included these lines:

“Martin Luther King, by his advocacy of total integration of the races, is contributing to the breaking up of a friendly, helpful and peaceful relation that has existed for many years, between the white and negro races. This we believe is the Christian way for people to live.

“On the race question, we believe there are certain God given differences that make our traditional way of separation the best way for the two races to live.”

I wish I could tell you that this unanimously adopted resolution from a local Baptist association in Alabama during 1961 was unique. But it wasn’t. This group of Jesus-loving, gospel-proclaiming, believer-immersing white Southern Baptists was replicated in scores of similar letters, newspaper articles, and local church association resolutions. I’ve read countless letters from white Baptists all over the South who called Martin Luther King Jr. a communist, an agitator, rabble rouser, self-promoter, false teacher, and even “the Devil himself.”

That’s one reason why Martin Luther King Jr. Day matters. It’s a day that should force us as Americans — and especially as evangelical Christians — to pause and remember. We remember not only the victories of the civil rights movement, but we remember what it cost and why it was necessary. Nearly half a century after King’s murder, we have far too often forgotten our past. We’ve lost sight of the pervasive wickedness, injustice, and barbarity of a society guilty of racial hierarchy, dehumanization, and violence.

And here’s the scary thing. A lot of people in churches concluded things were just fine; that the status quo was not only reasonable, but biblically supported, and those who challenged that system were motivated by inherently anti-Christian motives. That haunts me.

Where did this day come from?

The whole history of this day is complex. For most Americans, the annual observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day is now something of an assumed and accepted reality. However, its establishment was one that forced the United States to seriously consider the legacy not only of King, but of the civil rights movement itself. And that moment quickly became one of bitter debate and controversy. As historian David Chappell documents in his recent book, Waking from the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr., the effort to establish a national holiday to honor King was prolonged and deeply contentious.1David L. Chappell, Waking from the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Random House, 2014).

It’s now been over 30 years since President Ronald Reagan signed into law the legislation establishing the third Monday of January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It now feels familiar. Every year we hear the same snippets of speeches, read the same scripted platitudes from elected officials, and pause to consider King’s legacy. But the holiday is about much more than that. In fact, it’s about much more than Martin Luther King Jr. That’s because the movement King led, and the vision he held up for America, was one that demanded commitment and sacrifice from everyday people.

The day also forces us to remember that King was no saint. How a courageous hero for social justice and righteousness could find it seemingly impossible to refrain from adultery is not something to be easily glossed over with patronizing allusions to his “humanity.” Nor should we suggest that the well-documented evidence of his plagiarism as a graduate student at Boston University — whatever the reasons for it may have been — was anything less than a moral failure.

But here’s the thing. A day like this reminds us that God uses sinners like King to carry out his purposes. He did it with King, and he did it through countless Americans — often anonymous — who marched, organized, protested, and were even martyred for the sake of justice and freedom. Every one of them was a sinner. The ultimate hope of the civil rights movement was never in one man, or even in millions of men and women marching. For those that understood it rightly and fully, it was hope in a resurrected carpenter from Nazareth, the God-Man.

The Church and the beloved community

Half a century later, King’s vision of what he called the “beloved community” still calls out to us. It cannot be a vision rooted in the vapor of liberal Protestantism, one that has eviscerated the centrality of the bloody cross and empty tomb and thus undermined the exclusivity of Christ.  Richard Niehbuhr famously indicted this kind of false Christianity as summed up in the axiom, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”2H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1937), 193.

An evangelical vision for the beloved community will be marked by a gospel-framed vision of the Kingdom of Christ. And if the driving ethic of that kingdom is love, it will continue to press against the kingdoms of this world. It will transform our churches and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, serve to demonstrate to the world that we are indeed Christ’s disciples. Furthermore, the beloved community will not only confine itself within the walls of our local churches. It will, and must, spill over into our communities, our neighborhoods, and our cities.

However, evangelicals must be especially clear. The vision for this beloved community finds its locus in the local church and in the good news of Jesus Christ. If our own incarnational outposts of the Kingdom of Christ are still marked by strife, hostility, racism, and ethnocentrism, then we must repent, look to God for fresh mercies, and renew our commitment to pursue reconciliation by the power of the Spirit. We must also recognize that our failures within our churches have spilled out into our communities. If the church loses its prophetic witness and credibility, we should not be surprised that our cities and neighborhoods — even our nation — fall off course in building a culture that values those things that matter most.

What King understood, and what we must as well, is that reconciliation is central in this call. In the gospel, God calls sinners to be reconciled to himself through the saving work of his Son. And he also offers hope that we can be reconciled to one another. This call to reconciliation with one another is not an optional additive for some Christians. As civil rights hero and gospel preacher John Perkins has pointed out, it is central to the Christian life and is best understood as a matter of discipleship. Maybe today is as good a day as any to renew our commitment to that vision and confess that we still have a long way to go.3Charles Marsh & John M. Perkins, Welcoming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009).

A call to the Church

As a national holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day calls all Americans to pause and reflect on our national history. It should prompt good civil discourse that assesses where we’ve come from, where we need to go, and how we might get there as a society. This is an important part of the legacy of King and the black freedom movement — calling Americans of every color and creed to work together for the common good, to preserve and ensure that the promises made in our constitutional freedoms are protected for every one of our fellow citizens. It’s a call to make sure we live up to the standards and ideals we say are at the very heart of the American experiment.

But this day also calls Christians in particular to renew a gospel-centered vision for our life together. King spoke to our national conscience and organized for legal change in ways that transcended sect or creed, to be sure. But the heart of the civil rights movement was in its appeal to the church. Yes, King and the civil rights movement appealed to our national conscience to live up to the democratic promises of our Founders. But the animating ideas, songs, and vision of the movement were not most fundamentally in ideals of American democracy but in ancient and divinely revealed truths, in what God has said to be true. And that legacy still rings true for evangelicals in 2015.

Preaching in New York as the brutal Freedom Summer of 1964 was nearing its end, King articulated a call for this kind of witness. A true Baptist at heart, he understood the necessary connection between religious freedom and the church’s obligation to be faithful in its witness, even when the state would seek to suppress it.

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”4Martin Luther King, Jr. “A Knock at Midnight.” Sermon preached at Riverside Church (New York, NY) on August 9, 1964.

That call from King still rings loud and true. Evangelicals of all people are those that understand that this call to justice and reconciliation is no “social gospel.” As those identified by our own designation as “gospel people,” we are those that confess the centrality of the salvific act at Calvary, the necessity of a substitutionary bloody sacrifice offered up for sons and daughters of Adam, the vindication of the crucified King by his bodily resurrection and empty tomb, and the good news that by grace through faith any sinner can be declared righteous in Christ, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic class. That’s good news. That’s gospel truth. 

But we still urgently need to hear King’s call to recognize that our creed must manifest itself in deed. If we preach calling sinners to be reconciled to God, but perpetuate the dividing walls of hostility that Christ came to tear down (Eph. 2:14), we have likely not understood the gospel.

Today my family will say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for Martin Luther King Jr. I hope you will too. Even as we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we look toward a day when peace and justice will reign. That day is sure to come.

  • 1
    David L. Chappell, Waking from the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Random House, 2014).
  • 2
    H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1937), 193.
  • 3
    Charles Marsh & John M. Perkins, Welcoming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009).
  • 4
    Martin Luther King, Jr. “A Knock at Midnight.” Sermon preached at Riverside Church (New York, NY) on August 9, 1964.
By / Feb 26

On Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of a controversial bill titled the Equality Act. This legislation, filed as H.R. 5, seeks to expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI) and would revise every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code. (See also: What is the Equality Act? and The Equality Act: A dangerous law with a clever name

The vote was 224-206, with all Democrats and three Republicans voting in favor of the legislation. The Republicans who voted for the act were Brian K. Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and John Katko and Tom Reed of New York. 

Last Congress, the Equality Act passed in the House, but did not come up for a vote in the Senate. When the House voted for the bill in 2019, the vote was 236-173, with 23 representatives not voting. Eight Republicans joined every Democrat to vote for passage of the legislation. The eight members of the GOP to vote for the bill were Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Susan Brooks of Indiana, John Katko, Tom Reed, and Elise M. Stefanik of New York, Greg Walden of Oregon, Brian K. Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and William Ballard Hurd of Texas. Fitzpatrick and Katko were also co-sponsors of the bill. 

In the Senate, Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican in 2019 to co-sponsor the bill while Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the sole Democrat who was not a co-sponsor. Collins said this week she will not co-sponsor the legislation in the U.S. Senate this year. “There were certain provisions of the Equality Act which needed revision,” said Collins. “Unfortunately the commitments that were made to me were not [given] last year.” 

Manchin also said in 2019 he would not support the legislation without changes. “I strongly support equality for all people and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. No one should be afraid of losing their job or losing their housing because of their sexual orientation,” said Manchin. “I am not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools.”

When the bill was introduced in the Senate in 2019, the GOP held the majority (53 seats) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow the bill to be voted on. President Trump was also expected to veto the legislation had it passed. This year the Senate is evenly divided, with 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and 2 Independents (Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine) who caucus with the Democrats. If the Senate voted on the measure and Collins voted in favor while Manchin opposed, the result would be a 50-50 tie, which would be broken by Vice President Kamala Harris. 

But before the bill would even come up for a vote, the bill would have to overcome a filibuster, an attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter. The only formal procedure that Senate rules provide for breaking a filibuster is invoking Rule 22, which requires 60 members to end debate on most topics and move to a vote. This Senate rule is the reason almost all partisan legislation in the Senate, with a few notable exceptions, requires 60 votes rather than a 51 vote majority. 

Senate Democrats wanting to stop the filibuster from being used to prevent passage of the Equality Act and other parts of their agenda have two main options. The first is to formally change the text of Senate Rule 22. But that would require support of two-thirds of the Senators present and voting. The second way is sometimes called the “nuclear option”—and more formally as “reform by ruling”—requires only a simple majority. This method was used in 2013 and 2017 to prevent filibusters of presidential nominees, including Supreme Court nominations.

However, this “nuclear option” is currently unlikely because at least two Democratic Senators—Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—oppose ending the filibuster. 

Democrats wanting to pass the Equality Act are likely going to have to wait until after the midterm elections in 2022. Eight Republican senators are running for reelection, while four others have announced they are not seeking reelection. Ten Democratic senators are running for reelection, while no Democratic senators have announced plans for retirement. The Democrats would need to hold on to their ten seats and pick up at least one from the 12 seats currently held by Republicans. 

By / Feb 25

If you were looking for the very best way to get Americans to accept a radical piece of legislation, giving the bill a clever name would be near the top of the list. This is exactly the case with the so-called “Equality Act,” officially known as H.R. 5. Judging by its name alone, it seems like the kind of legislation that almost anyone would support. After all, what kind of person is opposed to equality? Even more, the bill is supposedly an effort to combat discrimination. And what kind of monster would think discrimination is good? 

But here’s the real issue: it takes more than a clever name to make a good law. And once you move past its name, the serious issues with H.R. 5 are both obvious and alarming.

The Equality Act

The truth is, the Equality Act is not just a bad bill; it’s a dangerous one. (See our explainer and one-pager). It does not represent a good faith effort to protect LGBT Americans from discrimination. It is, in fact, an effort to codify into law the progressive orthodoxy of the sexual revolution and to legally silence those who dissent. 

H.R. 5 would “expand the definition of ‘sex’ to include ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ (SOGI) and would revise every title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add these categories as new protected classes in the federal code.” Should it be enacted, it would imperil religious freedom, substantially harm women and girls, and cement a false conception of the human person into our nation’s laws and consciousness. Not to mention the fact that it would effectively destroy the clear (biologically determined) distinctions between males and females in our society and laws.

And for these reasons, it is paramount that H.R. 5 is defeated.

Addressing discrimination

Christians should oppose discrimination and stand up for human dignity. Of all people, followers of Jesus should recognize the inherent value of every person, regardless of their age, race, ability, religion, or any other details or features that define them, including their sexual orientation and sense of gender identity. Every person is created by God and made in his image (Gen. 1:26-27). That is why every person matters. Regardless of who they are, what they believe, or what they’ve done, no one can separate themselves from the image of God. Being stamped with God’s image means that each person possesses intrinsic dignity and deserves to be treated with respect.

There is no doubt that people in the LGBT community sometimes experience discrimination. But as Ryan T. Anderson points out, “Rather than finding common-sense, narrowly tailored ways to shield LGBT-identifying Americans from truly unjust discrimination, [H.R. 5] would act as a sword — to persecute those who don’t embrace newfangled gender ideologies.”

Anderson is correct. If the Equality Act were merely attempting to eliminate unjust discrimination, it would likely enjoy enthusiastic and bipartisan support. But it isn’t. 

Instead, in the name of “antidiscrimination” H.R. 5 would see Christians and others forced to deny their sincerely held beliefs or suffer untold consequences at the hands of the state. It would see women and girls forced to share private spaces with biological males. It would see pro-life conscience protections stripped away from healthcare professionals. And it would threaten the very existence of countless faith-based charities and nonprofits. 

Disagreement isn’t discrimination

We live in an age where disagreement on issues of sexuality is construed as violence. Christians and others who hold to traditional understandings of gender and sexuality are frequently slandered as zealots and bigots. But in most cases, such charges are baseless.

H.R. 5 would punish people who, whether on the basis of the Bible or biology, hold fast to their beliefs that there are only two sexes (male and female), that gender is tied to biology, and that both of these realities are permanent and fixed. 

Christians should have enormous compassion for people struggling with their sexual identities and for people who believe there is some kind of misalignment between their biological sex and their internal sense of gender. But that compassion doesn’t negate our convictions about God’s intentional design for men and women. Nor does it undermine the importance of biological realities.

Men and women are different. Public policy shouldn’t punish people for adhering to facts supported by science, reason, and faith. Moreover, women and girls shouldn’t be forced to share changing facilities and restrooms with biological males or to compete against them in athletic competitions. Faith-based nonprofits shouldn’t be forced to choose between maintaining their beliefs about human sexuality or ceasing operations. Healthcare professionals shouldn’t be forced to violate their consciences (and medical training) in order to remain licensed and employed.

Opposing the Equality Act

Legislation that would punish people for recognizing distinctions written into our DNA is not a serious way to advance equality. It is, however, a clear demonstration of the strength of the LGBT lobby. People of faith, and all Americans of goodwill, should reject H.R. 5 for exactly what it is, reckless government overreach. 

This bill would eradicate safeguards, destroy civil liberties, and obliterate freedom of conscience. It would also erase women and girls and supplant biological facts with subjective experiences. Supporting H.R. 5 is no way to advance equality.

By / Feb 10

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) affirms the full dignity of every human being. At the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Messengers passed a resolution to “reaffirm the sacredness and full dignity and worthiness of respect and Christian love for every single human being, without any reservation.” The SBC’s commitment to love of neighbor is grounded in the truth that “God created man in His own image; He created Him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” (Gen. 1:26–27) This is true regardless of what any person believes about God, about humanity, and about our sexuality.

The ERLC believes Fairness For All (FFA) does not strike an effective, durable, and politically feasible balance of public policy regarding God-given conscience rights and the demands of the Sexual Revolution. However, the ERLC does not doubt the motivations or intentions of the supporters of Fairness For All, many of whom are friends and allies on a range of other issues. While the stated intention of the legislation is to protect both those who identify as LGBT and people of faith, we believe the protections for people of faith are insufficient and that the legislation will use the federal government to impose a new orthodoxy on matters of sexuality and gender on the entire country through the Civil Rights Act.

To that point, Rep. Chris Stewart (R–Utah), the author of FFA, in an op-ed described the religious liberty protections in the bill as “narrowly-defined carveouts for religious citizens and institutions.” We are deeply concerned that the author of the bill thought of the protections for religious citizens and institutions in this way.

As Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, often notes, “A government that can pave over the consciences of some can steamroll over dissent everywhere.” The ERLC believes this legislation would diminish foundational individual freedoms and dramatically expand the government’s power to create, enforce, and teach a radical perspective on gender and sexuality. The bill fails in many key respects to protect the consciences of a range of professionals, individuals, and others in a variety of circumstances.

It is true that the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is preserved in the Fairness For All Act of 2021 and that the bill contains a number of other protections for communities of faith. We support this policy and several of the individual provisions within the bill. But even still, these proposed changes to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would bring a significant shift in civil rights law, religious liberty, and the foundations of civic pluralism.

While the bill contains clear and direct protections for individuals who identify as LGBT, many of the religious freedom protections identified by the bill’s proponents are vague and indirect. The ERLC believes this imbalance leaves many key issues up for interpretation by the judiciary, leaving the final outcomes of the bill unknown. In other cases, we are concerned the lack of clarity would chill expression and prevent individuals from standing on the conscience and religious freedom rights that would be created by the bill. Indeed, the core disagreement about Fairness For All is the question of what the bill actually accomplishes.

The ERLC has significant concerns with the Fairness For All Act of 2021. The following outlines a number of areas that are particularly troublesome:

  • Faith-based child welfare providers would be inadequately protected by the bill. The bill would introduce a complex new structure for funding foster care and adoption across the United States. It is unclear whether state welfare agencies broadly support such a change, and it is also unclear whether this new funding model is sound policy for the foster care system as a whole. Further, because these provisions lack clear and direct protections for faith-based child welfare providers, the protections may not be as effective or durable as FFA proponents have argued.
  • Parents of children who express questions about their sexuality may have their parental decisions challenged by courts and child protection agencies. The bill includes a requirement for foster parents to provide gender reassignment therapy for foster children experiencing gender dysphoria. The bill contains no provision that would limit the application of this standard for foster parents to biological parents as well.
  • Medical professionals and providers who serve everyone would be required to administer gender reassignment treatments if they provide the same underlying treatments for other conditions. That is, if a physician performs hysterectomies for cancer patients or hormone therapy for patients with hormone imbalances, she must administer those same treatments for patients seeking gender reassignments. The bill would provide no conscience protections for physicians, clinics, or hospitals in those circumstances.
  • Religiously affiliated schools that accept relevant federal funding (e.g., students who use the school lunch program), will no longer be able to maintain sex-segregated spaces and programs including locker rooms, bathrooms, athletics, and housing without obtaining permission from the government after an assessment of whether the school is “substantially religious” and whether their the school’s practices are “religious standards” enforced with “reasonable consistency.” Under Fairness for All, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act would supersede any Education Amendments.
  • Religiously affiliated employers that do not fit the narrow exemptions delineated in the bill would be prohibited from hiring according to their mission statements and beliefs, undermining the ability of the employer to fulfill and pursue its mission. Such organizations would be required to hire people who do not live in accordance to their mission statements and to cover gender transitions with their healthcare benefits. 
  • All Americans would be impacted by the requirements of this bill. The bill would change the nature of intimate and private spaces throughout the country, impose federal requirements for pronoun use in many circumstances, and use federal civil rights law to teach a new ideology of gender and sexuality of which many Americans disagree.

Again, many of the proponents of Fairness For All are friends of the ERLC and allies on a host of issues, and that is still the case. We look forward to working together on many areas of common concern in the years ahead just as in the years past. We do not question the motives of those who disagree with us on this bill. But we do not believe this bill would adequately and effectively protect people of faith and promote the common good.

By / Aug 28

This week marks the 57th anniversary of the original March on Washington. This event, held on Aug. 28, 1963, helped to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).

Here are five facts you should know about the landmark civil rights protest march.

1. The event—officially known as the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”—was organized by the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement: A. Philip Randolph, Whitney M. Young, Jr., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, Roy Wilkins, and John Lewis. Bayard Rustin was chief organizer of the march. 

Although the organizers disagreed about the purpose of the march, the group came together on a set of goals: passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; immediate elimination of school segregation; a program of public works, including job training, for the unemployed; a federal law prohibiting discrimination in public or private hiring; a $2-an-hour minimum wage nationwide; withholding Federal funds from programs that tolerate discrimination; enforcement of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution by reducing congressional representation from states that disenfranchise citizens; a broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to currently excluded employment areas; and authority for the Attorney General to institute injunctive suits when constitutional rights are violated.

2. The event took a staggering level of logistical effort. Organizers and officials planned for a crowd of about 150,000. But on the day of the march over 250,000 gathered together on the National Mall. To get to Washington, D.C., protesters took more than 2,000 buses, 21 chartered trains, 10 chartered airliners, and uncounted cars. All regularly scheduled planes, trains, and buses were also filled to capacity. On the National Mall, over 100 portable toilets were set up along with 16 first-aid stations. Eight 2,500-gallon water tanks were set up, which fed some 21 portable water fountains. Additionally, spouts were attached to fire hydrants so marchers would have access to drinking water. Volunteers prepared some 80,000 boxed lunches—sold for 50 cents each—consisting of a cheese sandwich, an apple, and a slice of cake.

3. Event organizer Bayard Rustin recruited 4,000 off-duty police officers and firemen to serve as event marshals, and coached them in the crowd control techniques he’d learned in India studying nonviolent political participation. The official law enforcement also included 5,000 police, National Guardsmen, and Army reservists. No marchers were arrested, though, and no incidents concerning marchers were reported.

4. Representatives from each of the sponsoring organizations addressed the crowd from the podium at the Lincoln Memorial. Speakers (dubbed “The Big Ten”) included The Big Six; three religious leaders (Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish); and labor leader Walter Reuther. Along with the speakers, the marchers were entertained by celebrities, including Ossie Davis, Joan Baez, Mahalia Jackson, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Jackie Robinson.

5. King was the last speaker because no one else wanted that slot, since all of the other speakers assumed the news media would leave by mid-afternoon. King agreed to take it and planned to speak for four minutes, but ended up speaking for 16 minutes. He improvised the most recognizable, memorable part of the speech for which he is most famous, according to his speechwriter and attorney Clarence B. Jones. Although King had spoken about a dream before two months earlier in Detroit, the “dream” was not in the text prepared by Jones. King initially followed the text Jones had written but gospel singer Mahalia Jackson yelled, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!” King nodded to her, placed the text of his speech aside, and veered off-script, delivering extemporaneously what is referred to as the “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most famous orations in American history.

By / Aug 4

The 2019-2020 term of the Supreme Court was one for the history books. The justice’s rulings give Christians a lot to consider on issues ranging from religious liberty and civil rights law to abortion jurisprudence and immigration rules. The ERLC filed amicus briefs in a number of these cases and our brief was cited by Justice Alito in the court’s opinion in the Guadalupe religious liberty victory.

Russell Moore and Jeff Pickering joined the Capitol Hill ministry, Faith & Law, for a Friday forum event to reflect on what happened and what’s next.

Faith & Law is a community of congressional staffers and Members of Congress that meet regularly to think deeply about how our faith informs and impacts our calling to the public square. Their mission is to encourage and equip Christian policy-makers to more fully understand the Biblical worldview and its implication in their calling to the public square.

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