From the Letter to the Romans:
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then, each of us will be accountable to God. Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Romans 14:10-13 (NRSV) – February 15, 2014.)
A few days ago, the Kansas state house of representatives did a horrendous thing. They passed HB 2453 granting public and private employees the right to deny services, including unemployment benefits and foster care, to same-sex couples on the basis of “religious freedom.” When I read this morning’s words from St. Paul to the Romans, I wanted to address that legislation. However, two other Episcopalians had already done so with more authority than I could muster and said precisely what I would have wanted to say. The bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas and the Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas issued a joint statement apropos of this legislation:
Some people regularly suggest that the Church should stay out of politics, but we regret to observe that the current political agenda is encroaching upon fundamental principles that Christians, and people of all faiths, hold dear: compassion for the poor, safety for all people and equality for everyone.
House Bill 2453, which is currently before the Kansas Senate, proposes to legalize discrimination against gay and lesbian couples, attributing the excuse for such discrimination as “religious freedom.” In truth, this bill is not about religious freedom but is aimed at creating state-authorized bias and inequality.
Under this bill, government employees could refuse to offer services to their fellow citizens and taxpayers, while claiming religious motives. Business owners could refuse goods and services to people they perceive to be partnered gay or lesbians without repercussion. This proposed legislation is reminiscent of the worst laws that permitted discrimination against people on the basis of color, sex or nation of origin. The intent of this bill is an affront to the beliefs of all Kansans who support equal treatment under the law for every human being.
Kansas history is filled with examples of standing up for the expansion of rights – in our abolitionist, free state roots; as the first state in the country to elect a woman to a political office; and as a place identified with contributing to the end of school desegregation. We have a high calling to provide equality and equal opportunity to everyone.
For Episcopalians, our faith is unequivocal. Our Baptismal Covenant asks, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?” Promising to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being requires us to be adamantly opposed to legislation that does none of these things.
Our biblically based faith calls us to live out the command of Jesus Christ to love one another. You cannot love your fellow Kansans and deny them the rights that belong to everyone else.
We urge the rejection of this bill so that our great state might continue to stand for justice, dignity and equality.
The Right Reverend Dean E. Wolfe
The Episcopal Diocese of Kansas
The Right Reverend Michael P. Milliken
The Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas
Well done, bishops! Bravo!
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.