Pastor Brandiilyne Mangum-Dear's Testimony About Mississippi's HB 1523

In 2012, during Hurricane Isaac, The Weather Channel referred to Mississippi as “the land mass between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.” This dismissal angered many Mississippians, but it also made us aware that the rest of the country thinks Mississippi is so far stuck in the past that they don’t even know our name—just “the land mass between New Orleans and Mobile.”

I grew up here and my family lives all over the state.  I have close to 75 family members from Gulfport to Waynesboro.  I am a pastor of Joshua Generation Metropolitan Community Church (MCC).  MCC is a denomination that was founded almost a half century ago, so gay people could have a church of their own.  Today, we serve LGBTQ people, straight people, and anyone who wants to worship with us. 

When we heard about HB1523 we were sad and angry.

We were sad and angry because we know that Mississippians have worked hard to break with its history of segregation, racism, and narrow mindedness.  When Governor Phil Bryant signed HB 1523 into law it took our state back to the days of Jim Crow. It is that specter of racism that makes people outside our State want us to disappear into some nameless “land mass.”

We have tried to put the past behind us.  Our state slogan is “The Hospitality State.” We have wonderful traditions. Families gather to feast after church services on Easter, we pull our cars over to show respect when funeral processions pass by, and just about any event is an excuse to gather around a BBQ grill to celebrate. Folks wave as they drive by, and everyone greets you with a smile, whether they know you or not. 

HB 1523 betrays this hospitality and has been a wakeup call for all Mississippians and people across the United States.  Non-discrimination laws are state-by-state and even city-by-city. North Carolina’s recent “religious freedom” law even took away local government’s right to pass protections for LGBTQ people in their municipalities.

Many people think that it is already illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people, but Marriage Equality did not eliminate discrimination against LGBTQ people, and right wing politicians and conservative Christians are making sure that they can continue to discriminate.

For Mississippians, a ghost from the past seems to be haunting us again.  It is the ghost of hate and discrimination. This ghost seeps into our communities and causes so much harm.  Today, LGBTQ people have to ask, what good is marriage equality if you are going to get fired from your job, kicked out of your home, and refused health care?

People of color wonder if this is a portent of things to come for them, as well.  It is time for protections for all people in every U.S. state and territory. This ghost must be exorcized. Until then, no one is safe.

Dozens of states have dealt with these so-called “religious freedom” laws that make discrimination based on “sincerely held religious beliefs” legal.  The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has been tracking these legislative actions: 

  • Anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in 34 states.
  • Kansas, North Carolina and Mississippi now have “religious freedom” bills   that were voted by the legislature and signed into law by their governors.
  • South Dakota, Georgia, and Virginia passed bills that were vetoed by their governors.
  • More are being considered, and more will be proposed.

I am a lesbian and a Christian pastor.  I turn to the Bible and look for the major themes about how we are to live our lives, but the Bible has been misused to harm people.

Here in the Bible Belt, whites fought for slavery and resisted the civil rights movement—all in the name of religion.  The Bible says “slaves obey your master.” A whole book of the New Testament, Philemon, is a letter to a slave owner from Paul, urging him to welcome back his slave.  Many Christians used these texts and interpreted “the curse of Ham” so that they could say slavery was established by God.

Most Christians in Mississippi and across the country see the error of those beliefs, and now look to other scriptures about loving ones neighbor, and how Jesus broke the rules around gender, nationality, and class so everyone was welcome.

Even Paul, who wrote the letter about Philemon, the slave, urged Christians to place love above everything, and he urged Philemon’s owner to treat him like a brother, not a slave.  In the “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, Paul was dealing with a community that was disintegrating into factions.  Paul reminded them, that nothing is more important than love.  First and foremost, love does no harm.

Discrimination, for religious reasons or any other reason, does harm.  We must stop this heartless interpretation of religion and this blatant misuse of freedom of religion.

Like the Corinthians who Paul exhorted to establish love as their first calling, I am not losing hope. I believe that people can make the right choices, but it will not happen if we do not speak out.

Add your voice to the protests against these horrific laws that, not only allow discrimination, but encourage it.

Pay attention to your own state legislators— are they dealing with laws that allow discrimination in the name of religion?

Stand on the highest values of any religion— love.

My wife, Susan, and I along with our church took that stand. We joined forces with The Mississippi Center for Justice and became 3 of the 13 plaintiffs in the case against HB 1523. Fight back. Stand on human values.

Work for non-discrimination laws that will protect everyone across this country. 

Let’s make everyone safe.