Church leaders respond to Supreme Court ruling

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Reaction to Monday’s Supreme Court ruling in the case of Bostock vs. Clayton County, Georgia, has left many religious leaders with questions as to how the ruling will affect them. The high court ruled that the definition of “sex” in Title VII does include sexual identity and gender identity.

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. 

Brent Leatherwood, chief of staff of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, says, “This decision went far beyond the bounds of the Civil Rights Act to redefine the meaning of 'sex'––something even Congress has not done.

“The precedents set here will have major implications going forward on how the public meaning of words at the time a law is passed should mean for how they are interpreted in the future,” wrote Russell Moore, president of the ERLC.

He believes the ruling sets a precedent that will prevent legislators from knowing the full implications of what they are voting to pass, “because words might change cultural meaning dramatically between the time of passage and some future court case.” 

Churches and other faith-based organizations are trying to discern the implications for their organizations in the wake of the decision. Leatherwood says, “The ministerial exemption for faith-based organizations remains in effect with today’s ruling and that is an important protection for our churches.”

Jonathan Whitehead, a Missouri-based attorney who represented 24 Family Policy Council organizations in the case, reacted to the piece, “In redefining ‘sex’, the Supreme Court has indirectly triggered hundreds or thousands of lawsuits against religious groups.”

Whitehead believes the ruling goes beyond what Congress intended in 1964. “In one June morning, six judges decided that millennia of Christian convictions about the sexes are now legally suspect in the United States.”

Many Kentucky Baptist churches and the denomination’s agencies and institutions are wondering how the ruling will impact them. “Monday’s Supreme Court decision leaves Kentucky Baptists with more questions than answers. How this decision will impact our churches, our seminaries, our national SBC entities, as well as our Kentucky Baptist agencies and institutions such as Sunrise Children’s Services, Oneida Baptist Institute, Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Crossings Camps, and others is yet unknown,” said Todd Gray, Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director-Treasurer.

Leatherwood agrees the ruling leaves much to be sorted out. “Overall, the court was not clear on many issues that will stem from this ruling and the impact they will have not only on Christians, but others relying on religious freedom or conscience protections.”

Gray says the ruling does not change the mission of Kentucky Baptists. He says it brings to mind 1 Corinthians 16:9, “For a wide door for effective work has opened for me, and there are many adversaries.”

Leatherwood said the ERLC will continue to track the implications of the decision and respond accordingly. “One thing we will be watching is the future autonomy of religious organizations in making hiring decisions.”

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