Several people have asked if they could see my testimony at the Senate hearing. Here is the text of my testimony. Time was severely limited so I was not able to share all of this. I have provided this written text to the Senate Committee.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM/CIVIL RIGHTS TESTIMONY
January 27, 2016
It is a privilege to be able to contribute today to the deliberation that might lead to the creation of the laws that govern our common life.
My name is David Wright. I serve as President of Indiana Wesleyan University, a private university owned by The Wesleyan Church, a denomination of about 800,000 adherents headquartered here in Indiana. IWU is one of five colleges and universities owned by our Church in the United States and Canada.
IWU serves a student body of about 15,000 students at our main campus in Marion, at our 17 regional education centers in the Midwest, and in over 40 states and 26 foreign countries. We have over 80,000 alumni and 1100 full-time employees. We serve a student body that is highly diverse in race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, faith, nationality, and political persuasion.
IWU is a Christ-centered university that pursues the best traditions of academic inquiry and teaching while remaining grounded in the rich intellectual and spiritual tradition of the historic Christian faith. For 95 years our university has served the public good of our state and region by graduating exceptional citizens who serve as some of our region’s best teachers, nurses, counselors, business people, pastors, and scientists.
We do not exist for the purpose of proselytizing people to our denomination though we are happy when our students find their faith strengthened and made more meaningful in their lives as a result of studying with us. Instead we exist to serve the public good.
Here is our mission: Indiana Wesleyan University is a Christ-centered academic community committed to changing the world by developing students in character, scholarship, and leadership.
So I come today to offer you reflections on the current intersection of civil rights, public and private moral values, and religious freedom from the perspective of a deeply religious, conservative, yet irenic and hospitable university community.
First, I wish to call our legislators to safeguard the right of Indiana’s many religious institutions and social service providers to continue serving the public good while maintaining the deeply held religious convictions that give us our unique identities and out of which we serve the public good of our state and country.
We believe that the quality of life and the economic competitiveness of our state are greatly enriched through the many services provided by Indiana’s rich network of faith-based organizations – including hospitals, child service providers, community development organizations, and universities. The right of these organizations to maintain their unique identities has long been recognized through religious protections afforded by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Executive Order 13279, which amends Section 204 of Executive Order 11246. We believe that any law passed by our state legislature must align Indiana’s religious protections with those long established constitutional protections also upheld in federal law.
Second, I wish to commend those of you who, under exceedingly difficult and contentious circumstances, are seeking ways to wisely balance the civil rights of all of Indiana’s citizens, while also safeguarding the religious freedoms we enjoy as Americans.
We are in the midst of a time when our social fabric is stretched close to the breaking point over these intensely contested questions of sexual orientation and gender identity. As a university president I am afforded an unusual perspective as I listen to the concerns of our students, faculty, trustees, donors, and friends.
I am struck with how often fear and anger are the subtexts of the conversations. Fear and anger are present on all sides of these debates. Unfortunately, when we are fearful and angry we easily forget our better selves. Our debates become centered on the question: How can I be sure to win? We use the metaphor of warfare to describe our interchanges with our fellow citizens.
If we are intent on following the metaphor of warfare to its conclusion, this means we will be locked in combat until one side dominates or destroys the other by force.
But I ask you, how can we embrace a trajectory of warfare that leads us to seek the destruction of our enemies when our enemies are our neighbors?
Should we not at least entertain the question: How might neighbors who hold strong and divergent convictions create a framework in which to live together peacefully?
With that in mind, please allow me to be transparent about both the convictions and the desires of our community.
We do not believe that gender and sexuality are self-defined human constructs. Instead, we believe that human beings are created in the image of God. God took great delight in creating human beings as men and women. We may choose different ways to live with our gender and sexuality, but we are not and never will be anything other than women and men intended by God to live in fruitful and enjoyable partnership with each other. We believe that we will find our greatest personal satisfaction, and social well-being, when we accept and live according to our God-given identities and relationships. It is our sincerely held belief, a belief that we have held generation after generation after generation that encouraging one another to view our gender and sexuality as fluid and self-defined constructs will ultimately lead us to experience confusion, isolation, and unhappiness. We cannot be in favor of any legislation that would require us to capitulate, abandon, or be silent about these things we hold to be true.
In America, it is our right to hold these convictions, to speak about them, and to participate in public life while holding such sincerely held beliefs. Indeed, we believe that any society that takes away its citizens’ right to the religious freedom that informs these convictions ultimately will remove all other rights as well.
By the same token, our religious convictions also call upon us to honor the dignity and worth of our fellow citizens who, for their own good reasons, disagree with and choose to live in ways contrary to our convictions. In fact, in this intensely conflicted debate about sexual orientation and gender identity, most of us who hold the religious convictions I have described know, care for, serve, and associate with persons who are either uncertain about their sexual orientation or have come to the settled conviction that their personal happiness lies in the pursuit of a life different from the one we would choose.
What do we want for these friends and neighbors of ours? We are not at war with them. We are in conflict with their understanding of the pathway to personal and social well-being. But we do not view them as enemies to be ridiculed, bullied, punished, or persecuted. They are the neighbors whom Jesus has called us to love as we love ourselves.
They are men and women just like us who are doing their best to find their pathway to well-being and happiness. Our love for them means we cannot affirm a pathway that we sincerely believe is mistaken, but neither do we want them to be denied the basic human rights that are their due as fellow citizens.
We believe all of us who live together as law-abiding citizens of this state must enjoy the basic protections of the law. To deny one person the protections of law is ultimately to lay the groundwork for denying all persons the protection of law.
In summary, then, we believe that our laws must honor the fundamental rights of freedom of religion, of conscience, and of peaceful coexistence granted us in the constitutions of our state and our nation. If we abandon or curtail the right to sincerely held religious convictions, peaceably pursued among fellow citizens, we will in time deny all other rights as well.
We commend you for attempting to find wise ways to protect the legal interests of all Hoosiers. Above all, we call upon you, in the midst of this intense moment of social conflict, to safeguard the right of Indiana’s many people of faith, and of Indiana’s many excellent religious institutions and social service providers, to continue serving the public good while maintaining their deeply and sincerely held religious convictions.