Q&A: Indiana Pastors Alliance’s Ron Johnson on LGBT Civil Rights

Should sexual orientation and gender identity stand beside protected groups like race and disability in the state’s Civil Rights Law? The executive director of the Indiana Pastors Alliance says ‘no.’
Even after weeks of back-and-forth debate, national media fervor, and a last-ditch legislative “fix,” the blaze ignited by Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act just keeps burning.

Depending on whom you ask, the passage of RFRA last spring either okayed discrimination against the state’s LGBT community or extended the religious protections of business owners of Christian and other faiths.

If you ask Ron Johnson—who has worked as a pastor for nearly 30 years and has headed up the Indiana Pastors Alliance for five—he would agree with the latter, saying there was nothing wrong with the original legislation and what’s on the docket for LGBT rights in the current session of the General Assembly is a step in the wrong direction for Christian Hoosiers.

The issue once again pits organizations like Johnson’s against LGBT advocacy groups like Freedom Indiana, as they debate whether or not the state should pass legislation to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s Civil Rights Law, which currently guarantees equal opportunity for race, religion, sex, disability, national origin, and ancestry.

IM talked to Johnson about why he thinks adding civil-rights protections for sexual orientation and gender identity is a bad idea, and what he’s doing to stop it.

Why do you and the Indiana Pastors Alliance oppose adding “sexual orientation, gender identity” to Indiana’s Civil Rights Law?
This bill forces Christians to compartmentalize their faith. What we’re basically saying [with this legislation] is, “You know, if you guys want to believe your bible or whatever, do that in the four walls of your church.” But as soon as you go public? “Sorry, now you have to leave your faith at home, or you have to privatize it, or you have to keep it at church.” And that just simply is not acceptable for a sincere Christian. We believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of all of our lives—our marriages, our families, our workplace, wherever we go. That’s what it means to be a believer in Jesus Christ. To somehow tell me to compartmentalize my faith is just an attack on historic Christianity. That’s just something that we can’t tolerate.

The other thing is that this bill follows a false narrative that somehow Indiana is going to suffer economically unless we create special protected-class status for the LGBT community. That simply is a false narrative. Indiana’s economy, right now, is booming. I believe just the opposite narrative is true. When we provide economic freedom and religious freedom for entrepreneurs and business owners, we actually create a healthy environment for them to succeed in.

You mentioned “special protected-class status.” What do you mean by that?
[My organization and I] are for equal rights under the law for all Hoosiers. That is a biblical principle: equal rights under the law, no partiality. But when you create special rights for some, you are taking away rights from others. That’s not a good thing. That is not justice.

I believe LGBT people already have the same rights everybody else has, and [I don’t believe in] creating a special protected class and calling this behavior a civil right. We’re equating it with the color of a person’s skin. Sexual orientation and gender identity are radically different from race. Our argument is that they should not be elevated to a protected class in the same way that race is, because we believe as Christians that sexual behavior is a choice.

The LGBT worldview and the Judeo-Christian worldview are opposites. When you try to reconcile sexual license with religious liberty, those two things don’t go together.

Is there specific scripture or Christian belief you identify as not matching up with this civil-rights addition?
We just believe in the Bible. When you look at the clear teaching of scripture from Genesis to Revelation, homosexual behavior is identified as a sin.

LGBT feelings are sinful feelings. They’re legitimate, but they’re sinful, and we need to deal with that. It’s not that we don’t love you. It’s not that we won’t try to help you. But we’re not going to affirm the fact that you have sexual attractions for the same gender. That, the Bible says, is immoral. And it’s wrong. We would not celebrate the sin—we would love you as the person. We believe that Jesus Christ and the Gospel have the power to change those desires and to change you. Christianity, historically, does not view homosexuality as something that’s just who you are, just how God made you, and that we just need to embrace that. That’s just not the teaching of scripture.

Although none of the bills related to civil rights have been formally discussed by legislators yet, one of the bills, Senate Bill 100, would grant both LGBT protections and exceptions for “religious liberty and conscience.” Do you see that as a compromise?
The LGBT worldview and the Judeo-Christian worldview are opposites. When you try to reconcile sexual license with religious liberty, those two things don’t go together. Somebody is going to lose.

This is not a compromise in any sense at all. We don’t gain anything. We lose everything. And when you look at Freedom Indiana, they hate the bill, too. The reason they hate the bill is because they say it doesn’t go far enough. Every bit of that radical agenda—they’ll never be satisfied until every bit of that is implemented in this state. It may start out now as a mild compromise as viewed by some, but it’s not going to stay mild. It will absolutely open the door, and we will be dealing with this issue every single legislative session.

The Indiana Pastors Alliance was involved with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last year. How is this bill different from RFRA?
The initial RFRA was not a discriminatory bill in any way, shape, or form. It was designed to be a shield to keep the government from intruding in the private marketplace.

What the new legislation will most certainly do is turn it into a sword for those in the LGBT community who are looking for full acceptance of their lifestyle and their agenda to punish those who are seeking to express their religious convictions in the marketplace. That’s not hypothetical. That’s happening all over America right now, especially in the areas where we’re talking about marriage, where there are Christian people who believe the Bible’s teaching is very clear that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Part of the problem with this legislation is it criminalizes the belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman and encourages an open door for litigation and the punishment of those who simply don’t share that belief.

You recently held a press conference. How else are you reaching out to Hoosiers to create a strong Christian base to block this legislation?
We’re trying to educate our leadership [in the clergy] as to why this is a bad idea.

[The Indiana Pastors Alliance was founded because] we saw that if we do not get pastors re-engaged with these issues and leading in their communities on these issues, then we are going to lose the America we all grew up in. We saw the erosion of life. We saw the erosion of family. We saw the erosion of liberty. That’s when we realized we need to dedicate our efforts to connecting with other pastors, training pastors, equipping pastors in a Biblical worldview, and helping pastors to be a little more savvy about speaking out on the issues.

Our alliance is growing as people become more and more concerned, and our goal is to educate pastors on public-policy issues and encourage them to lead on their pulpits, because the scriptures are not silent on these issues. The scriptures speak on all these issues. What we’re trying to tell pastors is that these are not fundamentally political issues. These are moral issues.

Is this your organization’s main goal this session, or are there other issues you’re focusing your attention on?
I think this bill is the one that’s in everybody’s face. This is the main issue. But any bill that’s dealing with marriage, any bill that’s dealing with life, and frankly, any bill that’s dealing with an issue that the Bible addresses, we should be engaged in. We should be providing a valuable perspective that is missing.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Read an opposing viewpoint from Freedom Indiana’s Chris Paulsen.