Nancy Wilson is the elected Moderator (global leader) of Metropolitan Community Churches.

COMMENTARY: A letter to Christians about LGBT protections and religious freedom

(RNS) Dear faithful brothers and sisters:

Some of you do not understand how your country can extend employment protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I have been in ministry with LGBT people for decades, so permit me to share with you what happened Monday (July 21).

Nancy Wilson is the elected Moderator (global leader) of Metropolitan Community Churches.

Nancy Wilson is the elected moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches.

President Obama signed two executive orders. The first added “sexual orientation and gender identity” to an executive order first issued by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 that bans employment discrimination by any recipient of federal funds. The second adds LGBT protections to an executive order by President George W. Bush. The order still says religious groups can discriminate, even if they receive federal funds: “Religious organizations which receive federal funds may discriminate on religious grounds in their employment practices as allowed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

Many people -- religious or not -- are surprised when they hear that anyone who is LGBT, or perceived to be, can be fired or not hired. There are faith leaders and politicians who will tell you these protections are unnecessary, but LGBT people with whom I minister in the pews of Metropolitan Community Churches throughout the U.S. tell me stories of losing jobs or job opportunities, simply because of their sexual orientation.

Until today, millions held jobs and lived in areas where there were no barriers to discriminating against people if they were perceived to be LGBT.

Sadly, millions more are still not protected.

The Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law documents that only 21 states prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and only 16 of these also ban discrimination based on gender identity. Both straight and LGBT workers consistently report they have witnessed discrimination against LGBT people. According to the Williams Institute, “As recently as 2011, 90 percent of respondents to the largest survey of transgender people to date reported having experienced harassment or mistreatment at work.”

These executive orders provide a stopgap measure until a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act can be passed. When that passes, employment discrimination will no longer be legal in any setting -- not just employment connected to federal funding.

Will this force religious groups to hire LGBT ministers? No. Churches, synagogues, mosques and all religious groups have the right to determine within their own tradition whom they will ordain, marry or accept for membership.

Will employment nondiscrimination make some people uncomfortable? Perhaps. I encourage such people to pray about their role in our country and in the Christian body, which includes all of us through God’s grace.

MCC churches have spent almost a half-century picking up people along our own “road to Jericho” where our homeless and beaten young people fell and lay waiting for a helping hand. We formed our own churches and healed many broken bodies. We healed ourselves of self-hatred with God’s help. Today, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Unitarian, United Church of Christ and even some Baptist congregations have opened their doors to our families, our leadership and our lives.

In the civil arena, we are at a turning point, with marriages of same-sex couples now legal in 19 states; several more states await final rulings in the courts. Some traditions will never open their doors to LGBT persons. The U.S. Constitution protects their right to their religious opinion. They will never be required to hire LGBT people in religious contexts.

But for those who ask, “What does God require?” please read the Book of Acts. Peter was given a vision to accept gentiles who were deemed unfit for the kingdom of God. But, God told him, “Do not call unclean what God has declared clean.” Paul talked to the leaders of Jerusalem to convince them that ministry amongst the gentiles was where God was leading him.

Know that God has a way of taking us places we never thought we would go. Be open, pray, be kind and love God.

(The Rev. Nancy Wilson is the elected moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches.)