Yesterday the governor of Indiana signed a "Religious Freedom" law that essentially gives businesses and others the right to discriminate against LGBT folks on the basis of their religious beliefs. Indiana is one of many states that is enacting legislation in anticipation that the Supreme Court will strike down gay marriage bans.
My denomination, which is based in Indianapolis and is scheduled to hold our 2017 General Assembly in Indianapolis had threatened to move the General Assembly elsewhere if it was signed. In a letter sent to the governor, together with the Presidents of the Division of Overseas Ministries and Division of Homeland Ministries, Sharon and her co-signers declared:
As a Christian church, we are particularly sensitive to the values of the One we follow – one who sat at table with people from all walks of life, and loved them all. Our church is diverse in point of view, but we share a value for an open Lord’s Table. Our members and assembly-goers are of different races and ethnicities, ages, genders and sexual orientations. They have in common that they love Jesus and seek to follow him.
We are particularly distressed at the thought that, should RFRA be signed into law, some of our members and friends might not be welcome in Indiana businesses – might experience legally sanctioned bias and rejection once so common on the basis of race.
This letter is in keeping with a resolution passed in 2013 at our last General Assembly. That resolution titled "Becoming a People of Grace and Welcome to All," committed the denomination, or at least our "national body" to making sure that all Disciples are welcome, no matter their sexual orientation.
Now, if you're a Disciple you're probably not accustomed to our leaders taking such a bold stand. But here it is. We have drawn a line in the sand. Now we see where it goes. One Disciple colleague put it this way:
Wow. Just Wow. Raise your hand if you saw this coming (my hand is down). I must admit that I am stunned that the Disciples of Christ, a denomination that regularly chooses to not take public stances on divisive issues has chosen to do a 180 degree turn on this issue and make its position clearly known. This is a strange new world for our denomination and it will be interesting to see how we will navigate this new terrain. Social media has been lighting up today with overwhelmingly positive responses to this turn of events and I share in the excitement and pleasure that our denomination is standing on the side of equality, justice, and inclusiveness. We are, after all that proclaims to be a , “Movement for Wholeness” and we are the ones that proudly proclaim that we have an “Open Table.” It seems that as we pull up more chairs to the Table of Welcome we are finally beginning to put some “skin” on that declaration.
Yes, we've ventured into interesting territory, but then these are interesting times. The church is being asked to respond. Sometimes we go out boldly, and then wonder if we've been too bold. As a pastor I'm tasked with serving not only those who agree with me on the issues, but the entire congregation. I'll be bringing this to the attention of my congregation in my Palm Sunday sermon. I pray for Sharon as she leads us on this journey, guided by the Spirit! I don't know where things will end up. But we are being asked by the larger community to think clearly about how our faith impacts our lives and the lives of others. The world, as they say, is watching!