After the Equality Kansas rally last week, I saw that they were planning to offer testimony before the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee this week. They were particularly seeking examples of discrimination experienced by LGBTQI people, and since I cannot offer that, I asked if my voice might be helpful. After a bit of communication, I sent them the following letter (inspired in large part and adapted in parts with permission from the testimony of the Rev. Marci Glass).
There seems to be a real push for adding these words to the Kansas Human Rights law, similar to the push in Idaho. Lets pray it happens.
March 3, 2014
State of Kansas
Senate Judiciary Committee
Dear Honorable Senators:
My name is Chad Herring, and I serve as pastor of the John Knox Presbyterian Kirk in Kansas City, Missouri, a position I’ve held since October 2013. My wife and I moved to Overland Park, Kansas, in 2005 when I began my ministry as Associate Pastor of Southminster Presbyterian in Prairie Village (2005-2013). We welcomed our twin daughters to our family in 2006, moved to Prairie Village in 2011, and are all proud to call Kansas our home.
I never set out to be a campaigner for equal rights for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). It is not my personal experience or struggle.
Yet I feel compelled to write you today. Because until all of us are free, none of us are.
Those of us who are Christian read in the Bible that all of us are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), that nothing on heaven or on earth can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). We hear echoes of this in our founding documents, holding it to be self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal.
Accordingly, I am compelled to write in vocal support for equal civil rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, as a pastoral response to the pain I have seen inflicted on members of my congregation and on people in the community:
- As a youth pastor, I witnessed a young woman harassed and bullied because she was a young lesbian woman.
- I know people who could not get jobs or were denied advancement because of their gender identity.
- I pastor to couples of deep faith who want to be joined in marriage, but who cannot because of their sexual orientation
In addition to the exclusion from the foundational way our culture has created families (i.e. marriage), LGBT people also lose out from essential benefits the rest of us take for granted. Tax breaks. Access to hospital beds and decision-making rights normally afforded to family members when their loved one is hospitalized. Certainty that we can rent a hotel room or see a movie or keep our job regardless of whom we love and want to spend our life with.
I counsel many people who have been deeply wounded because of exclusion from family, faith communities, and schools.
My call, as a minister of the Good News of Jesus Christ, is to proclaim justice for the oppressed, to stand with people as Christ would. Jesus offered radical hospitality, inviting all people, no exceptions, to participate in the work of God’s mercy and love.
So it is because of my deep commitment to the God revealed in Scripture and to the teachings of Jesus that I write you today in favor of public non-discrimination statutes. While Scripture says very little about sexual orientation, it says quite a bit about justice, about hospitality, about welcoming the stranger.
My stance for non-discrimination is deeply rooted in the word of God, a God who created each of us, all of us, in the very image of God and declared that creation good. A God who became human and lived among us, full of grace and truth, eating with outcasts, touching the unclean, and inviting all to join in the work of grace, mercy, and peace.
My beliefs about this are consonant with my commitment to freedom of religion as protected by the United States and Kansan Constitutions. There is no conflict between freedom of religion, properly understood, and non-discrimination.
Let us be clear: freedom of religion is my inalienable right to believe what I want about God, to assemble in religious communities unencumbered by the state, and to practice my religion with others at my church. It is an inalienable right for others, too, who hold fundamentally different views than my own: such as an interpretation of their holy texts that prohibits women access to the priesthood or a view that the earth was created a few thousand years ago. This includes the right to believe that people who are gay or lesbian should not be full participants in their own faith community. Any church should be free, and in fact is free, within the walls of their buildings, so long as no one is harmed, to practice their faith as they feel called. This is religious freedom.
But non-discrimination statutes do not inhibit religious freedom. In fact, they are essential for religious freedom. The equal opportunity to worship God—or to not worship God—is essential in our democracy.
Similarly essential is that in public accommodation, no particular religious perspective prevails so that anyone has unequal access to public services, goods, or rights. Equal rights for all means just that. Freedom of religion is not my right to exempt myself from state laws that all other citizens have to obey. My freedom of religion does not include my ability to impose my faith on others. It is not religious liberty to allow one group of people to cause pain in another group of people in the workplace, in public schools, or in the civic square because of how they interpret scripture. When in public, people of all faiths, or no faith, ought to be required to treat all law abiding, tax paying citizens exactly the same.
But today, it is legal to discriminate against LGBT people in the public sphere. They can be fired for being gay; denied access to a hotel room for appearing to be lesbian; denied service at a restaurant for holding hands with someone of the same gender. I believe this is wrong, and no way to treat someone created equally in the image of God, who has the same self-evident inalienable rights that I do as a straight, white, male Christian pastor.
It is time to add the words “Sexual Orientation” and “Gender Identity” to Kansas Human Rights Law (Chapter 44, Article 10, Section 1). These words would not curtail religious liberty, any more than the other prohibitions against civil discrimination based on race or sex or disability or religion itself. Churches currently can deny leadership to women, can choose not to sanction same-sex unions, and can decide to only hire adherents of their particular faith, even with our current Human Rights Law in place. In places of worship, or in my own private thoughts, I can believe whatever I want to about God and about LGBT people and their relationships. But in the public sphere, regardless of one’s religious or personal beliefs, one cannot deny equal access due to race or gender or religion.
Adding these words to Kansas Human Rights law would simply guarantee that this group of people, historically discriminated against, will have similar legal protections for equality in the public realm. The God I believe in wouldn’t condone public discrimination in any form, and our nation’s highest ideals wouldn’t either.
I urge you to do all you can to fight discrimination against LGBT people and to promote equal protection for all under the law, including the addition of these words to Kansas Human Rights Law.
Peace to you in Christ,
The Rev. Chad Andrew Herring
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)