ENDA's 'great tension': to show 'grace & truth'
NASHVILLE (BP) -- Christians should respond with truth-telling and grace to legislative proposals such as one in Congress to grant workplace civil rights on the basis of homosexual, bisexual or transgender status, in the view of a Southern Baptist policy specialist.
Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, says Jesus, who fully displayed both grace and truth, provides the model for believers to follow in responding to the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA). The U.S. Senate approved the bill Nov. 7, but it awaits action in the House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner opposes it.
Christians "are commissioned to bear witness to the truth, which includes the biblical teaching that homosexuality is sinful and that gender identity isn't a social construct, but is instead rooted in our biology," Walker says. "ENDA puts the Christian in a difficult position of having to speak truth about a lifestyle that conflicts with biblical teaching and, moreover, a lifestyle that could conflict with the workplace morale that an employer is trying to instill."
Walker continues, "This is the great tension that Christians must live in, albeit imperfectly: to model grace and truth like that of Christ.
"What matters is that Christians tell the truth about human sexuality. But we do so with convictional kindness, avoiding resentment, pleading for one's reconciliation" with God, he says.
Walker's comments in the question-and-answer exchange below are based on his responses during a panel discussion in which he participated alongside Heritage Foundation fellow Ryan Anderson Nov. 11 at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. The questions from the moderators have been edited for this Q and A.
QUESTION: Regarding the concepts of diversity, discrimination and equality, ENDA has moved through the Senate and might move through the House with a stated aim of promoting equality in the workplace. What are the implications of this legislation for businesses, families, etc.?
WALKER: This is a tough issue for Christians. On one hand, we're told to love our neighbors and to seek their welfare -- this includes coming to their defense when unjust policies are inflicted on them. But this causes us to ask the question: What's an unjust hiring policy? Typically, unjust hiring policies took into account immutable characteristics like race, age or sex. ENDA challenges these categories by bringing sexual orientation and gender identity into consideration.
Realistically, sexual orientation shouldn't be a factor in most hiring decisions. Whether gay or straight, a person's ability to excel on his or her job isn't a mechanism of his or her sexual orientation, but his or her talents and skills. On the other hand, Christians are commissioned to bear witness to the truth, which includes the biblical teaching that homosexuality is sinful and that gender identity isn't a social construct, but is instead rooted in our biology. ENDA puts the Christian in a difficult position of having to speak truth about a lifestyle that conflicts with biblical teaching and, moreover, a lifestyle that could conflict with the workplace morale that an employer is trying to instill.
ENDA, though, is bad policy through and through; it lacks necessary qualifications; it's ambiguously worded. I might answer this question by asking a question: Would you insist that a private, non-church-affiliated Christian school be forced to hire individuals whose lifestyles conflict with the religion that the school is trying to teach its students? Should a Christian school be forced to hire someone who is habitually drunk, who is avowedly sexually promiscuous? Of course not, and in the same way, schools should not be forced to hire employees who contradict the school's values and teachings.
But on a more practical level, ENDA threatens parental rights by eliminating any authority that the parents might have on establishing what's considered appropriate behavior for children's teachers. I, personally, would not place my daughter in a classroom where a biological male dresses up as a female. ENDA requires that such conditions cannot be taken into employment considerations. These situations violate my religion, my values and the view of human sexuality that I'd like to teach my daughter. ENDA cements these situations as a matter of civil rights.
Q: How does one respond to this type of legislation as a Christian or conservative while still maintaining respect and dignity toward everyone, showing the love of Christ to believers and non-believers?
WALKER: This is the great tension that Christians must live in, albeit imperfectly: to model grace and truth like that of Christ. Christ was full of equal amounts of grace and truth. That's what Christians should be striving for in the same way.
Legislation like ENDA, if you're against it, puts Christians in the precarious position of supposedly being "in favor" of discrimination, which just isn't the truth. What matters is that Christians tell the truth about human sexuality. But we do so with convictional kindness, avoiding resentment, pleading for one's reconciliation. [The apostle] Paul is adamant that Christians have no enemies with flesh and blood. The lesbian, the transgendered individual who feels alienated from his or her biological sex -- these individuals are not enemies; these are individuals whose sins the blood of Christ covers when confessed and repented of. The church has the antidote to social brokenness, and He's not a program; He's a person -- Jesus Christ.
Q: One of the overlooked aspects of these debates is often the impact on families and, particularly, children. Given the individualistic nature of the debates, is there any sense for how children and families are impacted?
WALKER: Seventy-two percent of African American children are born outside of wedlock. Fatherlessness isn't the exception; it's the norm in black communities. This is tragically heartbreaking and viciously cyclical. The best social program for a child is a mom and dad, and Christians must advocate that government tell the truth about these needs by insisting that our government communicate proper marital structures that ensure child enrichment and empowerment.
Another episode comes to mind. I recently asked my youth pastor, who has been in the same position for over 15 years. He told me that the rising generation of youth, more so than those who are grown and starting families of their own, have an even more sour, cynical view of marriage -- that marriage is by no means considered a permanent institution. What these realities tell us is this: that laws teach -- for good or ill. Generations are arising that see fathers as "add-ons" rather than as essential to the parenting enterprise; generations are growing more cynical towards marriage after seeing the effects of its redefinition and breakdown playing out in their own homes.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).