Spring gives birth to new life, resurrected life. As Christians we take that good news from worship centers into the vitality of our communities this season of Easter.
To assist us in our public witness, the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church give us a guide for our response to the society in which we live. That society includes state government, which not only sets limits and regulates, but which also needs to set the moral tenor for the common good of all Hoosiers.
To God there is no division of secular and sacred. To God all of society and its decisions are sacred. So when we as the church see people taken advantage of or abused, we, as members of the body of Christ, must speak out as God's prophet for the hour - that hour comes to us during each session of the Indiana General Assembly.
Many Hoosier United Methodists have been busy with a variety of bills this session, including gambling, health, Darfur and a marriage amendment.
As United Methodists, we believe "gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good government." With this Social Principle, Bishop Coyner led the way with six other Indiana church executives in a face-to-face discussion with Governor Mitch Daniels. Their priority was an ecumenical opposition to any expansion of legalized gambling now being considered in several bills.
Coyner and the other leaders also assured Daniels of their support for his Healthy Indiana Plan with a two-fold benefit for Hoosiers. HIP first proposes low-cost health care insurance to lower income Hoosiers. Just as important to the health of Indiana is the administration's proposal to fund this plan through an increase in the cigarette tax. United Methodists have joined with other faith and health groups and advocate for a $1-per-pack tax increase to discourage Hoosier teens from smoking. The church opposes the use of tobacco and champions health care as a basic human right. Psalm 146 speaks of the God "who executes justice for the oppressed."
Hoosier United Methodists' support of the Sudan Divestment bill has been an overwhelming success statewide. Both North Indiana and South Indiana conferences gave strong support to this legislation last year during annual conference sessions. Indiana's interfaith Darfur advocates were pleasantly surprised earlier this month when a Senate resolution on Sudan divestment was replaced with an announcement that the Senate would work with the House in crafting a statute which will help divest state pension funds from any company doing business with Sudan in areas that would support its military in carrying out genocide.
Supporters will hopefully be able to celebrate this divestment achievement during the Darfur Rally on Sunday, April 15, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. on the east steps of the State House.
The most sensitive and divisive legislation this session was the marriage amendment resolution. Proponents believed this proposed amendment to the state's constitution is needed to ensure that marriage is defined as a bond between a man and a woman and that the state constitution or state law cannot be construed to provide the benefits of marriage to unmarried couples or groups. Supporters of the amendment said the second provision means courts cannot force the government to provide same-gender benefits, but it does not prohibit the government, public employers or anyone else from voluntarily offering such benefits. Opponents said this amendment would strip civil rights from committed same-gender couples. There are United Methodists on both sides of this issue.
Officially, The United Methodist Church does not condone homosexuality and bans same-gender unions from its properties; however when it comes to the civil right of individuals, "we insist that all persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured." With this Social Principle in mind, hundreds of United Methodist leaders have joined with hundreds of clergy and other faith leaders across Indiana in saying we should not write discrimination into our state constitution. As we go to press, the House Rules Committee voted 5-5 on the proposed amendment, likely ending this year's bid to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The General Assembly still could pass the amendment next year. Voters could still vote in 2008.
With less than a month to go, decisions need to be made on these and other social issues before the legislature. But for Easter people, the vote of the legislature is only secondary to the witness we as Christians give to the process. Unlike lobbyists paid to push the interests of corporate constituents, we advocate for the love of God expressed in Jesus of Nazareth - not for ourselves and our gain, but for the justice of others and the well-being of society.
- Daniel R. Gangler