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By Matthew Tully
The debate over LGBT rights often is seen as one in which religious leaders are unified. But along with those opponents to an expansion of civil rights law, there are religious leaders who support it.
So there I was, talking with these two men, these two men of faith, and listening as they tossed biblical scriptures my way and made the case, the moral case, for an expansion of Indiana’s civil rights law.
These weren’t just any two men. One was Lewis Galloway, senior pastor at Second Presbyterian Church, a leader at one of the state’s towering institutions of religion. The other was the Rev. Rick Spleth, the regional minister for the Disciples of Christ in Indiana. Both men are deeply respected and thoughtful and, I should note, they were both speaking for themselves and many other religious leaders.
“The question, Spleth told me, “is whether you want to have a state where everyone is treated fairly and has every right that everyone else has. It’s a question of, do you want everyone in your family to be served and cared for and to have equal access? Who would not say yes to that?”
And who, Galloway added, can dispute the religious case for treating everyone with dignity and for reaching out to those with whom you might disagree, as opposed to shunning them?
“From a religious perspective it comes down to this,” he said. “Do you want to express your faith out of fear or out of love? If you look through the scripture you will see the message is, fear not.”
The other message, he said, is love.
And, so, Spleth and Galloway have chosen to speak out publicly in favor of new legal protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Indiana. They’re speaking out because they are certain that position is right and Christ-like, and because they want to counter what they believe has been a one-sided religious message during this debate, one based on opposition to LGBT rights.
While many religious leaders have opposed a proposed expansion of state civil rights code, many others support it, the two men said. As evidence, Galloway pointed to the 168 ministers throughout the state who have joined with him in officially endorsing a new state law that would guarantee protections from discrimination in housing, the workplace, and as a consumer.
Spleth, meantime, handed me a letter signed by him and six other high-profile religious leaders, representing roughly 1,800 congregations around the state, advocating the same position. The expansion of current law, they wrote, “is consistent with the value we share to be and continually create a hospitable and welcoming community for all.”
The two men acknowledged that this is a personal and heated debate, one that has caused divisions within many churches, even those to which they belong. Speaking out can lead to bruised feelings and criticism from parishioners. But, Spleth said, “If you’re going to err, then err on the side of inclusion.” If you’re going to use Jesus to make your point, he added, then remember that Jesus lived a life centered on welcoming others into it.
The two have taken that message to lawmakers and the governor. They have said that the civil rights expansion is necessary because it is the right thing to do but also because it could remove the residual taint and fears of discrimination left over from last year’s religious freedom fiasco.
“My hope,” Spleth said, “is that we will end up at a far better place than we were when all of this started.”
It’s not hard to find arguments in favor of new LGBT rights. Much of the discussion in recent months has been about polls, Indiana’s tarnished image in the wake of last year’s debate, and the bottom-line consequences of being seen as intolerant for businesses and the state.
These are all important arguments. But it was particularly nice to sit down over coffee with Galloway and Spleth last week and listen as they made their case based on what is decent and what is moral, on what it means to be a good neighbor, and on what we can gain by opening our hearts to others.
“What is the best witness you can make to your faith,” Galloway said. “Is it denying services because you disagree with someone, or is it providing hospitality to them and living as a servant in the world and building a relationship with them? To me, hospitality is a core issue. It’s a core theological issue. It’s a mandate.”
And, so, he said, the state must occasionally put its stamp on the side of protections for certain groups of our neighbors. It must respond to a changing world. It must understand, Galloway said, that there is a difference between the constitutional protections for policies and actions within places of worship and within people’s home, and the responsibility to treat everyone equally in, say, a flower shop or a bakery.
“We really do affirm the rights of religious communities and leaders to follow their faiths and their own understanding of marriage and families,” he said. “We all support religious freedom. But if you deny services to other people when you are operating in the public arena, then you are violating their liberties and their civil rights.”
That’s wrong for many reasons, the two men told me. And many of those reasons can be found in the Bible.SHARE THIS STORY