By David W. Key, Sr.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal took a bold stance on discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer (LGBTQ) people this week. While political pundits want you to believe that he succumbed to pressure from the business community by vetoing the anti-LGBTQ bill, HB 757, the truth is that he upheld the core values that millions of Evangelical Christians hold closely. His decision to veto this legislation was based on his religious convictions: freedom, justice, and equality for all.
Governor Deal is on a difficult journey of faith that many Christians are taking. As a Southern Baptist, Deal is surrounded by religious voices—including the Georgia Southern Baptist Convention—that encourage bias and discrimination against LGBTQ people. Yet even within our denomination, individuals and churches are beginning to reflect on their opposition to LGBTQ equality by asking the age-old question: What would Jesus do? More answers are coming back that they wouldn’t discriminate against their neighbors. They are loving their neighbors as themselves.
Churches are on this journey as well. Groups like The Institute of Welcoming Resources have provided materials for churches to use in this journey since the 1980s. Each mainline protestant denomination has had organized efforts to speak to their respective denominations on issues affecting LGBTQ people. In more recent years, efforts have been underway in evangelical settings as well with the advent of groups like the Reformation Project, the Gay Christian Network and Nomad Partnerships. Yet, we still have a long way to go.
Despite significant advances toward equality, LGBTQ people still face injustice and discrimination. All across the country, self-interested politicians are pushing for legislation similar to HB 757 looking to deny LGBTQ people basic protections against discrimination in the workplace, housing, education, and in public places like the airport and supermarkets. These politicians are looking to limit the rights of LGBTQ people and their families under the guide of religious freedom. The truth is that religious freedom is already protected under the U.S. Constitution. Baptists of generations past made sure of that fact. Freedom of speech and freedom of practice for both our religion and our beliefs are protected by the law of the land. Don’t believe otherwise.
I know first-hand the challenge of reconciling between old southern church teachings and our true Christian duty of supporting equality for all. As a Southern Baptist, I struggled with understanding the context of the Bible and removing the bias that I brought to the scriptures around race, gender and sexuality. I questioned the discrimination that LGBTQ people face: in fact 90 percent of transgender people experience harassment, discrimination and mistreatment in the workplace. Is this fair? Yet despite the troubling injustice faced by transgender people, Georgia and 30 other states across the country still lack explicit nondiscrimination protections for transgender people.
As Governor Deal called on his fellow Republicans, I call on our fellow Evangelical Christians and others pushing for discriminatory measures like HB 757 to join the journey of faith and support freedom, justice, and equality for all, including LGBTQ people. As the world changes around us, we should look to our faith traditions and find the strength and wisdom to make states like Georgia become the welcoming places that they can be. If it can happen in Georgia, it can happen in any of the other forty-nine states. All it takes is for people of good faith and of good will to stand up and do what Governor Deal did. Just say no to hate and discrimination.
David W. Key, Sr. is the founding Pastor of the Lake Oconee Community Church as well as the former Director of Baptist Studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.