On Tuesday, Springfield has an opportunity to vote on the Sexual Orientation and Transgender Anti-Discrimination Ordinance (SOGI) that was passed by city council some time ago and which some people now want to repeal. Voting no means we won’t repeal it, and the ordinance will remain. I will be voting no for a few different reasons that I want to share, but I’m not looking to convince anyone about how they should vote with this post. Rather, my hope is that people who agree with me, and who also think that we should not discriminate against people as a general rule, will be reminded and motivated to go vote on Tuesday.
It is tempting to remain silent and to not vote. A lot of people I know are conservative Christians who believe strongly that homosexuality is a sin, and while they may not be comfortable with the idea of discriminating against people, it’s so much easier to just stand on the sidelines. I feel strongly that God calls us to speak out. We cannot remain silent. Jesus surely did not, and while he was clear about what he viewed as sin, he welcomed sinners and lambasted those who sinned sexually far less than those who persecuted others.
One of the arguments against this ordinance is that there’s no proof that discrimination has happened. I agree, there isn’t, but the debate and furor that has arisen while this ordinance has been under consideration demonstrates two things. First, there are clearly negative feelings towards homosexual and transgendered people in our community. Not long ago, I don’t think people would have thought about discriminating against a gay or lesbian person in a normal store (by which I mean, not a church or a church-affiliated business, like the Assemblies of God Credit Union or a Christian bookstore), but they surely are thinking about it now. All the town hall meetings and public displays have demonstrated to me that there are a lot of people who want to discriminate, even if they hadn’t thought about it before. That’s unsettling to me.
Second, all of this has to feel threatening to members of our community who are homosexual or transgendered. Like harassment, which is defined by the person experiencing the harassment, I think when the actions of our community make a people group feel threatened, we need to address that publicly and loudly. We need to say, as a community, that we will not tolerate our neighbors feeling threatened.
My job, as a follower of Christ, is to go and make disciples. I am called to love God and love my neighbor as myself. Some might say that holding people accountable and making sure they know their actions are leading them to hell is part of love, and I suppose a case could be made there if you think homosexuality is a damning sin. Except that none of us know the state of a person’s soul. C.S. Lewis writes that we cannot know if a person is Christian or not, only if they are good or bad at being Christian, and we know that by the fruits of the Spirit. And I will say, as someone gifted with discernment and prophecy, as a Christian for the last thirteen years or so, and as someone who has studied the Bible critically and academically and prayerfully, I have met gay and lesbian people who are bearing fruit.
What do you do, when you think someone is a sinner, and yet God is investing in their life, gifting them, loving them, and working through them? I suppose only two reasonable conclusions are possible. Either God is more gracious than me, and I ought to learn to become more like God, or maybe I’m wrong about this act or lifestyle actually separating people from God.
All of that is in the back of my mind, but it’s beside the point. More important to me is that I’ve had LGBTQIA friends since before I became Christian. I have watched a transgendered man struggle for years with gender dysphoria who is an upstanding person, wonderful to his husband and two children, and struggling with a society both offline and online that insults, marginalizes, and discriminates against him, inflicting more suffering than I know my Lord and Savior tolerates for any of the people for whom He died. Jesus came to build bridges, bring healing, and help us learn to be in relationship with one another.
Check out the links below for the full text of the ordinance and for a great article in our local newspaper that explains some of the nuances of the ordinance. If you read the ordinance itself, though, you’ll find it’s not very nuanced. It’s really quite straightforward. Religious organizations like churches can still discriminate all they want. Pastors aren’t going to be fired for preaching against homosexuality. Landlords and realtors cannot refuse to work with homosexual people or rent/sell them property. Non-religious businesses in general have to serve homosexuals, just like they have to serve Jews, and Blacks, and Italians, and the Irish, and Catholics.
The only negative about voting for this ordinance is that businesses and individuals can be challenged if they are discriminatory. That’s the only thing being taken away: non-religious businesses can’t act like homosexuals aren’t human beings. That is a very fine thing to stand up for, in my opinion. All people deserve dignity and respect, and to be treated with love and care. We have a Servant King, and we should not hesitate to serve anyone. Instead, we should serve them with prayers in our heart and songs on our lips. We should serve people smiling and joyous that we get the opportunity to be like Jesus.
Mark it on your calendar. Set a reminder. Vote against discrimination on Tuesday, April 7th by voting no on question 1.