UCC leaders support Hoosiers’ efforts to enact LGBT rights protections
The national officers of the United Church of Christ and the director of one of the church’s covenanted partners are calling on Indiana citizens to demand the repeal of the state’s recently-passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. UCC leaders believe what state lawmakers are calling “religious freedom” could be misinterpreted to be a legal license to discriminate against people for their sexual orientation.
“Public businesses should not be allowed to deny service in restaurants, evict tenants from their apartments, or refuse to serve customers simply because of who they are or who they love,” church leaders said in a statement.
The UCC officers—the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC general minister and president; the Rev. M Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries; the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of Local Church Ministries; the Rev. James A. Moos, executive minister of Wider Church Ministries—along with Andrew Lang, executive director of the United Church of Christ Open and Affirming Coalition, expressed outrage over the law signed on March 26 by Gov. Mike Pence, which allows Indiana businesses to turn away LGBT customers, offering protection to business owners who turn to their religious beliefs to deny service. For example, a florist could decline to provide flower arrangements for a same-gender wedding on the basis that his or her faith does not recognize same-sex marriage.
The officers believe it is a “a grievous injustice to exploit these principles in any way that could be misinterpreted as giving legal license for discrimination or to deny full and equal protection under the law for every person.”
UCC leaders concluded by saying the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is “wrong for Indiana until its proponents make clear that it cannot be employed to discriminate against anyone—especially the lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender community. Given the understandable outcry in reaction to the signing of this bill into law, absent any nondiscrimination guarantees, we call upon people of faith and good will to organize for passage of fully inclusive federal legislation that will ensure that all citizens are free from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations, not only in Indiana, but for Americans everywhere.”
One UCC pastor in Indiana called the law “appalling.” The Rev. John Manzo, senior pastor at St. Mark’s UCC in New Albany, said the Indiana law takes a 1993 federal law for religious freedom to a different context by condoning discrimination—something he thinks is contrary to Christian teachings.
“Jesus to me is the most inclusive person of all,” he said. Manzo also sees the law as an attempt to solve a religious liberty issue that was never a problem, as far as clergy and pastors are concerned.
“It’s going to not force clergy to officiate weddings they don’t approve of,” Manzo said. “Clergy are not forced to officiate weddings at all. We all have the right to chose who we marry and who we don’t. In some faiths, you can’t be remarried after a divorce unless you get an annulment through that church—and that is their right. But this bill doesn’t protect [clergy] at all. We’re already protected.”
The UCC’s full communion partner, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is also opposing Indiana’s new law. The leadership of the Disciples of Christ wrote to Pence and asked for his veto. But now that he has signed the bill, the denomination will consider pulling its 2017 biennial gathering out of Indianapolis, potentially taking an estimated $5 million in tourism dollars out of the state. The Disciples of Christ have made their headquarters in Indianapolis for almost a century.
“Purportedly a matter of religious freedom, we find RFRA contrary to the values of our faith—as well as to our national and Hoosier values,” Disciples leaders wrote.
Todd Adams, Disciples associate general minister and vice president, said the church’s board will decide whether to change locations during its upcoming meeting that begins on April 10.
Read the full statement from the leadership of the UCC here.
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