At least nine U.S. cities and five states have banned non-essential travel by government employees to North Carolina, Mississippi or both, claiming religious liberty bills adopted there discriminate against homosexual and transgendered persons.
A Mississippi pastor told Baptist Press he’s proud of his state legislature’s courage and confused by the seeming hypocrisy of some critics. Pastors in Vermont and Washington – two states to enact bans – said such actions are a predictable outworking of the secular worldview that dominates their local cultures.
Joining Washington and Vermont in instituting travel bans were the states of New York, Minnesota and Connecticut. Cities to institute bans included Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; Santa Fe, N.M.; and Washington, according to USA Today.
Chas Rowland, pastor of Bovina Baptist Church in Vicksburg, Miss., noted he was “proud of our state officials for making a stand for what is right in the face of the threats.”
“I think our major problem has been for far too long in America in general that we are so dominated by money,” said Rowland, a member of Mississippi Baptists’ Christian Action Commission. “It’s about time we started making decisions based on what’s right and wrong objectively as opposed to what profits our bank accounts.”
In addition to state and local governments, corporations have responded to the religious liberty legislation. In North Carolina, PayPal cancelled a $3.6 million expansion plan, Braeburn Pharmaceuticals said it was reconsidering plans to build a $50 million facility and the NBA suggested it might not follow through with plans to hold the 2017 all-star game in Charlotte, the Associated Press reported.
Rowland said at least some state and local government travel bans appear to be cases of selective outrage.
“I see a lot of hypocrisy that’s behind some of it,” Rowland said, “because there’s this idea we’re going to not travel to these states that have passed these laws, and yet there’s travel to other [countries] that are committing serious human rights offenses.”
Todd Starnes of Fox News argued in an April 7 column that hypocrisy is especially evident in the corporate world’s reaction, with PayPal, for instance, doing business in 25 countries where homosexual acts are illegal, including five where the penalty is death.
North Carolina’s law requires individuals in state government buildings to use restrooms designated for the gender indicated on their birth certificates and institutes a statewide nondiscrimination law that does not include protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
Mississippi’s law forbids discrimination against individuals and businesses that hold traditional views of marriage and gender. The measure includes a ban of forced participation in same-sex weddings.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin told NPR April 7 that the travel ban he imposed against Mississippi and North Carolina is designed to combat “extreme hatred and bigotry” cloaked with language of religious liberty.
To argue that the Mississippi and North Carolina laws protect religious liberty is “exactly the same argument that was made by some when we ended slavery,” Shumlin said.
“This is no different. And I never thought in my lifetime that I would see this kind of extreme hatred and bigotry being played out in states where governors are literally signing laws that are no different than saying to people of color, ‘You shall not eat here. You shall not drink out of this water fountain,’“ Shumlin said.
Chris Goeppner, pastor of Riverbank Church in White River Junction, Vt., said Shumlin’s comments illustrate a sense of “social consciousness” among Vermonters that does not include any consideration of religion.
“The typical Vermonter or left-of-center northeastern person doesn’t even consider the religious aspect of the decision” to instate travel bans, Goeppner said. “It’s not even in play. They’re considering the absolute civil liberty and freedom of the ‘affected,’ which in this case would be the transsexual.”
In Vermont culture, “there’s a social self-righteousness” analogous to the “religious self-righteousness” prevalent in other regions, Goeppner said, adding self-righteousness of all sorts can be overcome only through believing the gospel.
Dale Braswell, pastor of LifePoint Church in Seattle-area Lynwood, Wash., agreed. He said Washington state political leaders “genuinely believe they are doing what is right” but lack a Christian worldview to guide them properly.
Braswell does not believe the secular mindset among his local and state government leaders will result in a widespread threat to religious liberty within the next decade. Yet even if it does, he said it won’t change the way he does ministry.
“The only thing that will really change is maybe the consequences we face for being obedient to the Word. But none of this has affected our call,” Braswell said, adding, “The gospel is no stranger to persecution and difficulty. In fact, sometimes the gospel flourishes better in those environments.”
Even so, Christians in the Bible Belt hope to preserve their remaining religious liberty and the residual influence of Judeo-Christian morality in their culture.
Lonnie Wilkey, editor of Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal, advised pro-gay and pro-transgender activists in other states, “Mind your own business.”
North Carolina’s restroom privacy bill “sent supporters of the LGBT population into a tailspin,” Wilkey wrote in an April 7 editorial. “It never ceases to amaze me how this group always lambastes those who disagree with their lifestyle as ‘intolerant’ when they are the most intolerant group on our planet today. They won’t be satisfied until everyone welcomes and supports their lifestyle.
“Breaking news – that’s not going to happen,” Wilkey wrote. “There is still a remnant (although it appears to be growing smaller) of people who still believe in morals and biblical values.”
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, expressed a similar sentiment.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous that the governor of another state or the mayor of another city would want to impose their radical bathroom policies on North Carolina,” said Fitzgerald, a trustee of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
North Carolina legislators rightfully sought “to restore the freedom of churches, schools and businesses to decide these policies about bathrooms and the use of their facilities [for same-sex weddings] for themselves,” Fitzgerald said.
USA Today speculated the travel bans may be “largely symbolic in their economic effects.”
Paul Stam, a Southern Baptist and member of the North Carolina House of Representatives, said the concept of ceasing “nonessential government travel” puzzles him to begin with.
“I would hope that governments would never spend taxpayer money on nonessential travel,” Stam said in an email.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)