Dear Bishop Coyner and United Methodists of Indiana,
As I read your statement responding to the Religious Restoration Freedom Act (RFRA) recently signed into law by Indiana Governor Pence, I thought I was reading a statement from the governor’s office defending this discriminatory law – peppered with religious language to assuage the “fear” that caused the backlash to this law. I write to you as a gay United Methodist minister, hurt by your response to this law. Your defense of our Social Principles that talk about upholding the civil rights of ALL people was disappointing. In this time of Lent, I pray the people behind this law would repent for masquerading discrimination dressed in the garments of faith.
When non-religious institutions – even corporations and businesses – sounded the alarm over the repercussions of this law on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons, the episcopal leader of The United Methodist Church in Indiana sought to calm people’s “fears” with words of “faith.” When it is time to speak the prophetic word against discrimination, you conveniently talk about “faith overcoming fear.” The faith you speak of is distorted. Genuine faith in the God of Moses is a liberating faith spoken before Pharaoh. The faith that the Prophets showed before rulers of the land is prophetic faith. The faith that Jesus showed while overturning tables in the Temple is REAL faith. When it is time to speak the prophetic word to the powerful, and offer solidarity and pastoral words to those being targeted by this law, you chose to defend it. Is our church afraid? Why?
Your statement shows our church is out of touch with the very people this law will affect. You dismiss the very real fear that LGBTQ persons have of being denied equal treatment before the law of the land and our church. This is heterosexual privilege in full display. You do not know this “fear” because this law does not affect you directly, so you are able, as a heterosexual man, to go about business as usual. When transgender teenagers commit suicide because they are bullied and feel rejection, and when LGBTQ persons are murdered because of who they are and who they love, we do not honor the face of Jesus etched in their lives – that spark of divinity – by hiding our own fear of speaking the prophetic word.
LGBTQ persons in our church have to struggle on so many fronts: seeking full inclusion in The UMC and at the same time facing all these oppressive laws popping up in different states that codify discrimination against people. Heterosexuals are not afraid of being evicted or losing a job or being thrown out by your family for being “other.” Yes, I am afraid, because I am gay. I acknowledge that fear. That is why I respond in the faith rooted in the prophetic word. I know that fear because I experience it every day I live out my life as a gay United Methodist clergy, and I respond fearlessly against laws that cause this fear of being harmed.
When I recently visited Denver for a workshop on building an inclusive Church at Iliff School of Theology, the cab driver – an African American – and I had a conversation about this Indiana law. He shared how he was concerned for his son who is gay. He said that religion was used to subjugate and enslave African Americans, and now is being used to oppress LGBTQ persons. He was on point. He and countless others look to the faith community’s response. He asked what The United Methodist Church thinks of this law. I said I’ll check what our bishop says – and when I read your words, I was ashamed. How are we to make disciples of Jesus Christ when we cannot even get our act together as a church to welcome, be in ministry with, and defend ALL people who seek the transformation of a world filled with hate?
Rev. Israel I. Alvaran
Philippines Annual Conference