Culture Friday: Fairness for All


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 14th of December, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Culture Friday and John Stonestreet joins me now. John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning!

EICHER: Two big stories I’d like to ask you to reflect on for us, John.

I’ll start first with a piece that our managing editor J.C. Derrick reported online this week.

Two major evangelical organizations have endorsed a framework to expand LGBT rights in exchange for religious-liberty protections. The two are the National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

It’s prominent on our wng.org website today, but I’ll also link J.C.’s story in our Culture Friday segment on worldandeverything.org.

But the compromise framework these groups have gotten behind is known as “Fairness for All,” and it’s BASED on a sexual orientation and gender identity law in the state of Utah that also provides some religious-liberty protections.

Again, to prevent us from getting mixed up in an alphabet soup of initialisms, let me sort them: NAE is the National Association of Evangelicals. CCCU is the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. And the nondiscrimination law principle they’ve endorsed is known by the acronym SOGI, sexual orientation and gender identity, so we can keep all that, so to speak, straight.

John, I know you’re aware of this very controversial compromise on the part of NAE and CCCU. To construe this as fairly as I can, from how I read it, these two groups seem to be thinking, look, SOGI laws are coming whether we like it or not, and we don’t like it, but let’s see if we can get some protections for conscience here.

What do you think about this?

STONESTREET: Well, I mean, the first thing I want to bring up is that this is kind of inside baseball. We’re not dealing and unfortunately I’m hearing some folks on both sides kind of refer to people on the other side of this issue as compromisers and things like that. Look, I think a lot of things are at stake here, but at best, what we’re all trying to figure out is how do we move ahead if the pendulum—and what I mean by that is the political pendulum—when the federal government picks up on Obama’s legislative or policy priorities again.

Certainly Trump hasn’t and we’re grateful that it’s not the top priority of this administration. But we all know how these things happen. And so Fairness for All is a legislative strategy and those who support Fairness for All—and I’ve talked to many of them—including folks at the CCCU, folks at the NAE.

Now, to be fair, Fairness for All, what this is being called, hasn’t been a legislative proposal yet. It’s still a piece that’s in the works, and that’s what also defenders say is that those of us who have expressed opposition to Fairness for All—and I’m one of them—what are you opposing? You don’t even know what it is.

Well, what we’re opposing is, you know, up front Fairness for All tends to establish sexual orientation and gender identity as a category of human being. And most of us—and I certainly would fall into this category—would say, well, look, that’s not a theologically legitimate point.

Even if it’s a pragmatic political strategy, I still can’t say that sexual orientation and gender identity is a legitimate category of what it means to be human. And to say that, I think, is just not true. And that’s why I can’t go with what’s being called Fairness for All right now. 

My concern with Fairness for All is by granting the category of sexual orientation and gender identity as a category of human being, that that sets up an impossibility to protect people like the Jack Phillips and the Barronelle Stutzmans. Basically it says, look, as religious people we have our own personal beliefs, let us operate our own institutions and our own churches according to that. But when we get into the public square, we’ll acknowledge because you’re going to — you know, basically we’re establishing that this is like race and, therefore, you’re going to have to handle it like race when it comes to discrimination. So, I think, really, in the long term it’s going to set people like Jack Phillips and Barronelle Stutzman and some of the people that we’ve talked about who are in the public square trying to live out their faith, it’s going to set them up to be accused of discrimination and come out on the wrong side of these lawsuits.

But, you know, if you want a statement on why I’m on the other side of Fairness for All: we worked with the Alliance Defending Freedom a few years ago to put out a statement called Preserve Freedom, Reject Coercion and J.C. Derrick mentioned this in his article on the WORLD website, but this is a statement that’s still posted at Breakpoint and it’s just a statement that says SOGI laws empower the government to use force against people of faith. And that’s really what it does. And I just want to make it clear that the NAE and the CCCU, we’re on the same team and whatever happens under the next administration or the next regime or whatever, when the pendulum swings the other way, we’re going to find ourselves kind of on the other side of the firing line together and I think we both recognize that. And so at some level, I want to make sure we come out on the other side of this disagreement being able to work together when it’s really time for us to have to do something.

EICHER: Well, now you mentioned the public square and the second story is right there, John, and it reminds me of something you’ve said before, namely that we need to develop a theology of getting fired.

Well, there’s a high-school teacher in Virginia. Teaches French. Well, I should use the past tense. Taught French at a public high school. His name is Peter Vlaming. He was just fired for running afoul of a school-board policy by refusing to use male pronouns for a female student who identifies as a boy.

Vlaming had told the board that his Christian faith did not allow him to use male pronouns in this case. He offered a compromise: to use the student’s name and to avoid using feminine pronouns. But to the board, that was not good enough. So the board fired him, rejecting the argument that Vlaming is a public employee who is entitled to First Amendment protections: namely, not being compelled to speak something that violates your conscience.

I’ll mention, he’s married and has four young children, and he’s unemployed. I’ll mention, too, that he has a Go Fund Me page, and his name is spelled V-L-A-M-I-N-G. Peter Vlaming.

He’s not alone. I’ll link our WORLD Digital story on this segment at worldandeverything.org, and you can read more about this.

John, Mr. Vlaming and others are living out the theology of getting fired.

STONESTREET: Yeah, and I think this is worth mentioning that every version of the Fairness for All proposals that I have seen, would not help Peter Vlaming at all. In fact, it would actually put us on the wrong side of that. And what I mean is it would basically say, look, sexual orientation and gender identity and all the things that go along with that are human rights, it’s what it means to be human. We have a different view, let us do it in our institutions. Kind of in our own little world. Here you have a government employee working at a public school who serves the public interest that has already been defined by Fairness for All and SOGI legislation as including sexual orientation and gender identity as a category of human being, and that basically sets Peter Vlaming up for failure.

Look, I’m not sure that the way the momentum is going that any legislation is actually going to protect him. I think it’s fantastic that students have walked out, that they have basically said, look, he’s a great teacher. This is wrong. But this is kind of inevitable.

This is what I mean by when I say we need a theology of getting fired. We need a theology of getting sued. I spoke at a Christian college last year and said, “Look, you just need to know that it’s very, very possible that you’re spending $120,000 for this education and the way that you will best follow Jesus in the years to come is to get fired.” And it’s just something we’re going to have to wrestle with I think moving forward.

And Peter Vlaming is, I think, one of the first examples of this. We have an example of a company that is subject to public accommodation. Now we have a government kind of run entity in the public schools. It’s a short jump to private companies. And, of course, this is just the political pressure, the governmental pressure. When I’m talking about the private pressure that happens at the board-level or because of the HRC. So, it’s just the new reality.

One of the things I wrote this week—and I think is really important and I’m glad you mentioned the GoFundMe page—is that while we need a theology of getting fired. We also really need a theology of supporting those who got fired. We’re kind of back into a time in history that we haven’t been in for a long time.

I mean, we certainly think about people like Asia Bibi on the other side of the world and we think, okay, how can we help her? What organizations are doing that and so on? But now we’re talking about our neighbors. Now we’re talking, maybe, about people in our churches. Have pastors, for example, really thought through their responsibility to support financially and to come around the people that are living out their calling in the public square as believers and, by doing so, are going to lose their livelihood? That’s also what I mean by a theology of getting fired.

It’s a theology of a church loving those who got fired for the sake of the kingdom. The Bible’s full of this from top to bottom, full of instruction for us to care for those who pay the price for the sake of the gospel. Full of it. And so if the scripture’s full of it, I think we need to reckon with it at a new level all over again.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. John, thanks so much.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.


(Photo/iStock)

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