The reaction among fundamentalists to Belmont University's announced policy change is revealing. Lonnie Wilkey, who is editor of Baptist and Reflector, had this to say:
When you open the door to have homosexual faculty and staff, you have already lowered and, in this case, completely disregarded Christian standards.
I must admit I am confused by a statement attributed to Belmont President Bob Fisher. Fisher told The Tennessean that he realized not everyone would agree with the new policy. He went on to say, "I am not going to dig into all the different positions that Christians come from on this issue because Christians do come from lots of different positions."
It seems pretty simple to me. Just take the position that is clearly spelled out in God's Word and we wouldn't even be having this discussion. Homosexuality is a sin and a Christian institution should not knowingly employ those engaged in it. It is not "discrimination" for a private organization to clearly state where it stands and hire accordingly.
The message is clear--one should not "knowingly employ those engaged in" homosexuality.
The discussion of Belmont and the Metro Contract Accountability Non-Discrimination Ordinance over the last two months has outed an aggressive agenda to much of the public in Middle Tennessee. Jobs are not about the work required by an organization. They are actually a tool to reward "straight" and narrow behavior and to teach sinners a lesson.
And why must gay people (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people) be taught a lesson? David Shelley of the Family Action Council of Tennessee made his feelings clear when he was interviewed guarding the door of the secret meeting at LifeWay designed to thwart the CAN DO bill. As he told the City Paper's Joey Garrison:
“I believe homosexual behavior is not only morally wrong, it’s abhorrent, it’s unnatural,” Shelley said. “It prevents the species from reproducing and continuing, and it’s certainly not something that should be given special protection by law.”
Gay people have a choice in this worldview--repress it or suffer the consequences including getting fired. It is a fundamentalist's duty to make the choice clear to employees.
Except...where in the Bible does it say punish gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people by firing them? And why just them?
So much for the biblical debate. What matters is that the forays of fundamentalists into the public sphere have shown that they can't stick to a business argument to undo efforts to pass non-discrimination laws. They jump naturally to a very particular understanding of their private religious beliefs and attempt to embody them in public policy and in the policies of institutions.
That is the real agenda of these fundamentalist leaders. And that is what we face as we attempt to make arguments based on reason and American constitutional traditions when we discuss these issues. It's a fair point to ask as often as it takes, "Why should your particular religious views define whether I am eligible for a job?"
*Note: Not all Baptists believe what David Shelley and Lonnie Wilkey believe. Many believe firmly in the distinction between religious faith and public policy. Furthermore, some Baptists are extremely welcoming of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. So it's important not to lump everyone together. But the leaders of the official Southern Baptist institutions are working hard to make sure that people continue to have the right to fire people based on sexual orientation and gender identity and it's important to make that clear.