A Religious Boycott To Protest “Religious Liberty” Legislation Protecting Discrimination

I don’t know if this would have quite caught my attention so much if it had not been my religious denomination involved. But I dunno: this may be the first major religion-based protest to “religious liberty” bills that’s large and well-timed enough to gain attention even for one of those much-dismissed Mainline Protestant groups. Here’s the report from Chris Sikich of the Indianapolis Star:

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has sent a letter to Gov. Mike Pence threatening to cancel its 2017 convention in Indianapolis if he signs controversial legislation that could allow business owners to refuse services to same-sex couples.

“Our perspective is that hate and bigotry wrapped in religious freedom is still hate and bigotry,” Todd Adams, the associate general minister and vice president of the Indianapolis-based denomination, told The Indianapolis Star.

Adams said the Disciples of Christ would instead seek a host city that is “hospitable and welcome to all of our attendees.”

The letter stated the church is inclusive of different races, ethnicities, ages, genders and sexual orientations.

“As a Christian church,” it read, “we are particularly sensitive to the values of the One we follow – one who sat at (the) table with people from all walks of life, and loved them all. Our church is diverse in point of view, but we share a value for an open Lord’s Table.”

The letter was signed by denomination’s General Minister and President Sharon E. Watkins, Division of Overseas Ministries Julia Brown Karimu and Disciples Home Missions President Ronald J. Degges.

The Disciples of Christ has held its annual convention in Indianapolis three times since 1989. Adams expected up to 8,000 people to attend in 2017. The estimated economic impact would be about $5.9 million, according to VisitIndy.

Indianapolis is also the denomination’s headquarters. Disciples jokingly refer to it as “Vaticanapolis.”

I’m a bit surprised by this action because the Disciples are a famously decentralized denomination that rarely takes national positions on controversial issues. But as the letter from Disciples leaders to Pence indicates, they view this as directly analogous to the fight against racism, and feel compelled to take a stand.

I can’t imagine it will give much pause to Pence, even though the Disciples have a pretty rich tradition in Indiana, and for that matter, in the Republican Party (no less than Ronald Reagan–along with fellow-presidents James Garfield and Lyndon Johnson–was a Disciple). But at least it will make it a bit easier to dispute the idea this sort of legislation is supported by all people of faith.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.