Sharon's Blog

General Board commits to seek new venue for 2017 General Assembly

Update, March 31: General Board commits to seek new venue for 2017 General Assembly

Dear Disciples,

We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness. We seek to follow in the footsteps of Jesus who came to this earth out of God’s love for all the world. We serve in Canada and the United States, where we humbly proclaim every day to be a nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The General Board this evening, according to its authority in in paragraph 55 of The Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), acting on behalf of the General Assembly, directed the Office of the General Minister and President to seek a new location for the 2017 General Assembly, originally scheduled in Indianapolis.

The decision was in response to the recent signing into law of SEA 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Originally intended to be about religious freedom, its functioning in Indiana could be just the opposite. Because there are not state protections against discrimination for all people, and because the Indiana RFRA declares religious freedom for businesses and corporations as well as for individuals and churches, SEA 101 could be used by some to build barriers and exclude. Our nation is strong when we welcome people of diverse backgrounds and points of view. The free and robust exchange of ideas is part of what makes our democracy – and our church – great.

As Disciples, we are particularly sensitive to the values of the One we follow – one who sat at table with people from all walks of life, and loved them all. Our church is diverse in point of view, but we share a value for an open Lord’s Table. Our members and assembly-goers are of different races and ethnicities, ages, genders and sexual orientations. They have in common that they love Jesus and seek to follow him.

We are particularly distressed at the thought that, under the current version of SEA 101, some of our members and friends might not be welcome in some Indiana businesses – might experience legally sanctioned bias and rejection once so common on the basis of race.

Religious freedom is also one of the cherished tenets of our Disciples tradition. The freedom of one goes too far, however, when that one’s freedom threatens to exclude or inhibits the freedoms of others.

This issue has raised our awareness of the relationship between the location of General Assembly and laws and/or government practices that might significantly disadvantage persons who attend our general assembly. As we move forward, we will be looking more closely at these decisions, so that our choices of location might appropriately match our religious values and our faith commitments.

We remain fully committed to the City of Indianapolis. We are committed to working with concerned businesses and organizations, as well as our elected officials, to have SEA 101 repealed or drastically altered in a way that both protects religious freedoms and individuals from discrimination. If the legal situation changes, we look forward to future opportunities to hold the General Assembly in the City of Indianapolis which we love so much and call home.

Blessings,

watkins signature

 

 

Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Update, March 26: Church leadership’s response to Gov. Pence signing SB101 into law:

“Thank you for the overwhelming response supporting our opposition to SB101. Unfortunately, Governor Pence has signed the bill. We will keep you posted (and please be patient) as we sort through the contracts, costs, and decisions around the 2017 General Assembly. We also have attorneys reviewing similar legislation in the states that are finalists for 2019 and in states where we would consider moving the 2017 General Assembly. Not all of these bills are the same and there is a lot of misinformation about each of the state laws.

We are ONE people serving the ONE who welcomes us all. ‪#‎ccdoc‬”

 

The original letter

 

March 25, 2015

The Honorable Michael R. Pence
Governor of the State of Indiana
200 W. Washington Street, Room 206
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204

Dear Governor Pence,

We write with respect to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). We urge you to veto the bill.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been headquartered in Indianapolis for nearly 100 years. Although Butler University is no longer affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), its founder, Ovid Butler, was a Disciple and a noted abolitionist.  The college, in keeping with our values, admitted women in a time when that was rare. We are the church that founded Christian Theological Seminary. Our offices are located on North Meridian. Our Indiana regional offices are located in Indianapolis as well.

Every two years our general assembly, a gathering of over 6000 people from across the United States and Canada, is held in a US city. In 2017 it is scheduled to be in Indianapolis as it was in 2009 and 1989. Like so many other host cities, we find Indianapolis to be a hospitable and enjoyable location for our people. Many of our leaders are citizens of this city, and we take particular pride when our selection process makes it possible to bring the assembly to our home town.

However, the recent passage in the state legislature of the RFRA bill is distressing to us.  It is causing us to reconsider our decision to hold our 2017 gathering in Indianapolis.

Purportedly a matter of religious freedom, we find RFRA contrary to the values of our faith – as well as to our national and Hoosier values. Our nation and state are strong when we welcome people of many backgrounds and points of view. The free and robust exchange of ideas is part of what makes our democracy great.

As a Christian church, we are particularly sensitive to the values of the One we follow – one who sat at table with people from all walks of life, and loved them all. Our church is diverse in point of view, but we share a value for an open Lord’s Table. Our members and assembly-goers are of different races and ethnicities, ages, genders and sexual orientations. They have in common that they love Jesus and seek to follow him.

We are particularly distressed at the thought that, should RFRA be signed into law, some of our members and friends might not be welcome in Indiana businesses – might experience legally sanctioned bias and rejection once so common on the basis of race.

We are following closely the progress of this legislation. It will be a factor in whether we continue with our plans to hold an assembly in Indianapolis in 2017.  We urge you to veto the bill.

Respectfully,
[one_third]watkins signature[/one_third][one_third]julia signature[/one_third][one_third_last]degges signature[/one_third_last] [one_third]Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President[/one_third][one_third]Julia Brown Karimu, President
Division of Overseas Ministries[/one_third][one_third_last]Ronald J. Degges, President
Disciples Home Missions[/one_third_last]

Resulting news coverage

Indy Star story also picked up on ; also posted on USAToday.com and San Diego Gay and Lesbian News