The passage of Mississippi House Bill 1523 (HB 1523) by both the House and Senate, and the subsequent signing of this bill into law in our state, is a done deal. The question we, the people, are left with is, "How do we live in community together in Mississippi in a way that reflects the best of who we are becoming under the auspices of God?"
After carefully reading HB 1523, I write to you, not as a politician or legal expert, but as the chief pastor of The United Methodist Church in the state of Mississippi. I have prayed, sought the guidance of Scripture and the advice of our "United Methodist Book of Discipline" to discern how the Lord would have us live together as neighbors after the passage of this legislation.
So how can we, as neighbors, live in the midst of people with whom we strongly disagree? It is often very difficult not to become bitter, hateful or seek to hurt and lash out (especially when we perceive to be injured by the actions or inactions of others). In some instances we seek to protect ourselves from being hurt by others or even taken advantage of by others. The mistake we often make when we seek to protect ourselves is that we unintentionally set up adversarial relationships. I believe however, that the Bible shows us a better way that we can still choose to travel even today. Paul says to the church at Colossi, "As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience." Our response to a world that would hurt us is to be a people of genuine compassion realizing God's great love, grace and mercy poured out upon us. When I use the word "compassion," I'm using it in this sense: "To suffer together." Compassion here means to treat others like you would want to be treated. It is as the great Christian contemplative Thomas Merton wrote, "...the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things." Your well-being and mine are tied together.
I am a firm Bible-believing Christian, which pushes me to have standards and integrity just as Jesus had standards and integrity to still love me while I was yet an unredeemed sinner. I trust that in our disagreement over HB 1523, something good and wonderful will come forth that will be a blessing for the state of Mississippi. Perhaps this legislative action will lead to genuine conversation about how we respond to those with whom we have fundamental differences.
In “The Light of Christ,” Evelyn Underhill writes:
"To go where healing love is needed, and give it in a way in which it can be received, often means acting in the teeth of our own interests and preferences, even religious interests and preferences. Christ risked his reputation for holiness by healing on the Sabbath; He touched the unclean, dined with the wrong people; He accepted the love and companionship of a sinner (that most wonderful of all remedies for the wounds of sin). He loved with God's love and so went straight to the point; What can I do to restore my fellow creature and how?"
As a United Methodist Christian, I am called to love all God’s people. So, after prayer and discernment, regardless of our stance on HB 1523, may we ask ourselves this question, "Are my actions or reactions pleasing to God and do they bless people?"