Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
You know by now that the Indiana State Assembly has passed a measure called The Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This bill purports to protect persons and businesses from government reprisal if their decisions to treat groups of people differently (in the provision of services and goods, for example) stem from what they claim to be religious beliefs – even if those beliefs are not part of the formally professed teaching of any established religious group.
Proponents of the bill say it is not about discrimination. Discrimination, in its truest sense, is about drawing distinctions. To discriminate is to make considered decisions, and is not in itself either morally or ethically good or bad. But when decisions are being made about who will be entitled to what, and on what basis, the potential for discrimination to become a relational weapon in a culture and society is tremendous. None of us has to think hard to come up with examples in our own history as a nation.
The language of the bill does not identify any specific group of people – either as needing protection for their beliefs, or as possible targets in decisions to withhold services or goods. What this means is that there is no legal boundary placed on who may decide to discriminate, or who may be discriminated against, so long as the ‘decider’ claims to be acting out of religious conviction. The possibilities for mischief are tremendous!
Though the group most likely to be singled out in our thoughts is the LGBT community, it is clearly possible for many others to be told they are unacceptable to receive whatever services or goods a person or company has on offer. Consider the possibility that only Christians will be served in some places, only Jews in others, while no Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, or Druids can purchase merchandise in some stores, and only Latinos will be included here, only Blacks excluded there….you see the point. This legislation gives the appearance of tolerating and protecting overt bigotry in any form so long as it is dressed up as personal religious fervor.
That this is terrible for business is already being made exquisitely plain. That it is an embarrassment to ‘Hoosier Hospitality’ is undeniable. It is also an affront to faithful people across the religious landscape. Provision of a legal way for some among us to choose to treat others with disdain and contempt is the worst possible use of the rule of law.
For Episcopalians, whose lives are ordered in the Gospel of Christ and the promises of our Baptismal Covenant, it is unthinkable. We are enjoined to love God with heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love others as Christ loves us. We promise, every time we reaffirm our baptismal vows, to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.” We promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
The God we worship became Incarnate, and waded into the unfaithful realities of human life. We follow a Master who associated with sinful, unacceptable people, both Jew and Gentile, all the while challenging as hypocritical the religious leaders who held themselves aloof from the general populace.
As I write this letter to you we are approaching Holy Week and Easter – seasons of deep reflection and joyous celebration in which we rehearse the saving acts of God throughout human history and in the death and Resurrection of Jesus. We claim for ourselves the transforming, reconciling love of God in Christ; not as treasures to be hoarded, but as gifts to be shared with the whole world in the name of the Lord we serve and worship.
Please join me in prayer for all those who have experienced demeaning behaviors, and those who have chosen to treat them so badly. Both in our individual and our common lives, may we become faithful advocates for justice, and reconciling examples of the indiscriminate love of God.
+Catherine M. Waynick
Bishop of Indianapolis
March 26, 2015
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