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The Challenger Anniversary and the Equality Act: Three Responses to a Perilous Threat

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Thursday, January 28, 2021
A wreath stands next to the NASA Challenger Memorial in winter

The Challenger Anniversary and the Equality Act: Three Responses to a Perilous Threat


Three men are paying $55 million each to fly on a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station. They constitute the first private space station crew in history.

However, they will not be the first private citizens to serve as astronauts. That honor will forever belong to Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire high school teacher who was chosen in 1985 to fly aboard the space shuttle Challenger.

On this day in 1986, she and six NASA astronauts lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Seventy-three seconds later, the shuttle broke up. There were no survivors.

President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation that evening with the pledge, “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.'”

What you need to know about the Equality Act

I remember vividly the tragedy and our nation’s unified response. Such unity is indispensable in facing crisis effectively. As President Biden stated in his inaugural address, “We have never, ever, ever failed in America when we have acted together.”

This is why I am so deeply concerned about his administration’s commitment to the so-called Equality Act and its consequences for our nation.

The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, this is crucial: the Act forbids appeal to the 1993 Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) on the part of individuals or organizations.

Here’s what this means in practice:

Faith-based hospitals and insurers could be forced to provide gender-transition therapies that violate their religious beliefs.

Children could seek to change their gender without parental knowledge or consent.

Faith-based adoption and foster care agencies could be forced to place children with same-sex couples or lose their licenses.

The Act would dismantle sex-specific facilities, sports, and other spaces. As a result, biological females would be forced to compete with biological males in sports and for athletic scholarships. Sexual assaults on girls in bathrooms and showers could escalate.

Faith-based schools and businesses could be forced to violate their beliefs regarding homosexual activity or face fines, censure, or worse.

Churches that rent their facilities to the public could be forced to rent them for same-sex marriages and other LGBTQ events.

As an example showing the importance of appealing to the RFRA, a federal court ruled on January 19 that doctors could not be forced to perform transgender interventions that violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. The court cited the RFRA in issuing its ruling. If the Equality Act becomes law, such appeals would be prohibited.

President Biden stated during the campaign that passing the Act in his first one hundred days as president would be a “top legislative priority.” The Act passed the House of Representatives in May 2019. Its prospects in the Senate are uncertain, given its fifty-fifty partisan composition. The president admitted recently that passing the Act may take longer than one hundred days, but he has not wavered in his support for it.

Three practical responses

As I have stated often over the years, the Bible clearly forbids homosexual behavior. (For more on Scripture and LGBTQ issues, please see chapters 3 through 5 in my book, 7 Critical Issues: The State of Our Nation.)

Now Christians who refuse to yield their biblical convictions regarding sexuality may face discrimination on an unprecedented level. Churches, schools, hospitals, ministries, and faith-based businesses could all be affected directly.

My purpose today is not to be an alarmist. It is possible that the Equality Act as it currently stands will never become law. It is possible that appeal to the RFRA could be restored. And it is very likely that if the Act as it stands becomes law, legal appeals will be numerous with adjudication eventually reaching the Supreme Court.

I plan to say more tomorrow about religious liberty in the context of American culture. For today, let’s respond to this perilous threat in three ways.

One: Be aware.

Join the men of Issachar “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). When Mordecai “tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes” in response to a perilous threat against the Jewish people (Esther 4:1), Queen Esther sent a messenger to him “to learn what this was and why it was” (v. 5). Know what is happening and why on this issue and others affecting our faith and culture.

Two: Take steps to engage.

Write your senators or call their offices, urging them to vote against the Equality Act. You can see the letter I am mailing to my senators here; you are welcome to use it as a sample or guide, but your letter will be more effective if you personalize it.

Encourage those you influence to do the same. Pray for President Biden and others who support the Act to change their position on this historic threat to religious liberty in America. Oppose this Act by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Three: Be hopeful.

The Bible says of our Lord: “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:21–22).

Nothing I have written today changes the character of our King. Our ultimate hope is always and only found in him (Psalm 20:7). Our omnipotent Lord uses his people in ways we cannot measure to advance his eternal kingdom.

The hymn database Hymnary.org saw its page views double last year as the pandemic closed many church buildings. The most popular hymn on the database is “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty,” an 1826 song that proclaims:

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinfulness thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee
perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

Let’s sing these triumphant words with our voices and witness, to the glory of God.

Image courtesy: Getty Images News / T.J. Kirkpatrick / Stringer

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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