Georgia's Governor Understands Christian Values

Georgia's Governor Understands Christian Values

After months of remaining silent around the “religious liberty” debate brewing in Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal, a Southern Baptist, finally spoke out last week as he took a strong, faith-based stance against the harmful First Amendment Defense Act currently proposed in his state.

This bill is just one of over 150 anti-LGBTQI bills proposed across the country — and it is also one of the 79 proposed bills that misuses religion to justify harm to LGBTQI people.

As conservative lawmakers across the country attempt to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities, Deal is one of the first public officials to use his Christian values to stand against these harmful laws.

In his statement, he affirmed the protection of religious beliefs, but he made it clear that protection of one individual does not require discrimination against another. Moving beyond a political statement, Deal made a strong, biblical argument against discrimination itself: “We do not have a belief in my way of looking at religion that says we have to discriminate against anybody. If you were to apply those standards to the teaching of Jesus, I don’t think they fit.”

In an instant, Deal shifted the narrative about Christianity away from common scare tactics to a strong, faith-based stance against discrimination toward anyone. Hallelujah!

At Believe Out Loud, an online network empowering Christians to work for justice for LGBTQI people, we know our Christian faith is diminished by discrimination. We represent LGBTQI Christians and allies from all corners of the United States and around the world who are tired of hearing lawmakers use their faith to justify harm to LGBTQI people.

Together, we applaud Gov. Deal not only for standing against discrimination but also for sharing the true message of our Christian faith and values — love. Every day, we work to love as God loves — this means standing in solidarity with those who are bullied and ostracized by others. Our monthly audience of 4 million to 6 million people is a powerful witness that we are not alone in our fight for justice. 

As I reflect own on my Catholic teachings, I am reminded of what many often call Jesus’ mission statement. Jesus stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and read from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I ask myself now, as a follower of Christ, How can I stay silent when people's basic human rights and their very lives are at stake — all in the name of religious beliefs? For me, the answer is simple. As a Christian, I must do what I can not to only protect the rights of others but to protect the integrity of a faith tradition I hold dear.

The very idea behind these harmful “religious liberty” laws is discrimination, plain and simple — and I know discrimination has no place in Christianity. I also know I’m not the only Catholic who feels this way.

A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute shows 73 percent of U.S. Catholics support LGBT nondiscrimination protections, which is two points higher than the 71 percent U.S. average. In the matter of religious refusals, Catholics also stand on the side of justice — 61 percent of Catholics oppose allowing business owners to deny service to LGBT people.

These numbers are reflected across Christian traditions as support for LGBTQI people grows. So why are our elected officials spending so much time and taxpayer money trying to enact these laws? The only purpose these laws serve is to target and harm marginalized communities that need and deserve protection.   

Gov. Deal and I may not agree on many things (like the definition of marriage, for example), but we do agree on one important point — discrimination is not a Christian value. It's time for more Christian lawmakers like Deal to rise up and speak out against legislation in any state that seeks to legalize discrimination based on religious beliefs.

It's not what our country wants, it’s not what Christians want, and it most certainly is not what Jesus would do.

JAMES ROWE is the director of Believe Out Loud, the leading platform for LGBTQ-affirming Christianity. Rowe is a seasoned event planner and has led development and volunteer programs within interfaith and LGBT equality institutions including the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding and the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which advocates for LGBTQ youth. Based in New York City, Rowe is a student of American Sign Language and serves as both a board member and sign language interpreter for the historic Anna Crusis Women’s Choir, the country’s longest-running women’s choir.