(EDITOR'S NOTE: Faith Matters is a column written by the social concerns committee of the United Churches of Lycoming County. The monthly feature will include local faith-based comment on issues facing us today. Opinions expressed in the columns are those of the writers and the social concerns committee, not necessarily the Sun-Gazette.)
This is the month when freedom and independence are at the forefront of our thinking and our activities. I recently asked a young woman what she thought of when she heard the word "freedom." She paused a moment and responded, "You know, I don't think I ever really think about it." She wasn't being shallow. She was just being much like all white, Anglo Saxon, heterosexual beings who have never really had to think about freedom because we've always had it; and losing all that we consider our due never really has been even a remote possibility.
Our ancestors were not slaves - although some may have been slave owners. Nor did most of them come to this country under the shadow of political, social or religious persecution. Our grandparents were not immigrants from Mexico who had to slave to earn the right to have land that produced sustenance for their table and education for their children. None of us ever was denied a scholarship or a bank loan because of skin color or last name. Surely you have never been reluctant to walk out of your house at any time of the day or night for fear of imprisonment or death. Neither do most of us have to worry about being denied our freedoms because of our gender preference or sexual identity.
Recently, much conversation, letter writing and information-sharing meetings have occurred with regard to House and Senate bills 300. These bills would update the 1955 Human Relations Act to add the phrases "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression" to the following list of groups protected from discrimination in the workplace, in housing and in public accommodations: "race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, a non-job related handicap or disability or the use of a guide or support animal."
Pennsylvania recently has accorded marriage equality to our sisters and brothers from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community. However, they can still be fired from their jobs, evicted from their dwellings and denied service in any public place of business if they are known or suspected to be part of the LGBT community. The denial of equal rights to all people is counter to everything people of faith are taught.
Paul's words in his letter to the Galatians remind us that we were set free by what Jesus did for us. We are set free for freedom - freedom from anything that would enslave us, freedom to stand with our brothers and sisters who still are being held captive by whomever and for whatever reason, freedom to love our neighbor as ourselves, freedom to share with those who are oppressed all the things that our personal liberty grants us. Paul reminds us that the "whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.'"
As a Christian, I am bound by that commandment to love; and I encourage all people of faith to practice that kind of love and to show our representatives support for House and Senate bills 300.
Let our freedom be for freedom, justice, equality, compassion, generosity and hospitality to all.
- Stork-Whitson is the intentional interim minister at New Covenant United Church of Christ, 202 E. Third St.