As a Christian minister, I hold great concern for this past week's lawmaking circus in Indiana and Arkansas. Both original pieces of legislation were passed under the guise of religious freedom, but the real motivation was far more sinister.
The bills were written and lobbied for by extreme right-wing groups with political motivations that seem to outweigh any claim to putting faith first. Instead, they used faith for political means. It was yet another example of Republican politicians and operatives dictating the submission of the rights of individuals to the authority of big business. This time, though, to the surprise of Republican lawmakers, even big business was concerned!
The American people and businesses like NASCAR, JW Marriott and Walmart showed outrage over discrimination laws, so much so that lawmakers scrambled to fix the mess they created. Then on Thursday, Governors Mike Pence and Asa Hutchinson took steps in the right direction by signing amended versions of the legislation.
This is affirmation of how far we have come on the journey toward greater love and inclusion.
Unfortunately, the new laws don't fix the situation entirely. In many parts of Indiana where there are not explicit laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, it still may be permissible for someone to deny another service or a job on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Christianity preaches the values of love and inclusion. Our faith instructs us to love God and love thy neighbor. Put simply, Jesus would not have turned anyone away.
As a minister, I am passionate about religious freedom. I received a religious education at private, faith-based institutions. I am proud to live in a country where I may choose to attend any church I like, or no church at all. The federal government doesn't tell me who or how to worship, and I want it to stay that way. Religious freedom, established in our Constitution's first amendment, is an integral part of what makes the United States of America an extraordinary place.
Any laws passed beyond what the Constitution has provided us for more than 200 years are unnecessary and unkind. Rather than passing redundant religious freedom laws, we ought to be passing anti-discrimination laws because the most beautiful example of Christian witness is to show kindness, love and acceptance to each individual in our midst -- to our friends and neighbors, to strangers and even to our enemies.
Looking forward, I am excited to have at least one potential presidential candidate who showed strong leadership and spoke out against these deplorable demonstrations of hate and intolerance. This week, Secretary Clinton voiced opposition to both the original pieces of legislation saying it is "Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn't discriminate against [people because] of who they love." Then several days later, "Like IN law, AR bill goes beyond protecting religion, would permit unfair discrimination against #LGBT Americans. I urge Governor to veto." Hillary Clinton herself is a Methodist who holds her faith near and dear to her heart, and it appears that America heeded her words.
Meanwhile, GOP presidential hopefuls voiced overwhelming support for the original Indiana law. Jeb Bush said he thought Indiana's governor "did the right thing." Scott Walker, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio also commented in favor of the legislation. Their views are so far outside the American mainstream that the GOP mayor of Indianapolis condemned the law and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) voted to move their 2017 convention outside of Indiana.
The GOP presidential hopefuls proved themselves, yet again, to be seriously out of step with America. It is a sharp contrast to Secretary Clinton, whose steady leadership shows a forward, not backward, looking vision for America.
Forever and always, I urge men and women of faith to live into your religion and be a beacon of light showing love and compassion to all you encounter.
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