Religious freedom and what are seen as discriminatory practices toward LGBTQ persons as a result of those freedoms are in the headlines locally. In a recent story covered by KXLY and the Spokesman-Review, complaints about Union Gospel Mission’s policy of not hiring openly gay people as well as questions about how they serve transgender homeless persons has been a stalling factor in a deal the City of Spokane wants to make with UGM to bring a waste water treatment plant onto property UGM owns.
This deal has been about a year in the making, and the city would give UGM other city-owned parcels of property near the mission in exchange for an easement to build and run this facility on UGM property, as well as to help cover costs UGM will incur as a result of this partnership.
Opponents to this plan interpret any move toward giving UGM something from the government, be it money or land, as being a violation of separation of church and state policies, and would also be an act of the city going into business with an entity that practices discrimination. But perhaps more importantly, it would be a gesture that says LGBTQ people don’t matter. That all the hard work they have spent years engaged in to eliminate uncalled-for exclusion toward their community will be ignored.
I empathize with this point of view because there have been legitimate cases of discrimination toward them, as well as a lot of unkindness spoken to this community, sadly especially by Christians, over the years. However, UGM’s hiring policies do not fit that scenario, and by making a case that it does may actually show a reverse discrimination against UGM by saying the city cannot work with them for the greater good of the community.
The religious standards of the leadership of UGM are not meant as a matter of discrimination (since they serve all people as their facilities allow), but they are more a matter of staying true to their consciences regarding what they believe the Bible says on sexual issues and more. And the city working with them to meet a viable need for all its citizens does not show any favoritism toward UGM nor does it show state-sponsoring of religion. UGM, in fact, is showing good citizenship by working with the city on this.
For more understanding, let us examine UGM’s policy of not hiring openly LGBTQ individuals. For Christians who hold to a more traditional sexual ethic, most believe the Bible to teach that any sex outside the marriage of a man and a woman is sexually immoral and is considered sin. This would include unbiblical divorce, living with a sexual partner while not being married, pre-marital and extra-marital sex, adultery, etc.
Because of this, human sexuality becomes a spiritual issue, not just a physical one. And so, for anyone who wants to work at UGM, this standard of human sexuality is one of many standards potential employees need to adhere to in order to work there. Other standards include not smoking marijuana and attending church.
Despite the fact that specific causes of alternative orientations are not completely understood, in large part it is presumed in our current culture that many who identify as LGBTQ understand this as a born-this-way issue, so this is just how it is. And within that framework, to hear that one’s orientation is a standard for hiring may seem hurtful and unkind.
Frankly, I believe there is some truth to the idea that orientation, as well as gender identity, do have natural causes. It is also helpful to understand that it is also true that not everyone who is same-sex attracted wants to live out this attraction with a same-sex partner and are looking for other answers. I think it also should be said that not everyone who experiences a gender identity different than their biological sex wants to express that gender identity for spiritual reasons.
With this perspective then, it may be easier to understand why it is important that ministries have this freedom of not hiring out LGBTQ individuals. Because of their beliefs in this area, UGM (and other ministries like it) can offer LGBTQ individuals who also believe in a more traditional sexual ethic alternative ways to live out their orientations and gender identity.
Where UGM could try and do better, though, is how they serve the transgender population. I do not say this because I think UGM discriminates toward them out of evil or prejudice, like the Jim Crow laws of the past did against African Americans. But I do think they could work with the transgender community or those who understand their needs well to come up with better solutions for them within UGM’s spaces.
Even the National Center for Transgender Equality admits that, in general, homeless shelters (no matter their religious affiliation, I want to point out) face challenges serving this population.
On their website is the following statement: “Unfortunately, social service and homeless shelters that work with this population often fail to culturally and appropriately serve transgender homeless people, including denying them shelter based on their gender identity; inappropriately housing them in a gendered space they do not identify with; and failing to address co-occurring issues facing transgender homeless adults and youth.”
And so, as a help, NCTE has a link on their website to a resource specifically designed to help shelters create nondiscriminatory ways to work with transgender individuals, titled, “Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People” that was put out by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National LGBTQ Task Force. In fact, this may be a good document for all our local homeless shelters to read, if they haven’t read it or something similar already.
Another point of Christian teaching I think would be helpful to clarify here, as well, is that there are Christians and ministries that believe LGBTQ individuals can be Christians and live openly at the same time. I don’t know where UGM fits on that specific belief, but I think it is an important one to bring up in the current climate surrounding these issues. I believe LGBTQ individuals can be born-again Christians, who are just as heaven-bound as other saved sinners, even if they are married to someone of the same sex or believe this is what God’s will for them is. I may not agree with their path, but I don’t question their Christian faith.
I also believe same-sex attraction in and of itself is not sexually immoral or a sin, but it is a very real temptation that like other temptations needs God’s healing and direction. This view, and the one I mention above, are very controversial in my circles. Suffice it to say, I do not think any believer is far from sexual temptation, and that for many of us, this temptation is just one of several issues we have to work through in light of our own discipleship and walks with God. This is just part and parcel of the fallen world we live in.
With this understanding and taking this back to what is at issue in our own city, I think it would be very wise for all of us to give one another the freedom to express our beliefs in the way we are led to in our consciences in kindness and graciousness toward those with whom we disagree. And that we do this while remaining good citizens and working toward the common good for all, which, in this case, is a path forward to bringing cleaner water to our city.