When the governor called in Jesus to defend gay people from Christians

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A statue of Jesus holding the message, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.

A statue of Jesus holding the message, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.

A statue of Jesus holding the message, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.

A statue of Jesus holding the message, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.

Governor Nathan Deal, a reliably conservative Republican, cited Jesus last week to cast doubt on the wisdom of broadly worded “religious liberty” legislation that has passed Georgia’s legislature and awaits his action. His stunning words might signal that the anti-gay fever that has swept conservative Christian America, especially in the wake of the 2015 Supreme Court gay marriage decision, could be about to break.

Let that sink in for a minute while I tell you about our sad plight here in the Southland.

It is not easy being a progressive evangelical Christian in the Deep South. Most days it seems like the ultimate lost cause. All around us are Christians who think that their faith in Jesus quite obviously yields a politics that is pro-gun, pro-death penalty, and anti-gay. Our co-religionists mainly support either Ted Cruz because he’s a down-the-line conservative or Donald Trump because…well, let’s not go there this time.

Georgia is one such state. I live here, traveling back and forth between Mercer University’s Atlanta campus in the north and Macon campus in the south.

Georgia is one of the reddest of red states. All branches of our government, at least outside urban Atlanta, are dominated by conservative white Republicans. Gun legislation is advancing aggressively here. Our governor rejected Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. We have been accelerating executions in a time when most states are backing away from the death penalty. Any conservative policy guru seems to have a direct line from his laptop to the state legislature.

Georgia’s HB 757 fits the package. It has been described as “religious freedom on steroids.” As drafted, it permits not just religious institutions but “any organization whose governing documents or mission statement expressly acknowledges a religious belief or purpose” the right to discriminate on the basis of religious convictions. Of course the bill’s defenders say it is narrowly drawn to protect the legitimate religious liberties of Georgians. Its critics have argued that it is a blatant license for just about any individual or business to discriminate on any number of religious grounds, and that it will do damage to the business interests of the state.

Governor Deal, a Baptist who studied at Mercer, appears to have sided with the critics. And what’s interesting is that in his apparently off-the-cuff remarks last week, he went right at the religious motivations that dominate the legislation. It wasn’t just about business losses. It was about Jesus. This is what the governor said:

What the New Testament teaches us is that Jesus reached out to those who were considered the outcasts, the ones who did not conform to the religious societies’ view of the world…We do not have a belief, in my way of looking at religion, that says we have to discriminate against anybody. If you were to apply those standards to the teachings of Jesus, I don’t think they fit.

Governor Deal went on to cite the famous story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8), grounding an emphasis on forgiveness and non-discrimination on that text in which Jesus protects a woman about to be stoned to death by a crowd of men inflamed by religious self-righteousness. The governor concluded by saying that he needed to see legislation that would “protect fundamental religious beliefs” but not “discriminate against other people.” He indicated that he felt no pressing need for any such legislation in the first place.

Jesus showed up in Georgia, his words and his spirit reflected for a moment by the words of our governor.

Jesus is dangerous that way. He can show up in the most untimely ways, throwing up roadblocks in front of those who claim his name but do not reflect his spirit.

It makes perfect sense to discriminate against all kinds of people in the name of God; that is, from a certain narrow kind of religious perspective inflamed by readings of certain biblical texts. It makes far less sense if the texts held central are the ones about Jesus himself, the ultimate antidote for Christian self-righteousness, the one who said “He who is without sin among you may cast the first stone.” That kind of Christianity becomes a force that opens one up to the humanity of others and the grace of God to all.

  • yoh

    Maybe the irony of a blatantly discriminatory law in a former bastion of the Jim Crow South was finally noticed.

    The proposed law was nothing but a malicious attack on the public for entirely sectarian reasons. Religious freedom is not license to harm others. The Governor of GA, like his counterparts in KY and WV when faced with similar bills knows the harm such discrimination will cause to the state.

    Nobody is fooled into thinking these “Mini RFRA laws” are anything but an attempt to introduce religious based segregation. Frankly the overwhelming desire of a few bigots to act maliciously to gays is completely unworthy of color of law.

  • Johnny

    Legislation aside, what should people do when and if the government does not respect their sincerely held religious beliefs and forces compliance in their business, church, ministry, etc.? I agree the historical Judeo-Christian bonds between government and society are now broken and I disagree with the public fighting to legislate a morality that no one wants, but I do understand the concerns of traditionalists. Should there be any protection? How should it be worded? What should be protected and what should not be protected? Who will mediate conflicts? Perhaps it should go the way of undiluted law and all churches, religious businesses and individuals should be held guilty of discrimination and suffer the consequences.

    Funny how people want to quote Jesus on compassion and forgiveness, good stuff to be sure. But they leave out the accountability – “go and sin no more.” How dare he impose a standard on her choices and behavior. Maybe she was born with the adultery gene.

  • ben in oakland

    We have laws at EVERY level of government which forbid discrimination on the basis of religious belief. Why is THIS particular case be an exception?

    No one is “forced” to do business if they don’t wish to. There are a multitude of ways to avoid it, starting with “I’m booked. Why don’t you call so and so?” It is VERY telling that the only place this ever comes up is when moralizing busybodies are required to treat gay people with the same respect they routinely extend to all of the other people they believe are going to hell.

    Funny how many so-called Christians take Jesus’s word to the sinner about “go and sin no more”, as if they were Jesus himself, and he NEVER said anything about specks and beams.

  • yoh

    The whole notion of a for profit “religious business” is nonsense. A business is either ones property or a gestalt legal person with no individual beliefs like religion. Simply just excuses to impose on employees and the public in a

    A sincerely held belief in attacking people is worthless. It is not something that needs or should be protected.

    Whatever “Judeo Christian bonds with government” exist are a violation of democratic principles, not examples of it. Simply undue privilege rearing its heads. “Traditionalists” typically have no regard for civil liberties because they see it as a loss of privilege. I see no need to appeal to such interests.

    As for Christian “accountability” that is a trait expected in others but never ones self. Consequences are for others, forgiveness is only for “the right kind of people”

  • G Key

    A “tradition” of subordinating some legal equals under others for any reason is not, and does not deserve to be called, a “tradition”. It’s bullying, plain, simple, and above all, immoral. Religious? Hogwash.

    Christianity is about how believers should live their own lives, not the lives of others. Attempting to hold others to one’s own personally chosen (emphasis) beliefs is unchristlike self-exaltation, full of hubris instead of humility, decadent in its blind grabs for power over others.

    And the idea of bullying people based on their bedroom activities? I haven’t the words for it. Bizarre? Sociopathic? Let’s just call it sinful.

  • Benji

    Jesus had a fair amount to say about how people lived their lives, including bedroom issues like the woman caught in adultery. I guess he’s guilty of bullying too.

  • G Key

    “Jesus had a fair amount to say about how” his followers “lived their lives”. According to his followers, he had that right because he was their God, i.e., their superior.

    Yet he showed what he considered to be most important when he treated Mary Magdalene to compassion instead of stones, and when he humbled Mary’s wannabe judges and would-be killers into behaving like civil humans who were, after all, merely Mary’s equals — not her superiors, not her judges, and not her gods. (You’ll recall that Jesus explicitly reserved vengeance to himself.)

    Now, addressing an entirely different aspect of how people live their own private lives: not everyone goes to his (or your) church.

    Business owners don’t live their private lives according to their customers’ values. Why should the reverse be different? Equals are equals, privacy is privacy, and crossing others’ boundaries is trespassing.

    It’s all about how we treat each other, and the Golden Rule applies.

  • ben in oakland

    And every single one of his comments, but two, were directed at heterosexuals. And of course, heterosexuals routinely ignore them because they just aren’t very convenient. Like that one about looking at a woman with lust is equivalent to adultery. Specks and beams, or wa sit someone unimportant to Christianity that said that?

    Of those two comments, One was directed at “eunuchs from birth”, the other was directed at the centurion and his pais. In no case was there a condemnation.

    I guess we don’t require his moral guidance. I certainly don’t require either yours or your church’s.

  • Georgiateacher

    Jesus comments were directed at everyone. Those two explicitly at homosexuals, but also to those who might be tempted.

  • G Key

    As I’ve said before:

    We have our beliefs; they have theirs. Are only ours sacrosanct? They have their values; we have ours. Are only ours inviolate? Both we and they have lives, find loves, make personal choices, celebrate honored traditions. Are only ours rightful?

    What happened to our humility? To our compassion? And to their religious freedom?

    Even if I opposed LGBT marriage, the question of whether to sign their license (or sell them flowers, or prepare their cake, or cater their party, or rent them a home) would answer itself, since I would realize they are my rightful public customers, not my wrongful private business. And since they are my equals, and their beliefs and values are their own, it would be immoral of me to presume to judge their lives, or to attempt to hold them to my own chosen moral principles.

    My morality binds me, not them.

    In other words, I see the so-called “religious freedom” issue as a matter of trespass, not of faith.

  • yoh

    Actually he never said a word about them. One has to stretch and contort the Bible to find a direct reference to them in any meaning we are familiar with.

    That being said, the idea that one’s religious belief entitles them to attack others is nowhere close to the concept of religious freedom. Sincerity of belief does not make an idea worthy of respect.

  • Shawnie5

    Despite all the noise coming from the oblivious outside the household of faith, I leave you with simply a word from to the wise, Dr. Gushee:

    “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come. It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones who believes in Me to stumble. Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Luke 17:1-3.

    Consider carefully before you encourage others in what the Word and the Spirit condemn.

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  • Susan

    What about the religious liberty of religious denominations that support gay rights? All non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism now allow gay marriage. What about their religious liberty?

    I’m not clear on what Judeo-Christian means. People who say that usually really mean Christian. When was the last time you heard someone use the phrase Judeo-Christian and quote the Talmud or some other Jewish source other than what Christians call the “Old Testament” You never have.

  • shawnie5

    I have, numerous times. The scoffers don’t like it any better than “what Christians call the Old Testament,” though.

  • Billysees

    ” Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Luke 17:1-3. ”

    What a back and forth situation that can cause. The rebuker and the rebuked can be essentially ‘rebuking’ each other indefinitely. Doesn’t sound very practical or meaningful or friendly.

    One of the rebukers is eventually going to be made to realize that minding your own business and keeping your rebukes to yourself is a wise and prudent thing to do.

    What is sin anyway and who or what can determine that?

  • Billysees

    The basic definition of ‘sin’ is that it is the breaking of God’s law. But what is God’s law?

    The word sin is thrown around way too much and is erroneously attached to things that it shouldn’t be. Habit will do that. Perhaps we need to get some new habits. Maybe we need to say more often, as the NT would declare — ‘all things are allowable, lawful and permissible’.

  • Eric

    Maybe you should be more specific in your references to the things Jesus said. Or, is it barely possible that you don’t actually know what Jesus said?

  • shawnie5

    All THINGS, Billy, yes. Such as food, drink, wood, stone, gold, silver, etc etc etc. Which is the context of that verse. Go back and read the context. Nowhere does it constitute a license to sin.

  • shawnie5

    Present your suggested revisions to Jesus’ teachings to Jesus and let us know when He gets back to you. ‘Kay?

  • Debbo

    4 things about that story that I find even more interesting Johnny:

    1. Jesus’ request that she should “go and sin no more” was not a prerequisite to him saving her life.

    2. Jesus Never required any confessions of belief or faith as a condition to receive healing. Never. Read the gospels to be sure.

    3. The language for a woman “caught in adultery” is no different from a woman who has been raped. What of the men who raped her or paid her or with whom she willingly went? We hear no mention of those heinous rapists/adulterers.

    4. Due to the fact that the Bible is thick with misogyny, it holds little authority in dealing with women. (“David and Bathsheba caught in adultery,” was in reality a horrific rape committed by David, followed by him despicably arranging the death of his most loyal military commander.)

  • Debbo

    G Key, that wasn’t Mary Mags. The myth that it was her came from the Roman Catholic Church as part of its deliberate efforts to diminish women. They finally gave that up and the Vatican admitted their dirty scam a few years ago. Nowhere is there any evidence that the woman cited was Mary Mags

  • Debbo

    Yoh is correct. Jesus had nothing to say about LBGT folks.

  • Debbo

    “I’m not clear on what Judeo-Christian means. People who say that usually really mean Christian.”

    Susan, I’d say it means “Christianist.” They are the Christian version of the Islamists, with leaders like Mullah F. Graham, Falwell, Dobson, etc.

  • G Key

    That’s news to me, but I was indeed raised Catholic. What a weird falsehood for a church to make! Thanks for the info.

  • LarryC

    You said exactly what I was thinking. People love the meek and mild and loving Jesus, but they forget His words of both instruction and condemnation. JESUS NEVER TOLERATED SIN – he either CONDEMNED it or FORGAVE it (upon repentance of the sinner.).
    Liberals (and Mercer is hardly a bastion of conservatism) love to expand the rights of everyone, except conservative dedicated Christians. They are now everyone’s target.

    Sectarian? What do you think liberal humanism and progressive atheism are? They are both godless sects. Yes, someone’s sect will be the standard of this country. The question is: Whose?

    Soon, the only people without any rights will be conservative white males. You know — like the guys who founded this country.

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  • Re: “Legislation aside, what should people do when and if the government does not respect their sincerely held religious beliefs and forces compliance in their business, church, ministry, etc.?”

    Whoever told anyone that the whole of society, and government, are required to obey “their sincerely held religious beliefs”? I ask that question in all seriousness. So what if there are people who don’t like gay marriage? How does it harm such a person for a couple of gays somewhere to get married? Where’s the damage? Who’s forcing such people into gay marriages against their will?

    There are lots of things in life I don’t like. Rap music, for one. Reality TV, is another. But I’m not campaigning to have both outlawed. Instead, I just live with the fact that they exist; I avoid them when I can; and put up with them when I can’t. It’s just that simple.

    It’s time for religionists to grow up and act their ages, for once.

  • yoh

    Because your version of Jesus is fairly useless and immoral.

    The mild and meek Jesus inspires people to be altrusitic, kind and act morally towards each other to avoid trespass. The judgmental version of Jesus inspires malicious actions, arrogance, indifference to others and immoral actions (in God’s name of course)

    “Yes, someone’s sect will be the standard of this country. The question is: Whose? ”


    We are a nation which must be neutral to all religious faith. Not interfering with personal belief but promoting none. People who understand religious freedom know this. You do not. You seek privilege for your faith and a right to attack others in its name. If you think conservative white males are being stripped of “rights” you had no concept of what liberties really are. You mistook undue privilege for them. I guess when one is so used to imposing on others, any advancement of civil liberties is seen as an attack.

  • N Wagf

    So, according to the gospel of Governor Deal, after Jesus forgave the woman caught on adultery, Jesus would have baked a caked and prepared a flower arrangement to celebrate her continuing the adulterous affair! I think not.

  • I’m trying to think of a reason why refusing to bake cakes or arrange flowers is supposed to do something to gay couples to somehow get them to be not-gay-anymore … but it’s not coming to me.

    Also, the mechanism by which it harms people to bake gays cakes or arrange flowers for them, also isn’t coming to me. I just don’t get any of it.

    I might be sympathetic to Christianists’ plights, if I understood precisely how and why it harms them to have gays living in the same world as them. To date, though, no one has been able to provide an explanation for this.

    I guess I’m not gifted with all the sacred insights that would make the need to discriminate against people apparent. Must be because I’m an insolent, cynical, godless agnostic heathen or something.

  • Lloyd Fleming

    I share your distress at the severe right wing tilt of Georgia. HB 757 is not the worst example, but the most recent. Of course, these initiatives do not spring from within the Georgia legislature. There are several so-called evangelistic organizations that routinely draft anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-almost everything progressive legislation, wrap it in the packaging of Fundamentalism and pass it off as the latest effort to stop the war on Christianity. These organizations are leading us into a theocratic wasteland that has the potential to destroy our republic and our religion.

  • Ben in oakland

    There are three different Mary’s that have been conflated, as Debbo said. There are actually a lot of Mary’s, beciase Mary (from Maryam or Miriam, Moses’s sister) was the name given to all priestesses. Only the deliberate conflation of these various women make Mary of Magdala, the APostle to the Apostles, into a whore.

  • Ben in oakland

    The answer to that is easy, Psi.

    It harms them because they now have to consider the people they have always despised and feared as being their equals as citizens, moral people, Christians, and human beings,

    And we can’t have that.

  • Ben in oakland

    Oh, you poor widdle victims.

    Are you really SO worried that if gay people are treated equally in society and law, that we will now start treating conservative white Christian males exactly like they have been treating everyone-not-them for the last two millennia?

    Sorry. We are far better than that. We have centuries of murders, jails, beatings, suicides, executions, vilification, and destroyed lives and families.

    What do you have? The same recycled dozen or so martyrbaters– cake bakers, florists, inn owners, and county clerks– who were appalled– APPALLED, I TELL YOU– that they might have to treat others as they insist that they should be treated.

    What is the world coming to when it starts treating the downtrodden like human beings?

  • Bert Clere

    “But they leave out the accountability – “go and sin no more.” How dare he impose a standard on her choices and behavior. Maybe she was born with the adultery gene.”

    A couple of things. If one accepts the separation of church and state then one accepts that societal codes and prohibitions cannot be religion specific. There is a distinction between saying a Christian shouldn’t do something and saying that non-Christians should be prohibited by the law from doing something because of Christian teachings.

    Also when we talk about sin I’m pretty sure that comparing adultery with homosexuality is grossly insulting to the countless gay couples in committed long term relationships. The nature of sin is that it harms us. Adultery harms a person. Who is harmed when a gay couple have been faithful to each other for 30 years and are able to visit each other in a hospital?

  • Yes, it must be an awful burden for them to have to live in a country with millions of other people, all more or less just the same as they are. Knowing that, the poor little things lose their vaunted sense of personal and moral superiority. Horrific! Intolerable!

  • Billysees

    “Go back and read the context.”

    I did. I re-read 1 Cor 6:12 and 1 Cor 10:23. I don’t see any connection or mention of food and drink and the other items you list.

    “Nowhere does it constitute a license to sin.”

    It doesn’t constitute a license to sin yes, but it does ‘allow for’ the things that folks don’t consider sin.

    Anyway, we’re wondering off from the jist of the article which the author well concludes with this —

    “He who is without sin among you may cast the first stone.” That kind of Christianity becomes a force that opens one up to the humanity of others and the grace of God to all.

  • John, the disciple of Jesus, referred to himself as “The one whom Jesus loved”
    a phrase not given to any of the other original 12. It seems particular and personal and deeply significant. Food for thought.

  • yoh

    Your version of Jesus is pretty useless and immoral. Rather than promote moral beneficial behavior it simply covers for personal malice, bigotry and arrogance. It has nothing worthy of respect and certainly does not require color of law. Why even both pretending one should treat it kindly? It has no moral or socially redeeming value.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Considering how many pews at your church are full of the divorced and remarried, I would not recommend you go there.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Those guys were Enlightenment liberals and mostly Masons.

    You are certainly free to practice your religion however you desire. However, you have no right to use it to espouse hatred and expect to be free from consequences for same.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    David, not mentioned yet is the fact that Deal himself is scandal-ridden and needs some cover. Plus, there can be no doubt the business interests which do not want fundamentalist attempts to use politics to advance their agenda and therefore adversely affect the economy – think Convention and Visitors Bureaus, Hotels, Airlines, Employers… – put the squeeze on him to wield the veto pen. But, I’ve known Deal since before he switched parties and I’ve always considered him a fundamentally decent man who decided to do the right thing anyway.

  • TX Baptist

    Dr. Gushee, I love and respect your work.

    I was a student a small Baptist University in Texas when you came and did a “Pro-life” lecture series in either 2010.

    The way you have recently articulated your “conversion” to the affirming side is moving and gives me hope as a closeted gay man in Baptist ministry.

    I have one question about this post though: should we be applauding Governor Deal’s use of this parable? Implicit in the use of this parable is that LGBT folk are still sinning and in need of repentance for being gay, we just can’t throw a stone at them. I think this parable is a powerful image when a person is caught in sin, but if an LGBT Christian is not falling to a sexual sin while being discriminated against, I don’t think this is necessarily a good parable to use.

    Again, thank you for all you do. I hope that your view will one day cause our Texas Baptist universities and seminaries to follow the grace-filled love of Jesus instead of traditionalist readings…

  • TX Baptist

    “fall of 2010”
    not either.