Fairness amendment

The national cultural and religious clash over homosexuality will play out in the Lincoln City Council Chamber on Monday afternoon, during a public hearing on a proposal to protect gays and transgender people here from discrimination. 

That divide is clear in interviews about the proposal with nine Christian ministers. These ministers, backed by their own deep conviction and understanding of the Bible, come to different conclusions about God's word and will.

They differ over whether this protection is necessary. 

They disagree over what this amendment should be called: the fairness amendment, the morality amendment, the expanded protected class amendment.

They disagree about whether homosexual behavior is a sin, and point to different Bible passages that support their beliefs.

But they agree on one issue -- everyone is a child of God, and Christians are called to love everyone.

"I am not in judgment of that person. You are still a child of God, no matter who you are," said the Rev. Jeff Bloom, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, who believes homosexual behavior is a sin.

"Just because someone is different from me, doesn't make them wrong," said the Rev. Jim Keck, a supporter of the proposal. "That goes for gay people and conservatives. We have a lot more listening and loving to do."

Sin or not

The biggest divide and the one which colors other attitudes about the proposed change is whether homosexual behavior is a sin and whether that moral label ought to preclude legislation.

"I believe there is a human diversity that delights God and that it is in no way wrong to be gay," said Keck, senior minister at First-Plymouth Congregational Church.

The specific verses others use to prove that homosexual activity is a sin should be viewed within a modern context, he and others believe.

The scripture, he said, is clearly in support of slavery. But over time, it has "become clear that God's spirit does not support slavery," he said.

Sexual orientation, the notion that people are born oriented a specific way, is a modern concept that neither ancient Greeks nor Hebrews addressed, Keck said.

"To be honest, it is playing games to say the Bible is clear. People are struggling to be faithful to God's word and coming to different understandings, trying to faithfully be in harmony with God."

Keck said believes the interpretation that homosexuality is sin is incorrect.

"For us to say that it is wrong to love someone seems like an inverse way to use scripture."

Most Christians have abandoned other scriptural injunctions. Christians eat shrimp; they wear polyester, said the Rev. Karla Cooper, pastor of Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church and chaplain at Doane College.

To Cooper, John 3:17 is one of the passages that defines her faith: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

Jesus lived in the margins, was of the margins, Cooper said. And the first Christian convert was an Egyptian eunuch, and a eunuch is a transgender person.

"If I claim to be a follower of Christ, then if I believe that everybody has a place in the kingdom of God," Cooper said.

For many ministers, Jesus' message of love and inclusion is a basis for their support of the anti-discrimination amendment.

"In the life of our congregation, everyone is going to be included," said the Rev Larry Moffet, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church.

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Those who believe sex between same-sex partners is a sin point to a half-dozen specific Biblical passages that specifically refer to sexual activity including Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:18-32. But they also separate the sin from the human, whom God calls them to love.

"I would hope I would do everything to preserve the freedom and rights of those who are oppressed. This is the heart of the gospel," said the Rev. Stu Kerns, senior pastor at Zion Presbyterian Church. "But if that includes declaring something which God says is sin to not be sin, that crosses a line for me.

"I want to be on the side of defending the weak and the oppressed. I want to do that in a way that does not compromise my moral principles."

God has an interest in how sexuality is practiced, Kerns said: "We don't have the authority to rewrite what God says is sin."

The proposed amendment -- and cultural acceptance of homosexuality in general -- keeps people from finding wholeness, Kerns and his fellow opponents believe.

They say evangelical churches believe humans are all sinners who are separated from God due to personal sin, and the way to healing and wholeness is through Christ.

That is what Pastor Kerns said he offers every Sunday.

"If you are not broken from your sin, I have nothing for you," he said. "If you find you are burdened and in need of forgiveness for sin, that's what Christ offers through his church."

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"When the community passes a law that says this is not a brokenness, not a sin, then you are alienating that person from the source of hope," said the Rev Tom Rempel, senior pastor at Faith Bible Church. 

"We don't have the freedom to define by ordinance what is approved by God or disapproved by God."

The Lincoln Catholic Diocese will present a resolution at Monday's public hearing with similar sentiments: There should be no "unjust discrimination" but that "extramarital sexual activity, including homosexual activity, is contrary to divine and natural law and is offensive to God."

Cooperating with or facilitating homosexual activity also is offensive to God, the church argues.

Need for protection

The ministers also disagreed over the need for protection.

"I know people, both within my congregation and outside, who have been fired or passed over for promotion because they are gay or because someone in authority perceived they were gay," said the Rev. Stephen Griffith, associate minister at St. Paul United Methodist Church.

Griffith's comment was echoed by the other supporting pastors, but those opposing the amendment don't see any statistical evidence that people are being given unfair treatment.

Calling it a fairness ordinance makes an assumption that people are being treated unfairly, Rempel said: "I don't perceive a consistent pattern of unfair treatment."

And those who oppose granting legal special protection status to gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people are fearful of the ramifications.

The laws eventually will affect members of their congregations who are employers, employees, landlords and business owners, they say. Those followers will not have the freedom to act in accordance with their Christian convictions.

Opponents cite cases in other communities: a professional photographer required to take pictures of a civil union, a bed and breakfast required to to cater a same-sex marriage and provide the honeymoon suite; landlords required to rent to gay couples.

And ministers opposing the amendment say they are frustrated with how quickly the proposal is moving through the political process, giving them little time to organize.

Councilman Carl Eskridge, the amendment's sponsor, has the support of at least a majority of the seven-member council. Mayor Chris Beutler also supports the change.

The Rev. Jeff Bloom, pastor of Immanual Lutheran Church, said if elected officials really were above board and wanted to represent everyone, they would allow a citywide vote.

Said Kerns: "Oh, it's a done deal. I'd be shocked if the vote isn't 5 to 2 or 6 to 1 or 7 to 0. It will pass."

Reach Nancy Hicks at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.


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