Dozens of Methodist leaders object to Mississippi's religious objections law

Dozens of Methodist leaders are objecting to Mississippi's new religious objections law, saying it violates their religious principles.

More than 30 ministers from around the state and nation published an open letter Monday saying the so-called "religious freedom" law goes against Christian teachings to love and respect all people. The group joins major businesses, human rights groups and legal experts in opposing the incoming law, which they say discriminates against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

The law lets churches and some private businesses deny services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people because of religious beliefs. It's similar to one vetoed by Georgia's governor in late March. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed the measure into law earlier this month.

Pastor Bruce Case of Madison, Mississippi, was among those who signed the letter opposing the law. He said the law creates a problem where there is none.

"LGBT people have always been a part of the church," he said. "They're our friends and fellow churchgoers. This law is unnecessary and just feels mean-spirited to me."

Justin White of Greenville, Mississippi, drafted the ministers' letter. The pastor said it was a result of longstanding conversations he has had with clergy and that many ministers have called him to ask to have their names added to the list since it was published.

"I think it's important as Methodists to speak out against what we see as injustices," he said. "We believe in fundamental rights for all and welcome all people unconditionally. If the Church should be anything it should be a sanctuary."

White said the group was inspired by the actions of 28 Methodist ministers who spoke out against racism in the 1960s struggle against segregation. That group had published a "Born of Conviction" statement after riots broke out as a result of James Meredith becoming the first African-American student to attend the University of Mississippi. While many in the state resisted desegregation, the ministers were outspoken in their stance that racism violated their religious teachings.

"Those men gave us courage to speak up," White said. "Many things have changed since 1963 but it seems our state government is still writing discrimination into law."

Supporters of the law include the American Family Association and the Southern Baptist Convention. They say it protects those who decline services to people whose lifestyles violate religious beliefs that marriage should only be between a man and a woman; that sexual relations should only take place inside such marriages, and that a person's sex is determined at birth and is unchangeable.