“In the World but Not of the World”: The Church vs. The Equality Act-an Open Letter

“In the World but Not of the World”: The Church vs. The Equality Act-an Open Letter March 3, 2021

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)


Dear Church of God (Anderson, Indiana Assembly),

Christians often like to use the phrase, “I am in this world, but not of this world.” The implication of the phrase means, supposedly, that while we do live in a broken world, the things of this world are not what we are about. We are here but for a short time and then head to the world that really matters. I haven’t got a problem with that phrase or its implication. But I am left to wonder if the leadership of your Church understands the other implication of that theology.

I started thinking about this the other day when a friend shared with me a link to your official statement on the Equality Act which was published this week by your organization’s leadership. You should know that I was born and raised in your church.

I just want to address a few of the passages from your statement with a different perspective; one which I have come to slowly over my years of evolution as a person of faith.

I’ll start with this segment:

“The very definition of how we view sexual orientation and gender identity will be challenged.  In particular, there will be a definition of “equality” which is not consistent with our sincerely held religious and Biblical beliefs.  Our beliefs in this area are not based on our personal or societal beliefs, but upon our interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and how we should live. Our concern with the Act is not personal, but Biblical.”

I take issues with just about everything in this statement. First of all, your definition of how you view sexual orientation and gender identity is not being challenged. In fact, there is absolutely no way that you are going to change your mind about any of it, and that’s ok. This isn’t about you. This is about others who are vilified and marginalized because of their definitions of how they view sexual orientation and gender identity. Like it or not, they are out there, and they have the exact same rights provided by the United States Constitution as you do. This is an example of what I mean when I say that some Christians misinterpret the phrase “in the world but not of it.” If you were truly not of the world, then you probably wouldn’t feel so threatened by how others view themselves and by the prospect of treating them as equal citizens in your country.

In your “Call to Action” statement, you lay out three things that you want church members to do to stand against the Equality Act. Let me address them each individually.

PRAY!  We consider this to be a time of great consequence in our nation, when all of society will be subject to laws which we consider to be anti-Biblical. Especially affected may be our churches and how they operate.  We believe our churches are not places of public accommodation and are not even places of public gatherings, but places of public worship, where we have the right to teach and live out how we view the Bible.  It is vital that everyone pray diligently that churches will receive protection from these proposed mandates. 

I have nothing against prayer, but what are you actually praying for in this instance? Are you praying to have equal rights of citizenship denied to people who don’t share your world view? Once again, if you are truly “not of the world”, then is this something that should concern you this much? You say that you believe that churches are “not places of public accommodation yet, I’ll wager your parking lots have handicapped spots, and your entrances are wheelchair accessible. There was a time when people who need those accommodations were not protected with equality under the law. What message are you sending to the people seeking equality today?

ACT!  We are asking that all of our members and constituents immediately contact their United States Senators regarding the proposed provisions of this Act.  We are asking that you demand from your US Senators that any proposed Equality Act passed by Congress include a “religious exemption or exception” to the Act and that there be a specific provision that churches will not be defined as “places of public accommodation.”

This just reads as unseemly for Christians who claim to be in the world but not of it. When I read it as someone who identifies as a heterosexual male, what I take away from it is, we don’t want THOSE people in our churches. If I read it that way, imagine how and LGBTQ person would read it. Maybe I’m being too harsh with my interpretation, but it is what it is.

SHOW KINDNESS, CIVILITY, AND SENSITIVITY.  It is not our manner of living or desire to act with hostility toward any particular persons or groups.  We desire to show love and concern for all persons, and especially to those who desire to worship God in spirit and in truth.  That is our mission. We must always advance these attributes and will continue to do so.  We simply believe that the Equality Act is an encroachment upon our right to carry out our mission.  This possible encroachment could extend even to the ability of churches to employ persons who adhere to the stated beliefs of the church.

That’s a nice sentiment and good advice. It’s not good form to be outwardly hostile to people. But your hard stance against the Equality Act is kind of hostile even if you smile as you deliver it. You say that the Equality Act is “an encroachment on your ability to carry out your mission.” If I were in your shoes, I’d see it differently. I would see it as a great opportunity to expand your mission. Put a sign up outside your church that says we support equality and see what happens. Perhaps a whole new outreach ministry could be born. Just a thought.

To wrap this up, let me just go back to the beginning. In my view, some of you are missing the point of being in the world but not of it. Take another look at it and pray about this: If you are in the world but not of the world, is it your duty to try to control the laws of that world to make it fit your beliefs, or is it your duty to show the love of Christ to EVERYONE, and allow the Constitution to protect the equality and freedoms for ALL?

God bless.

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