Disciples News Service

Ministry leaders speak out on Missouri legislation

Update: Missouri Anti-LGBT Constitutional Amendment is dead (4/27/16)

April 13, 2016

The Honorable Elijah Haahr, Missouri House of Representatives
Committee Chair, House Emerging Issues Committee
201 W. Capitol Avenue
Room 410-A
Jefferson City, MO 65101

Dear Representative Haahr,

Given the history and tradition of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Senate Joint Resolution 39 is a direct challenge to our religious beliefs. We urge the House Emerging Issues Committee to let this bill die in committee.

Religious freedom is a core value for our denomination and our communities of faith. As the first denomination to emerge on American soil, we champion liberty of belief for all. In 1999, our General Assembly passed a resolution defending freedom of conscience and freedom of religious expression in the public square.

In our church, the value for freedom goes hand in hand with respect for diversity of all kinds. We follow Jesus, who sat at a table with people from all walks of life and loved them all.

Disciples are varied in opinion. Our members are of different races and ethnicities, ages, gender identities and sexual orientations – and we seek to welcome each and every one despite our differences. We celebrate what we have in common: We love Jesus and seek to follow him.

This is not the first time our denomination has taken issue with discriminatory legislation similar to SJR 39. Last Spring, the General Board of the denomination voted to relocate our biannual General Assembly away from Indianapolis as state leaders wrestled with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Fortunately the law was revised, which in turn allowed us to return to Indianapolis for our 2017 assembly.

Our denomination has many churches, regional offices, and other General Ministries – the Christian Board of Publication, Higher Education and Leadership Ministries, and the National Benevolent Association – based in Missouri. Due to the central location to a majority of our churches, St. Louis and Kansas City are both prime locations for future General Assemblies, and have been in the past. If we had cancelled our Assembly in Indianapolis the projected loss revenue would be in the neighborhood of $6 million.

This issue has raised our awareness of the relationship between the location of our General Assembly, as well as other denominational gatherings, and laws and/or government practices that might significantly support discrimination of our neighbors. As we move forward, we will be looking closely at these decisions, so that our choices of location might appropriately match our religious values and our faith commitments. Unfortunately, if legislation such as SJR 39 is passed by the Missouri House of Representatives and approved by voters in November, the General Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will reconsider whether or not to hold any future gatherings in Missouri.

We are following closely the progress of this legislation, and encourage you to not hold a vote on this bill.


watkins signature



Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President




Rev. Julia Brown Karimu
President of Division of Overseas Ministries




Rev. Ron Degges
President of Disciples Home Missions





Mr. Brad Lyons
President of Chalice Press




Rev. Bernard “Chris” Dorsey
President of Higher Education and Leadership Ministries




Mr. Mark D. Anderson
President of National Benevolent Association




Rev. Dr. Penny Ross-Corona
Regional Minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Mid-America




Rev. William Rose-Heim
Regional Minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Greater Kansas City

22 Responses to “Ministry leaders speak out on Missouri legislation”

  1. Mark Barner MDiv., MA:

    In the spirit of Jesus’ teaching, please let this wretched bill die.

  2. Ann Shields:

    Let the bill die! This bill does not represent my wonderful state on Missouri. I stand with the Disciples of Christ. Do not pass this bill.

  3. Ann Shields:

    Don’t pass this bill it is against the rights of all people.

  4. Leona Greenlaw:

    I am proud of the Missouri Disciples of Christ for making a statement on this issue, and for pursuing. This is the Christianity with which I identify–the one that is INclusive, not EXclusive–the one that embraces all along the way of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  5. Colleen Carroll:

    I stand with our leadership and say let this bill die.

  6. D Jane Bartlett:

    This letter is an affirmation of my Disciples of Christ heritage and beliefs. Thank you for taking this stand with the Missouri legislature. Surely others will join you and me and write to the committee in opposition to this bill. D. Jane Bartlett

  7. John Fisher:

    Regardless of how one feels personally about this item of legislation, I believe DOC leadership is out of line in expressing opinions without ascertaining how individual congregations feel. I am a life-long DOC member and I think our leadership has forgotten that in our organization all authority rests with the congregations and not with the leadership which has no authority to speak on behalf of all congregations. They may only express their personal opinions and not purport them to represent the feeling of all congregations.

    • John,
      I couldn’t agree more with what you have expressed. I am distressed, perplexed, stressed and doing by best not to be reflexive towards the General Church.

    • Sandy Browning:

      I couldn’t have said it any better.

    • Cherilyn Williams:

      There are three expressions of church in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). These are the congregational, regional and general. The leaders in question here are informed by the actions of the General Assembly and, in some cases, by the boards of their ministries. They speak for the Church generally but congregations are welcome to disagree and let their positions also be known. This is where Disciples shine – being able to continue to work together for the sake of mission even while disagreeing on specific issues.


      I agree with John! This denomination says they do not have a Hierarchy but in all matters they seem to implement functions as though they are ever knowing and all powerful in their dealings with the congregations that have put them in the positions. I have no problem with those who have signed the letter if they did so as individuals BUT when they indicate that they speak for all they should resign and go to some other position. I do not believe we should be speaking for all when we have not asked for that permission.
      What does the Bible say about this proposed law? Do we let a few dictate how we should treat the majority – I do not believe we should have trans-genders going into opposite sex bathrooms or forcing ministers to perform same sex marriages. In the Disciples that is up to the individual congregation and individual minister. Not up to the people in Indianapolis!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. This is no doubt a complex and nuanced discussion. I am not familiar enough with the Missouri bill to speak to it in detail but I don’t like what feels like the threats of withdrawing money from Sharon and others in the General Church offices. Were my local congregation to take such a stand because of the many times the General Church speaks out in a manner that is not reflective of our opinions I would be employing the same tactic which is what I thought we didn’t believe in doing.

  9. Scott Killgore:

    Add my name to the list of those who do not support this letter. I am not a fan of the Missouri legislation, but that is not the point. When the General church presumes to insert itself into a single state’s heated political debate, presents itself as speaking for the entire church, and hints at (or in the case of Indiana last year, outright threatens) economic harm if it does not get its way, then it (the General church) has crossed a line that I do not believe is appropriate, nor consistent with our heritage.

  10. Rick Bregitzer:

    Years ago, on the religious debate show “The American Religious Town Hall Meetings” a group of ministers, a rabbi and a priest were asked about what they would do if approached by a same-sex couple that wanted to get married. As I watched I was curious to see what Disciple minister Tom Plumbley of Fort Worth FCC might say. Basically Rev. Plumbley said he would get the opinion of the church Elders and do whatever it is they said to do since they represented the church body. I liked that and have adopted that stance in many matters. When I asked the Elders if we should or should not perform gay marriages the majority voted against performing them. I did not make the decision for the church I serve, but I stand by the way our Elders have chosen to respond to their ideas about God. I stand by their decisions even when I think they might be wrong since I know that how they choose to serve and honor God and others might be a little different than my own. I would hope that the DOC leadership would seek out all points of view in matters before speaking for only a portion of the denomination’s members.

  11. Christina Cooper:

    I agree with you John. Since we as congregations are supposed to be the ones making decisions on our denomination and not our leaders this needs to be put in front of our congregations and let them decide if this bill should be passed or not. The majority of congregations may or may not agree with this bill but the decision is ours to make. I have full faith in our congregations to follow the teachings of Christ and in God to help us know the decision that is made by us.

  12. Kenneth McCullough:

    I in turn am “perplexed” if only slightly distressed. Are those of you in opposition to this letter actually saying that you do not believe the proposed legislation is discriminatory? And are you also therefore suggesting that the leadership folks who signed the letter must not really know what they are doing? Are you sure you want to put yourselves in that position? It will be obvious from my questions that I disagree with your current stance and hope you will take a deep collective breath and listen to what your very able Church leadership is trying to tell you. It is not terribly surprising. The same intentional misunderstanding appears to have occurred in virtually every state that has considered such legislation. I encourage you not to be hoodwinked. Discrimination is discrimination whether we dress it up in patriotic colors or not.

  13. Stephen Bentley:

    I so appreciate the Denominational Leaders for this letter. While not familiar with the details of this bill, if it is like the Indiana bill, it is anathema to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether a congregation agrees with the decision or not, congregations at the Gerenal Assemblies have voted to welcome all people into all areas and ministries of the church. Therefore, the leaders of our denomination have the responsibility through our Design to look out for the interests of all our membership and not just those of priviledge. I congratulate them for their stance and support their efforts on our behalf.
    As a denomination, we have the opportunity every two years to review our stance on issues but I find this letter inline with stances we have alread accepted at the General Assembly.

  14. I wonder if those of us speaking in opposition to this public stance by our leadership would feel the same way if the issue at hand was racial justice rather than justice for LGBT persons. I truly believe that in twenty years our churches will look back at this era and know that our leadership was on the right side of this issue and needed to speak for the sake of justice, even if this means putting concern for the oppressed ahead of concerns about our polity and structure. It is important to remember, I believe, that the implied harm done to our local churches or denomination by this public stance of our leadership is simply that someone disagrees with us. The very real harm done by this bill to LGBT families and their children is much more far-ranging and damaging. Rev. Brian Kirk, First Christian, St. Joseph, MO.

  15. Lorinda Grauel:

    Thank you for taking a stand. I have never been more proud to be a disciple! The hatred, bigotry, & discrimination in our state and in the country needs to stop! It is not OUR job to judge…THAT is up to God. It is our job, however, to love our neighbor, forgive, welcome, and be an example of Christ’s love in all that we say & do. What would Jesus do? Let this bill die!

  16. Mark Schuchmann:

    I am going to comment on this, from both sides of the coin. First, I do not believe any laws needed to be added in respect to religion other than what already exists in the constitution. Secondly, I do not like to be threatened. You have threatened here in this letter, and you have done it from the standpoint of ” love of manna”. Would you like to be treated that way ?
    Lastly, when did scripture as a whole become irrelevant ? One side quotes part of a scriptural idea, the other side may quote part of another singular scripture. There is little doubt when we take the entire testaments as a whole, what our actions are called to be.