Christmas and the Courts

One of the things I love about Christmas is that it reminds us that Christianity is an embodied religion. It’s a religion rooted upon the reality that God himself came into the world, took on real human flesh with real hands and real feet in Jesus of Nazareth, lived a sinless life to fulfill the Law of God, and then physically died on a cross and was bodily resurrected for the salvation of his sinful people around the world. Apart from an embodied, incarnate, flesh-and-blood messiah taking on human form as a new Adam to overcome the sin of the first Adam in whom we all stand, there are no “good tidings we bring” and there is no “Merry Christmas.”

Because of who Jesus is and because of what he has done, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Php. 2:9-11). Because Jesus is Lord, Christians are called to “take every thought captive to obey” Christ and to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (2 Cor. 10:5, Rom. 12:1). This means that Christianity isn’t just a set of abstract doctrines about God. Rather, Christianity is an embodied religion where doctrine about God necessarily impacts every thought, word, and deed of God’s people under the lordship of Christ.

The apostle Paul writes, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Because Jesus is Lord, every facet of life is to be put under His subjection, including sexuality. To think that Christianity is merely a set of pie-in-the-sky doctrines about God with no relevance to flesh-and-blood daily life is an affront to Christianity, more importantly, to God himself.

Which brings me to a recent court case: Aubry McMahon vs World Vision. World Vision—a non-profit religious organization who works with the poor and oppressed to tackle poverty and justice while proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ—offered Ms. McMahon a job as a customer service representative but later rescinded the job offer upon learning that Ms. McMahon is in a same-sex marriage that violates World Vision’s Christian religious beliefs and practices. Ms. McMahon took World Vision to court, arguing that World Vision violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prevents businesses from discriminatory hiring practices on the basis of sex, now understood in light of the Bostock case to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Title VII includes an exemption for religious organizations: “This subchapter shall not apply to an employer with respect to the employment of aliens outside any State, or to a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities.” Upon this exemption, in part, World Vision rested its defense.

The judge in the case initially ruled in favor of World Vision but subsequently changed his mind to rule in favor of Ms. McMahon. The judge concluded, “World Vision cannot invoke the religious employer exemption to defend against Ms. McMahon’s Title VII claims because those claims are premised on sex and sexual orientation discrimination—not religious discrimination.”

Do you see what the court is doing? The court is separating what Christ has joined together by severing sexual orientation from religious belief and practice, as if these are categorically separate spheres of life. They are creating a false dichotomy. And in doing so, the courts are making a religious interpretation about Christian doctrine and the Lordship of Christ, about what is religious and what isn’t, which is precluded by constitutional law, and then expecting Christians to conform to the court’s erroneous opinion. The result is that religious liberty is being trampled upon as the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, the Ecclesiastical Abstention/Church Autonomy doctrine, and the religious exemption to Title VII are being undermined and outright rejected.

The implications of this case are far and wide. Should it stand, your church could forseeably be liable for damages for not hiring an LGBTQ+ applicant for an accountant, administrative assistant, or other non-ministerial staff position on the grounds of sexuality. Within the Southern Baptist Convention, every entity could be liable for damages for rejecting an LGBTQ+ candidate for a non-ministerial role within the organization on the grounds of sexuality, even though such a position on sexuality is clearly opposed to our convention’s historic religious beliefs and practices.

This Christmas, I’m thankful for partners like the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Alliance Defending Freedom who understand that Christianity has always been an embodied religion in which all things are called to subjection to Christ and who valiantly and vigorously defend our religious liberty in a day and age when it’s regularly under attack. It’s my prayer that this court decision will be overturned as the legal process continues. Nevertheless, ultimate hope isn’t found in fallible, earthly governments. It’s found in the incarnate Christ who is now eternally ruling and reigning over the cosmos. Jesus is Lord. Merry Christmas, indeed!

By |December 13th, 2023|Categories: Blog, Featured|

About the Author:

Church Administrator at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church