Pennsylvania’s three United Methodist bishops are calling upon the state’s legislature to pass the Pennsylvania Non-Discrimination Act (SB/HB 300) during the current session. A joint letter from Bishops Peggy Johnson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, Jeremiah Park of the Susquehanna Conference and Thomas Bickerton of the Western Pennsylvania Conference was presented at a press conference today, April 22, at Grace United Methodist Church near the state capitol in Harrisburg.
“As bishops of The United Methodist Church in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we urge our state leaders to pass the Pennsylvania Non-Discrimination Act (SB/HB 300),” the letter opens after quoting I John 4:7, calling for people of God to “love one another.” The three episcopal leaders cite the state’s 60-year-old Human Relations Act, which protects the rights of residents regardless of their “race, color, familial status, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, handicap or disability” and other characteristics.
What’s missing from that list, they and many other advocates say, is sexual orientation and gender identity. The civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to not be fired from jobs or denied housing or services because of their sexuality has roiled recent controversy nationally. Some state and municipal governments are considering laws to either protect those rights or to deny them purportedly to uphold the religious freedom of businesses and employees who want to deny employment or services to LGBT people because of religious or moral beliefs.
“The United Methodist Church is having painful and complex conversations within our tradition about the morality of same-sex relationships,” the letter acknowledges. “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.
“We encourage United Methodist business owners and landlords,” it continues, “to treat LGBT employees, customers, and tenants with the same love, respect, and hospitality that Jesus offered to all he encountered.”
Bishop Peggy Johnson says her role is “to advance the teachings of The United Methodist Church…. We must not forget the strong teachings in the established Social Principles of our global church that LGBT people should be treated fairly in civil society as equals under the law. No matter what our beliefs are about the moral questions related to human sexuality, we should all be united in protecting LGBT people from being discriminated against.”
The Rev. James McIntire, pastor of Hope UM Church in Havertown, spoke on the bishop’s behalf at the April 22 press conference in Harrisburg.
“We have fought hard as a church to protect minority groups from discrimination,” she said. “The commandment of Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves requires us to continue our Christian witness by actively advocating for just laws that affirm the full humanity and dignity of LGBT people.”
Governor Tom Wolf also called for laws to protect LGBT persons’ civil rights in a March budget address where he laid out his priorities for this legislative session. “The companies and countries that are thriving in today’s global economy are those that are committed to diversity, inclusion, and fairness,” he said. “All Pennsylvania’s families deserve those same opportunities, no matter what their race, sexual orientation, where they started life, or who they are.
“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,” said Wolf. “We must act to protect them by updating the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.”