Delivered on January 27, 2016 at the Indiana Statehouse

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.

Thank you.

Subsequently, President Wright has issued the following public comments about the reasoning behind his testimony at the Senate.

Last week I testified at the Indiana Senate’s committee hearing on bills that address some of the most important and contentious social issues of our time. Let me explain why I did so.

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.

We are a Hoosier institution through and through, committed to a Christian view of the world and of truth, doing our work according to the best practices of academic inquiry and teaching. Like many other great Protestant and Catholic institutions in our state, IWU is deeply religious, irenic and hospitable. The matters under dispute go to the very heart of our identity and existence.

The Christian educational community has been involved in lengthy discussions about how best to protect our religious freedom in a culture that does not share our Christian commitments about marriage, family and sexuality. This continues to be a matter of long, sincere, and intense deliberation for those now being impacted by these societal shifts.

Indiana is the first state legislature to confront these questions since the United States Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision. As other states do the same, I believe many other presidents at similar institutions will take positions similar to the ones I expressed in my testimony. I respect those among my cohorts who disagree. But these are positions taken after great deliberation, prayer and conversation with those of like faith.

In these ongoing conversations there is a broad consensus that in a world in which the courts have (with significant public support) declared a constitutional right to same sex marriage, protecting religious freedom will require some difficult political judgments. Absent recognition of these realities, we simply lack the cultural and political power to preserve the full measure of religious freedom so vital to the future of our institutions. We saw the results of even a relatively modest measure to protect religious freedom in Indiana last year.

Senator Travis Holdman, who is a conservative evangelical Christian, authored the bills about which I testified. Legal scholars on both sides of the issue testified that the bills would protect religious freedom perhaps more than any other state in the country. The committee heard moving testimony from those who have been hurt by sexual orientation and gender identity laws that fail to take into account the sincerely held religious beliefs of some business owners about these issues. The bills regarding which I testified would make Indiana the first state to explicitly protect the rights of wedding vendors and just the third state to protect the rights of faith-based adoption agencies to continue to serve without legal penalties. It would also provide vital protections that are critically necessary for Christian educational institutions, including Christian primary and secondary schools, to maintain the freedom to operate according to our most cherished values.

As we ask our fellow citizens to preserve these rights for people of faith and our institutions, we must listen in good faith to those who point out the injustice of someone to be fired, denied bank credit, evicted from their homes, or denied a hotel room because of their sexual orientation. These instances are thankfully rare but, when they do occur, they cause great harm to the victims and efforts to protect religious liberty. We can disagree with the choices made by our fellow citizens while also believing that they should not face unjust treatment in the ordinary circumstances of life.

We will continue to follow our consciences at Indiana Wesleyan University. We will respectfully serve all who seek an education with us. We will ask our culture and our courts to respect our deeply held beliefs even when they believe we are mistaken. We must be willing to extend the same respect to those whom we believe are mistaken. The bills about which I testified reflect that aim. In my testimony, I was careful to explain that support for such measures does not signal even the slightest deviation from biblically based views of marriage, family and sexuality. Indeed, the very opposite is true – such legislation is important precisely so that we can continue to live out these values in all areas of life without threats of reprisal while loving our neighbors as Christ taught us to do.