Workplace Discrimination: Not Good Enough for Jesus?

On July 4th I saw this headline in The Boston Globe: ‘Religious exemption to hiring rule urged.’ The article reported on 14 religious leaders (primarily Christian) who sent a letter to the White House requesting a religious exemption to a planned executive order by President Obama, barring federal contractors from discriminating in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation.

President Obama’s executive order is in response to failed efforts to get through Congress the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). ENDA would have made it illegal under federal law to discriminate in the workplace – not just for contractors.

The letter requesting a religious exemption, was signed by nationally prominent evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders including D. Michael Lindsay president of Gordon College in Wenham, MA. I note President Lindsay’s name because Gordon College is an influential voice in the community I call home. I happen to be a pastor to some of Gordon’s graduates.

The letter reads in part: “Without a robust religious exemption…this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom.”

I have many questions for the signers of this letter: What common good are they speaking of? Is it in the interest of the common good to discriminate in the workplace? Is it in the interest of the common good when students, staff and faculty are forced to be closeted in fear of being fired or marginalized? Is it in the interest of the common good to perpetuate a theology that teaches that some aren’t good enough for Jesus?

I am offended by the use of noble terms like the common good, unity and religious freedom to impose discrimination due to sexual orientation. Not so long ago religious leaders coopted noble words and scripture to perpetuate discrimination towards people of color, women, minorities.

As I was working on a draft of this article a gay couple at the church I serve stopped by my office. They told me that one of them must remain closeted in their workplace lest their employer who is religiously conservative learn that they are gay. They can’t go to holiday parties as a couple, they can’t disclose who they fully are out of fear of being fired.

I say to President Lindsay: ‘Adding your signature as a representative of Gordon College does not promote the common good, unity or religious freedom. Rather it forces good people to deny who they are and live in fear.’

I urge each of the signatories to reconsider and rescind their signature. I ask this in the name of Jesus who in Luke 14: 15 – 24 envisions the Kingdom of God as a great banquet table where all the marginalized, oppressed and forgotten people have an honored seat at God’s table. I ask this for the sake of the common good.