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They stood for tolerance and kindness.
They stood for inclusion and protection.
They stood for right and against harm.
More than 400 clergy rallied in late May outside St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, calling for the repeal of North Carolina’s House Bill 2 and praying for freedom from prejudice.
Clergy members from across the state but also far beyond assembled for the event, protesting the Republican legislation that rolls back LGBT civil rights and prevents transgender people from using public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
“We stand for love in the way that Jesus expressed it, which means inclusion, which means acceptance, and which means seeing every person as a fearfully and wonderfully made child of God,” said the Rev. Martha Kearse of St. John’s Baptist Church in Charlotte.
Organized under the banner of “Faith in Public Life,” the clergy represented Metropolitan Community, Lutheran, Baptist, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, Presbyterian, United Methodist, First Congregation, Unitarian Universalist, and Catholic churches, as well as Buddhist temples, Quaker groups and Jewish synagogues — both reform and conservative.
The faith-based leaders called on North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory to seek the counsel of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who earlier this year vetoed an anti-LGBT bill, citing his Christian faith.
“We affirm that all people are beloved by God and that discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation is wrong,” the clergy members wrote in a letter to McCrory.
Witnesses to the rally said they were inspired, and reminded of the role clergy played in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
“This event might have been lost in all the news over HB 2 and the boycotts, but we’ll remember it when we look back on this time,” said LGBT civil rights activist Kate Eckerd of Asheville, North Carolina. “This was a moment, a real moment, when you look at who was there and where they came from and what they demanded because of their faith, not in spite of their faith.”
The display of faith-based unity against HB 2 and for LGBT equality surprised Eckerd, who said she gets mixed signals at the Catholic church she attends.
“The people are good,” she said. “The message from the priest, not so good.”
An analysis by the Pew Research Center finds that some religious institutions are starting to formally address the participation of transgender people in their congregations and in clergy positions, while others remain steadfastly against inclusion.
The review by Pew found:
• On the negative end of the inclusion spectrum, the Assemblies of God, Church of the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and Southern Baptist Convention have stated barriers to inclusion. The synod instructs ministers on how to counsel transgender people and encourage them to seek mental health treatment while Southern Baptist Convention in 2014 adopted a resolution stating that transgender people can only be members if they repent. The Mormon church, meanwhile, says people considering “elective transsexual operations” cannot be baptized or confirmed.
• In the middle, the Church of God, Presbyterian Church in American, Roman Catholic Church, and African American Episcopal Church have no official position on inclusion and send mixed messages on the issue. The Catholic church says gender is permanently fixed at birth and Pope Francis has said gender theory is a danger to humanity, but the pope has also met with a transgender man.
• The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Methodist Church have a reputation as inclusive but lack an official statement.
• More definitively, the Episcopal Church, Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalist Association, and United Church of Christ have official statements regarding the inclusion of transgender people. The Union for Reform Judaism adopted a resolution in 2015 that “encourages Reform congregations, congregants, clergy, camps, institutions and affiliates … to continue to advocate for the rights of people of all gender identities and gender expressions” and “urges the adoption and implementation of legislation and policies that prevent discrimination based on gender identity and expression and that require individuals to be treated equally under the law as the gender by which they identify.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy is pushing legislation that would ban religious exemptions from laws that guarantee fundamental civil and legal rights.
The Massachusetts Democrat says the bill is a response to what he calls ongoing attempts to cite religious beliefs as grounds to undermine civil rights protections, limit access to health care and refuse service to minority groups.
The bill would limit the use of such exemptions in cases involving discrimination, child labor and abuse, wages and collective bargaining, public accommodations and social services provided through government contracts.
Kennedy says religious freedom is sacred, but shouldn’t harm others.
Kennedy’s bill would amend the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which he says is used by those seeking to impose their beliefs on others or claim that their faith justifies discrimination.