Our AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin sends the following dispatch:
The Rev. Bryant Wright, senior pastor at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, delivered the devotional Wednesday in the state House.
In that sermon aimed at lawmakers, Wright twice equated gay marriage to “erotic liberty.” Here’s a sampling of his message:
Bryant Wright, senior pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, in a 2010 AJC file photo.
“It is just one example of what our culture is going to increasingly see as an issue of erotic liberty versus religious liberty,” Wright said. “We’re liable to see this with our military chaplains in the years ahead if they in good conscience believe they cannot perform same-sex weddings and could be kicked out of the military.”
That looming threat, he said, is a reminder of lawmakers’ role in making sure government is “protective of its citizens against evil and is working for the common good.”
Religious liberty, Wright said, is a “foundational aspect” of the U.S. Constitution and is for the “common good and welfare of man.”
He urged legislators to remember the nation’s heritage “even though a majority of your constituencies have embraced erotic liberty over religious liberty.”
This is not the first time Wright and Johnson Ferry Baptist have drawn a line in the sand over gay rights. In 2013 the church ended its Boy Scouts program after the organization announced it would allow gay boys into its ranks.
Wright’s comments Wednesday spurred immediate outrage in some quarters.
Simone Bell, one of three openly gay members of the Legislature, posted this on her Facebook page:
"My direct response to him:
"Told him he is a disgrace to the clergy, the Word and the state of Georgia. That he squandered his opportunity to bring a message of love to people who have sacrificed to serve the state. That his religious freedom is not being trampled upon, but that he is trampling upon mine and 300,000 + more Georgian's religious freedom to be who God created us to be. He responded that we clearly have a difference of opinion. I told him we have a difference of HUMANITY."
Anthony Kreis, who teaches at the University of Georgia and is an expert on legal issues surrounding gay marriage, said comments like Wright’s relegate gays to “second-class citizens.” From his Twitter account:
The Georgia House is the People's House. It should not be used as a pulpit to ostracize, stigmatize and demean. Apologies are owed. #gapol— Anthony M. Kreis (@AnthonyMKreis) January 14, 2015
The sermon came as the fight over so-called religious liberty bills heats up in the Capitol. Dueling events Tuesday featured groups supporting and opposed to measures that would prevent government from interfering with an individual’s right to practice his or her religion.