What does it mean to be a welcoming and affirming church?

That was one of many topics pondered June 24 at "Journey Toward Justice: Promoting a Welcoming Society for Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender People in Your Faith Community and Beyond."

"It is important that people of faith explore how they can be open and welcoming to everyone, including GLBT people," said participant Mark St. John of Indianapolis, one of 57 people who attended the three-hour workshop at Bloomington's First United Church.

"There is a growing network of people of faith in Indiana of all traditions that have grown tired of their religious and political leaders using religion-based teaching to justify discrimination," said speaker Dan Funk, executive director of Interfaith Coalition on Nondiscrimination (ICON). "They are uniting around their conviction that religious-based bigotry has no place in our society, or in government."

The event was sponsored by ICON (...) and Indiana Equality (...), a coalition formed in 2003 of organizations from around the state that focus on ensuring basic human rights for Indiana's GLBT citizens.

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Indiana Equality released ground-breaking poll results in May showing that Indiana residents overwhelmingly support basic human rights for gay and lesbian citizens.

Majorities favor equality for gay and lesbian Hoosiers in employment, housing and public accommodations — by significant margins.

Workshop participant John Clower, chair of Indiana Equality, noted that though Hoosiers are increasingly supportive of gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender rights, there is still no law that protects GLBT Hoosiers from discrimination at the state level.

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The survey, completed by IU's Center for Survey Research, found 79 percent of the respondents agreed that gay and lesbian Hoosiers should have the same civil rights protections as others.

Majorities support such protections in urban, suburban, small town and rural areas, and across all age, educational and racial groups. This aligns with national polls, yet the so-called "Marriage Protection Act" (SJR 0007 in Indiana) is currently in place in more than 20 states.

Funk noted that Indianapolis attorney Eric Miller has pledged to raise more than $3 million to ensure the amendment passes. Miller's Advance America group advocates "pro-family, pro-church, pro-private and home school, and pro-tax reform" agendas and claims more than 3,700 churches as members.

Workshop participants pledged to fight Miller's discriminatory agenda and discussed how, via their faith congregations.

"A welcoming congregation opens its door to all and welcomes GLBT people in," Funk concluded. "No matter what walk of life you are from, you are welcome to come worship. Open and affirming congregations act out and speak out for GLBT people as a matter of faith."

Melissa McReynolds can be reached at melissa@galfriday.biz.