Though the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has made Indianapolis its headquarters for nearly a century, the denomination is considering pulling its next biennial convention out of Indiana over a new state law that allows businesses to turn away gay customers.
Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on March 26, the day after receiving a letter from church leaders pleading with him to veto it and threatening to move their 2017 General Assembly outside the state.
The bill protects business owners who invoke their religious beliefs to deny service to LGBT customers. A photographer, for example, may refuse to take pictures of a lesbian wedding on the grounds that his faith rejects gay marriage.
“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,” stated the letter, which was signed by Sharon E. Watkins, the church’s general minister and president, as well as the leaders of its overseas and domestic missions.
“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.”
The General Assembly will bring more than 6,000 church members to whatever U.S. city the church decides upon and is expected to generate about $5 million in tourism dollars. After Pence signed the law, ministry leaders said they are weighing the costs of moving not only the General Assembly, but smaller meetings — such as the more frequent gatherings of the 125-member board of directors — which most often meets in Indianapolis.
Associate General Minister and Vice President Todd Adams said the church’s board will decide whether to yank the General Assembly from Indianapolis at its next meeting, which begins on April 10.
Other businesses and conventions, including Gen Con, the world’s largest gaming convention, which brings an estimated $50 million to the state each year, have also threatened to find another place to hold their events.