The passage of the “Protecting Religious Freedom” resolution by the Fayette County Commission reveals a misguided understanding of the role of the Commission and is overreaching and reactionary.
I possess a Republican and evangelical heritage that rivals that of anyone in the county, yet I am astounded that a governmental body would grant unqualified permission to any individual to “act in accordance with their sincerely held beliefs.”
My Southern roots go back further than genealogical records, which gives me ancestors who acted on their “sincerely held beliefs” justifying slavery. Bible-believing theologians, preachers and church members employed a plenteous supply of Old Testament and New Testament passages to define the biblical, Christian and moral underpinnings of slavery.
Granted, abolitionists were led by preachers using the Bible to support the opposite position, but my ancestors and their neighbors went to war to defend their right to act on their sincerely held beliefs. A century later the Baptist church I grew up in used scripturally-justified sincerely held beliefs to assert vehemently that the races were meant to be separated in worship, education, and housing.
I was taught this by Sunday school teachers referencing the sons of Noah. The deacons at that church refused to admit a black seminary student to membership and denied a seminary professor’s daughter admission to their Christian day school simply because it went against their sincerely held understanding of biblical teaching to allow black folk to worship and learn with them.
I believe that Jesus upended deeply held beliefs like these by preaching and modeling a rule of love, the Great Commandment. The primary work of the church and followers of Jesus is to unpack what it means to live that out.
But the Fayette County Board of Commissioners, as all government bodies, has a far different task, that of upholding the rule of law. Does the Commission assert that sincerely held beliefs trump the rule of law? Are all sincerely held beliefs equal? What specific incidents of Fayette County citizens being coerced to act against their sincerely held beliefs prompted the need for government intervention? Is the Commission using this as a catcall or shibboleth, identifying themselves to a “we” with whom they want to ally?
I can’t fathom the ultimate motivations of the commissioners, and perhaps they can’t either, but it seems to me that they are motivated by fear and the need to define and reassure “our” tribe.
While some may worry about Pinewood and economic development, I am concerned about our goodness as a community. Will we let defensiveness, tribalism, and fear of the other define us? Is the Commission willing to accept the anarchy of each person doing what is right in his own eyes?
The church must wrestle with the texts to see what Jesus requires of his followers today, as they did in the 19th and 20th centuries, when they slowly overturned the deeply held beliefs of Bible-believing Christians.
The County Commission has a different task: assuring an orderly, efficient and fair government for all its citizens. This resolution functions to provide comfort to certain constituencies by implying some beliefs deserve special protection and that their local government will provide cover.
Following one’s beliefs may require sacrifice and may lead an individual to break the law and bear the consequences, but the role of government is to protect all individuals equally, not shield some from the consequences of their choices. This resolution takes a short view when a longer perspective is needed. We must do better than this.
I call on the commission to rescind this overreaching and misguided resolution.