Reflections on Springfield’s nondiscrimination ordinance repeal (via Al-Jazeera America interview)

Here’s a link to the interview I did with Al-Jazeera America related to the repeal of Springfield’s nondiscrimination ordinance. This story was also picked up by the New York Times & Time.


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Fact Check on Question 1: Ten Things You Need to Know


 In what will likely be my last post related to Question 1, which appears on Tuesday’s ballot in Springfield, I simply want to clarify a lot of the rhetoric that is going around Springfield right now, in large part because there is a lot of misinformation out there. (For those of you outside of Springfield, Question 1 asks Springfield voters if they wish to repeal the nondiscrimination ordinance that adds protections related to sexual orientation and gender identity.)

1. Fact: If voters choose not to repeal the non-discrimination ordinance, bathroom and/or locker room predators and all who invade the privacy of others will still be breaking the law. “The ordinance does not make any changes around criminal conduct. Criminal conduct will continue to be prosecuted.”[1] As such, “Anyone who tries to enter a woman’s restroom to harm, harass or invade the privacy of people will still be subject to arrest and prosecution.” In addition, among the 200 or so cities across the country (including 14 in Missouri) who have successfully implemented these kinds of laws, there has been no increase in public safety incidents.[2] “All the evidence suggests an assault or crime of some nature is highly unlikely because of the ordinance.”[3]

2. Fact: Religious organizations are exempt from this bill. As Springfield’s city attorney Dan Wichmer recently clarified, in contrast to what some religious leaders have mistakenly argued, “there’s explicit religious exemption for employment, for anybody that works for a religious entity or works for a religiously affiliated entity.”[4][5] Furthermore, “Religious institutions are exempt from all nondiscrimination laws–they can choose to hire and fire whoever they want despite race, creed, sex, handicap, age, national origin and ancestry.”[6]

3. Fact: Businesses will not be forced to hire lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender employees, and landlords will not be forced to rent to them.[7] Furthermore, this ordinance does not require businesses to provide services that are in conflict with their values for reasons unrelated to age, race, creed, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, or ancestry, sexual orientation or gender identity, nor does it require any employer to hire someone or to grant preferential treatment to any individual or to any group because of age, race, creed, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, or ancestry, sexual orientation or gender identity. It only provides protections related to employment (e.g., a person can’t be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity), public accommodations (e.g., a person can’t be kicked out of a restaurant because of their sexual orientation or gender identity), and housing (e.g., a person can’t be evicted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity). A business cannot be forced to close in any way whatsoever based on this ordinance.[8][9][10] An extended quote by one scholar commenting on federal law helps clarify this matter:

Businesses are free to discriminate for all kinds of reasons: you’re not wearing a coat and tie; the portraits you propose offend the photographer’s artistic sensibility, [etc.]…

Why is one kind of discrimination OK and the other is not?

It’s because we have a whole slew of federal and state laws that explicitly say that in public commerce, employment, and housing you can’t discriminate based on race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.

This list is not just randomly created to describe the glorious diversity of the human race.

Each of these categories is explicitly named because there’s an actual awful history of discrimination in commerce, employment, and housing for these specific reasons.

There’s also a long, tragic, brutal history of people losing jobs, housing, service, physical safety, and even life itself because someone else thought they were gay, lesbian, or transgender. So it’s not surprising that the federal government and a number of states and municipalities have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of categories explicitly protected against discrimination in commerce, employment, housing, and government services.[11]

4. Fact: The Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights DOES NOT have investigatory powers related to this ordinance in any way whatsoever, including search and seizure of any kind. To again quote Springfield City Attorney Dan Wichmer, this ordinance makes “the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights explicitly advisory.”[12]

5. Fact: Numerous cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity exist, but because there is no law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, there’s no way of documenting it in a court of law. Documented cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity are not on record in local courts of law because there is currently no law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.[13]

6. Fact: Pastors can still teach whatever they wish to teach about the Bible. “No ordinance restricts free speech for a pastor.”[14]

7. Fact: This ordinance has absolutely nothing to do with gay marriage. And even if it did, clergy members are free not to perform weddings that conflict with their values.[15][16]

8. Fact: This ordinance will not affect public school curriculum whatsoever. “Public school curricula is determined by the local school district. Private schools retain full control of their curricula. City ordinances do not have jurisdiction in the school system.”[17]

9. Fact: This ordinance does not provide extra rights for people who are gay or transgender. According to Missouri State University constitutional law expert, Dr. Kevin Pybas, “Opponents of the anti-discrimination ordinance want to cast it as special rights that gays and lesbians are getting something others don’t get, but that’s hardly the case.”[18]

10. Fact: No one will lose their constitutional right to freedom of speech. When it comes to legality, Dr. Pybas notes, this ordinance “is in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.”[19]

Lastly, it’s important to keep in mind that Question 1 on the Tuesday ballot asks whether or not Springfield shall repeal the ordinance. Therefore, a “yes” vote is for repeal, while a “no” vote is for upholding the ordinance.

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Celebrate Easter at Brentwood Christian Church

Originally posted on Brentwood Christian Church:

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all darkness.” – Desmond Tutu

Traditional Worship – 9:00 a.m. in the sanctuary
Contemporary Worship – 10:00 a.m. in the downstairs Fellowship Hall
Progressive Worship – 11:00 a.m. in the sanctuary

The annual Children’s Easter Egg Hunt will begin at 10:00 a.m. in the west end of the building (rain or shine).

We are proud to be an open and affirming Disciples of Christ congregation that celebrates the dignity, equality and beauty at the heart of Christ’s unconditional love. Jesus didn’t exclude people, and neither do we.

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Memory Eternal: Marcus Borg

Originally posted on WIT:

Marcus Borg Marcus Borg (1942-2015)

Today I attended the memorial service for the New Testament scholar Marcus Borg.  It was one of the most beautiful and moving celebrations of the life and death of a person I have ever been privileged to witness.  I have never experienced such a tangible sense shared love and joy.

I have never actually met Marcus Borg, but for the last few years, I have been regularly attending and teaching in the church where Marcus was appointed as a Canon Theologian, and Marianne Borg served as a priest for many years.  They both left and retired to their home in Eastern Oregon before I arrived, but the impression of their presence remains.  I cannot possibly count the number of times I have heard someone in this parish say, “Marcus allowed me to be a Christian again,” or “Marcus’s work was such a…

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SOGI opponents not biblical enough

We shouldn’t be surprised that several Christians have recently used the Bible as a weapon against the LGBTQ community in Springfield, particularly when it comes to the matter of relationships and, by extension, equal rights. Their use of the Bible is extraordinary. It’s not that their arguments are unbiblical. To insist that scripture is clear about marriage being between one man and one woman is quite true (which is the primary claim made to oppose same-sex relationships and LGBT identity as being normative). The problem, however, is that their arguments are not biblical enough. If we are going to insist that biblical norms related to human sexuality and relationships dictate the laws of the land (even though, last time we checked, we live in a democracy and not a theocracy), then we need to embrace everything the Bible clearly teaches about human sexuality and relationships, beginning with marriage.

From a biblical perspective, we can insist that marriage is between one man and one woman, but what else? Aside from women being literally treated as property (emphasis on literally), should we also insist, as Deuteronomy 22:28–29 does, that a woman who is the victim of assault marry her attacker? Should we pass a law stating that a widow with no sons must marry her brother-in-law in order to keep the command of God (Genesis 38:6–10 and Deuteronomy 25:5–10)? Perhaps we should—in light of Deuteronomy 7:3, Ezra 9:11–12, and Nehemiah 13:25, 27—prohibit U.S. citizens from marrying non-citizens and/or those outside of their particular religion. Or perhaps we could invoke the examples of Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon and finally legalize polygamy.

And what of the New Testament? Should divorce be outlawed, since Jesus himself unequivocally condemns it in Luke 16:18 and Mark 10:11-12, then offers it a qualified condemnation in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9? Should all divorcees be denied the right to remarry, since both Jesus and Paul are against it (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)? Or, in terms of equal rights, perhaps all women who hold supervisory roles over men should be fired by legal precedent and be replaced by men (1 Timothy 2:12)? Why aren’t Christians trying to prohibit and repeal such things, since they represent clear violations of biblical principles? As far as SOGI is concerned, based on this criteria, shouldn’t a Christian have the right to deny housing to someone who is divorced, or fire an employee for getting remarried? After all, this is the logic that opponents to SOGI invoke.

But whether they’re aware of it or not, Christians who stand opposed to equal rights, protections, and relationships for LGBT people aren’t doing so on biblical grounds. Rather, they draw on a select few verses that support their previously held beliefs and assumptions. And in case you’re keeping count, there are twice as many verses cited in this article alone (verses that support mandates no Christians in the community are trying to repeal) than all the references in the Bible (six at most) that are used to condemn LGBT people.

When it comes to making ethical decisions based on faith, let us appeal not to our worst instincts, but to the timeless truths of love, dignity, and compassion that our sacred traditions point to at their very best. As Christian pastors, we’re in favor of “No repeal” — not because all of our traditions have been perfect in all times and all places, but because Love is the one thing that is (1 John 4:7-8).

Rev. Darryl J. Schafer
Senior Minister
Billings Christian Church

Rev. Phil Snider
Senior Minister
Brentwood Christian Church


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In memory of Marcus Borg — great scholar, and even better human being

I’m really sad to hear that Marcus Borg has passed away. I’ve looked up to him for many years now, and countless people from my church have expressed how much his writing and speaking touched their lives, as it has mine. Just last night, before any of us had heard the news, someone at Brentwood mentioned that it was his writing that brought them back to Christianity.

I will always remember the time Emily Bowen-Marler and I had just finished final proofs for our book, and all the endorsements were supposed to be ready, but the publisher somehow got its wires crossed and didn’t get the manuscript to the endorsers like they were supposed to. Which meant that I had to ask Marcus a huge favor. I didn’t know him all that well, but here I was, a new author, just a couple of weeks before my first book was supposed to go to press, having to ask if he would still read the manuscript and still consider endorsing the book, and “oh by the way, can you do it in two weeks time?” (which is far, far from ideal in the publishing industry, to say the least). But he graciously agreed, and wouldn’t you know it, two weeks later he contacted me with an endorsement for our book. He could’ve easily, easily said he didn’t have time, but he still offered his support. Reading his endorsement felt like an out of body experience for me. Surreal, lovely, magical. It’s one of my favorite memories. I once told him that he is a bit of a patron saint at Brentwood, and I wasn’t entirely kidding (perhaps not at all, now that I reflect on it). He is now among that great cloud of witnesses. I am grateful for him, and I am in his debt. Rest in peace, Marcus. This world is a better place because of you.

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Honor Dr. King by fixing societal structures

My latest Springfield News-Leader column

As each year goes by, I’m experiencing more and more mixed feelings when celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

It’s not that I think Americans shouldn’t take time to honor the legacy of Dr. King. After all, I believe Dr. King is the greatest Christian theologian in our nation’s history.

And it’s not that I think we shouldn’t have a national holiday in his honor. We have a variety of national holidays, and one of the primary things Dr. King left us with is a legacy of non-violent resistance (deeply rooted in, but not confined to, the example of Jesus), and it’s vitally important for us as a nation to remember the virtues of non-violence, especially when we so frequently rush to arms and valorize warfare.

Every year my church and my family march with hundreds of others in the Springfield area out of a shared commitment to justice, dignity and equality, and I wish to continue these practices well into the future. Indeed, I want to see them grow.

So why am I experiencing such mixed feelings?

Part of it, I fear, has to do with the way our nation frequently runs the risk of trivializing the deep import of Dr. King’s memory and message — a trivialization that harbors the potential of distracting us from the true — and much more difficult — pursuit of justice and equality.

During the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, we hear a lot of quotes on television and social media related to how everyone — no matter their background, race, or class — is created equally and therefore should be treated with dignity. Which is no doubt true. And we celebrate the beautiful call in Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, reminding ourselves that our treatment of another person should be based on the content of their character and not on the color of their skin. Something else that is no doubt true.

But what we don’t hear much about are Dr. King’s penetrating critiques of societal structures that systematically take advantage of people — structures that produce unfair playing fields in which a person — no matter how good the content of their interpersonal character may or may not be — doesn’t always share in the same advantages that others might have, whether related to education, business, safety, or economic security (this is why racism is always about far more than personal prejudice — it’s also about systems of power that are set up to benefit some at the expense of others).

When Dr. King retold the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, he certainly highlighted the importance of the Good Samaritan helping the man who was robbed, beaten, and left for dead along the Jericho Road. But he didn’t limit his analysis to the interpersonal virtues of the Good Samaritan. He went on to say that:

“A true [transformation] of values will cause us to question the fairness of many of our policies. On the one hand, we’re called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway.”

Even though segregation and inequality are actually on the rise in America, we’re conditioned to believe that to talk about systemic racism is no longer necessary in our so-called “post-racial America.” After all, doesn’t our annual celebration of Dr. King prove that we’ve arrived? That justice and equality have been achieved? Hardly.

It’s far too easy for us to neglect the full import of Dr. King’s legacy — a legacy that many white Americans like myself wish to conveniently repress or ignore. But when we reduce his legacy only to how we treat one another in interpersonal exchanges, and don’t pay attention to the way systems of power can be structured in unfair ways that prevent everyone from getting a fair shake, we don’t truly honor the man or the message. In such cases, we prefer celebrating the parts of his legacy that don’t challenge or push us out of our comfort zones.

If we really wish to honor Dr. King, we must look at the way systemic injustice is structured and brokered in a society in which too many people are left hurt and abandoned along the Jericho Roads of our world. This is no easy task. But it’s precisely what Dr. King did. It’s also what got him killed.

Do we truly have the courage to pick up where Dr. King left off? Or is the weight of pursuing true justice — and liberty for all — more than we can handle?

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