The denomination of which my congregation is a part has decided to immerse itself in the midst of the Indiana RFRA debate.
Though the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has made Indianapolis its headquarters for nearly a century, the denomination is considering pulling its next biennial convention out of Indiana over a new state law that allows businesses to turn away gay customers.
Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on Thursday (March 26), the day after receiving a letter from church leaders pleading with him to veto it and threatening to move their 2017 General Assembly outside the state.
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“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,” stated the letter, which was signed by Sharon E. Watkins, the church’s general minister and president, as well as the leaders of its overseas and domestic missions.
“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.”
The General Assembly will bring more than 6,000 church members to whatever U.S. city the church decides upon and is expected to generate about $5 million in tourism dollars. After Pence signed the law, ministry leaders said they are weighing the costs of moving not only the General Assembly, but smaller meetings — such as the more frequent gatherings of the 125-member board of directors — which most often meets in Indianapolis.
Associate General Minister and Vice President Todd Adams said the church’s board will decide whether to yank the General Assembly from Indianapolis at its next meeting, which begins on April 10.
Dare I suggest that this move is rank hypocrisy on the part of the leaders of the Disciples?
After all, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) does not formally recognize gay marriage. It does not require that member congregations allow gay weddings to take place in their sanctuaries. It does not require, as a matter of maintaining ministerial standing, that its clergy officiate at gay weddings. Why does it not do so? Because it recognizes that there is diversity of opinion and conscience on the matter, and that it would be improper to either require or forbid participation in such ceremonies.
What’s more, the leaders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) recognize that any vote by the General Assembly to recognize gay marriage or to seek to require that its congregations and clergy follow a policy of non-discrimination in regard to gay marriage would most likely kill the denomination, which has lost somewhere around 1/3 of its congregations and 60% of its membership over the last four decades. Consider the losses in other denominations over the gay marriage issue if you question that assertion.
In other words, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) offers to its clergy and member congregations that which it demands that the government deny to everyone else. Denominational leaders seek to establish an orthodoxy for society as a whole that they refuse to establish for their own denomination.
So to the leadership of my denomination, I offer the guidance of Scripture.
Matthew 7:3-5 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
And that is without getting into the fact that for over 20 years the denomination has stood silent as 19 other states have had virtually identical laws – and that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) strongly supported the passage of the essentially identical federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993. Or the fact that rarely, if ever, would any RFRA overcome an anti-discrimination law.