A letter to my state representative. A similar letter will be sent to my state senator.
Adapted from a previous open letter. Please feel free to use any/all of this for your own communication. Its time to add the words, Kansas….
February 10, 2015
The Honorable Melissa Rooker
Kansas State House of Representatives
Kansas State Capital, 168-W; 300 SW 10th Street; Topeka, KS 66612
Dear Ms. Rooker:
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 truly are free.
Today, Governor Brownback issued executive order 15-01, rescinding anti-discrimination protections for state employees on the basis of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity. Part of his rationale was that such protections should “be done by the legislature,” and while I disagree with him on that argument, it opens an opportunity for the Kansas legislature to correct Brownback’s action.
It is argued that equal rights for LGBT Kansans is contrary to deeply held (often Christian) religious beliefs. However, 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 nation’s founding documents, holding it to be self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal.
Accordingly, as a matter of both faith and secular standards of justice, I am compelled to write in support of equal civil rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is necessary, in part, because of the pain I have seen inflicted on everyday Kansans:
- As a youth pastor, I witnessed a young woman 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. Many live in constant fear of being terminated without cause or merit, simply for whom they love.
- I pastor to couples of deep faith who want to be joined in marriage, but who still wait legal clarity about whether they can obtain a civil marriage license because of their sexual orientation.
In addition to the systematic exclusion from civil marriage, the foundational way our culture has supported and nurtured families, LGBT Kansans also lose out from many other essential benefits the rest of us take for granted everyday: 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. Access to legal civil marriage will not be enough to protect LGBT Kansans from discrimination.
I often counsel Kansans who have been deeply wounded because of exclusion from family, faith communities, and schools. These wounds are multiplied by discrimination experienced in the public sphere. The harm done to them is unnecessary and avoidable.
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.
It is because of my deep commitment to the God revealed in Scripture, and in particular 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 or gender identity, it says quite a bit about justice, about hospitality, about welcoming the stranger, about God’s love for all people.
My stance for non-discrimination is deeply rooted in the word of God, a God who created each 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.
But this is not just a religious conviction, but a fundamentally civic argument as well. My beliefs are consonant with my commitment to freedom of religion and equal protection under the law, as established by the United States and Kansan Constitutions. There is no conflict between freedom of religion, properly understood, and equal protection for all, and the non-discrimination laws that ensure it.
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 equal rights for all.
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. 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.
Representative Rooker, I submit to you that 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 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. 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 state’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. Please act to sponsor and introduce legislation to that effect this legislative session.
Thank you for your service on behalf of all citizens of this our great state.
Peace to you in Christ,
The Rev. Chad Andrew Herring
Minster of Word and Sacrament, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Prairie Village, Kansas