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(From left) Bishops Thomas Bickerton, Peggy Johnson and Jeremiah Park.

(From left) Bishops Thomas Bickerton, Peggy Johnson and Jeremiah Park.

Pennsylvania bishops support Non-Discrimination Act

 

A UMNS report
By Kathy L. Gilbert

Pennsylvania’s three bishops — Peggy Johnson, Jeremiah Park and Thomas J. Bickerton — are calling on state lawmakers to extend protection against discrimination to all people, including gay and transgender people.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering updating a 1955 non-discrimination act that currently does not protect lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender individuals from discrimination.

WHAT THE CHURCH TEACHES

In its Book of Discipline, The United Methodist Church states that all people are of sacred worth but "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

The book affirms "the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman."

The Book of Discipline also says, "Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due to all persons" and commits the church to supporting "those rights and liberties for all persons regardless of sexual orientation."

Church law bans United Methodist clergy from performing, and churches from hosting, "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions." It also bans “self-avowed practicing” gay individuals from serving as clergy.

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“There are no federal or state laws to protect LGBT people from being fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, or refused services at a business because of who they are. We must act to protect them by updating the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression,” states a joint letter from the three bishops.

The letter was presented at a press conference at Grace United Methodist Church near the state capitol in Harrisburg. The three bishops were not present. Johnson is episcopal leader in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference; Park represents the Susquehanna Conference; and Bickerton the Western Pennsylvania Conference.

The bishops specifically asked United Methodist business owners to show “the same love, respect and hospitality that Jesus offered to all he encountered.”

The letter acknowledges that the denomination is having “painful and complex conversations” about same-sex relationships.

“At the same time, we have been very clear that the LGBT people in our congregations, families, workplaces and communities have sacred worth as children of God and should experience the freedom and dignity of participating in civil society as equals under the law.”

Good News, an unofficial caucus that supports the church's current stance on homosexuality, responded to the bishop’s letter saying they too support the equal and fair treatment of all persons.

“We support the bishops’ attempt to balance the love for neighbor inherent in our Christian faith with the call to holy living that is also inherent within our faith," said the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, executive with Good News. 

"We recognize, as do the bishops, that many sincere Christians struggle with whether, and under what circumstances, their words and actions could constitute an endorsement of a behavior that the Bible regards as sin. Christians of good faith can disagree about where to draw the line in taking part in commercial support for same-sex marriages, for example. The freedom of churches and other religiously based organizations to act in accord with our religious convictions must be protected,” Lambrecht said.

Lambrecht added, "We wish the bishops had clearly stated that our church affirms the teaching of Scripture and Church tradition that marriage is between one man and one woman.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s lawbook, states:

“We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. We support the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection. We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has called for laws to protect the civil rights of LGBT people.

Bishops of the five Episcopal dioceses also called on the state legislature to pass the act, saying, “One does not have to profess a particular faith to understand that there is no justifiable reason to fire, evict or deny services to a citizen of our commonwealth based on considerations such as sex, race, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. It is simply unfair.”

Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org