What to Make of House Bill 4474
On June 20, the Michigan House passed the bill HB-4474. If signed into law, it will overhaul the ethnic intimidation statute that provides protections based on race, color, religion, gender, and national origin. The proposed bill adds to the list gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes. What are Seventh-day Adventists to make of this bill? What does it say?
[Update: The bill has not been signed into law. The House referred the proposed bill to a senate committee on June 21, 2023.]
You may have heard about the bill (HB-4474) that was passed by the Michigan House on June 20. The bill is making its rounds in the state senate and the governor is expected to sign the bill into law.
At crux are concerns that the bill makes it a felony for someone to misgender or use a not-preferred pronoun when referencing others and the fallout for faith-based entities and persons expressing the biblical position on these and similar matters.
What We Believe
The Church holds the biblical position (See Biblical Principles Relating to Sexuality and the Transgender Phenomenon, #1.) that “God created humanity as two persons who are respectively identified as male and female in terms of gender,” and the Bible also “inextricably ties gender to biological sex (Gen 1:27; 2:22-24).” Furthermore, the “human being is a psychosomatic unity,” meaning that the mind and body—together—constitute the make-up of every individual. Consequently, Scripture “does not endorse dualism in the sense of a separation between one’s body and one’s sense of sexuality.”
Equally important is how we treat others that differ from our belief system, especially because we want to avoid creating unnecessary barriers and maintain the potential to win all persons to Jesus. The Church acknowledges Jesus’ command to love everyone and that all are to be treated with dignity and respect, including those who identify as transgender persons. The Church correctly states, “Acts of ridicule, abuse, or bullying towards transgender people are incompatible with the biblical commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Mark 12:31).” (See Biblical Principles Relating to Sexuality and the Transgender Phenomenon, #7.)
Summary of the Bill
If passed, the bill (HB-4474) will overhaul the existing ethnic intimidation statute that provides protections (since 1988) against malicious or intentional intimidation and harassment because of a person’s “race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.” The bill in question adds to the list among others—gender identity or expression, and sexual orientation—as protected classes.
Under the proposed bill, “a person is guilty of a hate crime if that person maliciously and intentionally” (emphasis supplied) engages in force or violence, injures, or damages/destroys the property of another because of their race, religion, sex, and so on. As mentioned, protections would also be provided against violations related to sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.
The concern for many Michigan Adventists is the wording that makes it a felony to “intimidate” others by “words or actions.” The implication being that preaching or teaching the biblical position regarding sexual orientation or gender identity/expression or stating the biblical posture in the workplace would be considered an act of intimidation, and thus a felony under the new law.
The proposed bill defines intimidation as follows (emphasis supplied):
A willful course of conduct involving repeated or continuing harassment of another individual that would cause a reasonable individual to feel terrorized, frightened, or threatened, and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, or threatened. Intimidate does not include constitutionally protected activity or conduct that serves a legitimate purpose.
Taking the bill at face value and in the reading of the letter of the law, being guilty of intimidation entails malicious, intentional harassment that is repeated and ongoing, resulting in a reasonable person feeling terrorized, frightened, or threatened. Activities or conduct protected by the United States Constitution—which includes the constitutionally protected right to exercise (& express) one’s faith at the workplace or pulpit—are not deemed intimidating conduct according to the bill. Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have also broadened the Free Exercise Clause, providing Christians more protections in the expression and exercise of faith.
Every Adventist is called to stand firm for biblical truth, regardless of the consequences. It behooves every member to also represent the spirit and love of Jesus in word and deed to one another and in our local communities. Our stated mission is to take the everlasting gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. To accomplish this monumental task, it’s important to exercise tact and wisdom to keep the doors open as long as possible so that all that can be saved might be saved. If the door to reaching the heart is ultimately shut, let it not be at the hands of any Seventh-day Adventist.
As it stands now, it's premature to jump to conclusions regarding how the bill will be enforced because the law has not been established. Maintaining a vigilant and watchful eye on proposed legislation that has the potential to restrict religious liberty is essential at this time. Like the Bereans, prior to arriving at any conclusion it's valuable to give ourselves the opportunity and privilege to do the thinking for ourselves. When referencing a point of contention with this and other proposed legislation, the primary reference point needs to be the bill itself (all of it), and not simply the opinions of others outside our faith community.
“The religious liberty question is a very important subject and requires to be treated with great wisdom and discretion, lest by mismoves there is brought about a crisis before we, as a people, are prepared for it. The burden of our message for this time is to voice the message of the third angel, ‘the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus’. . . . There should be special cautions to our workmen to be careful and not create opposition, and provoke the powers that be to exact that which would limit the work in the many places where it should go. . . . It is our privilege to see Jesus as He is, full of compassion, amiable, courteous, divinely polite, full of goodness and mercy and forgiveness of our sins” (10LtMs, Lt 63).
Please note: We are monitoring and tracking the progress of HB-4474 and recognize the need for vigilance and attentiveness to the bill in question. Please continue to keep this a matter of prayer.