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Pre-General Conference Speech: Christian Morality A Hate Crime–Jesus Would Homosexualize UMC

From: "U.M. Cornet" umcornet@hotmail.com

This speech is posted with Jeanne Knepper's permission and will appear on the Affirmation web site soon http://www.umaffirm.org. She is a co-spokesperson for Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Concerns.

CORNET Moderator

Jeanne Knepper spoke these words in Cleveland on January 15, 2000 before the Pre-General Conference Briefing for press and heads of annual conference delegations to General Conference. The General Conference will take place May 2-12, 2000, in Cleveland. On Wednesday, January 12, the day many participants arrived, there was a fire in the Sheraton Hotel, site of the briefing. In addition, a Cleveland water main broke only two blocks from the Sheraton that same afternoon.


I want to begin by thanking United Methodist Communications for the opportunity to be here. Affirmation cherishes any chance to speak with General Conference delegates. Although the "question" of homosexuality, the" issue" of homosexuality, the "problem" of homosexuality have been before The United Methodist Church at every General Conference since 1972, the people-we, the members of Affirmation-have not. And we want you to know that this is really about people, people who are United Methodist. So I thank you for this privilege.

Although I wasn't so sure I was grateful when I arrived on Wednesday. There'd been a fire. The streets were flooded. The room was smoky; the phones didn't work; the toilet didn't work (and me off a long flight!) and we couldn't drink the water. I don't know about you, but I started thinking about Moses up in front of Pharaoh, hearing the words, "Let my people go...," . . . and watching out for frogs.

Wondering, should we be afraid for our firstborn?

And knowing that yes, we should, if our first born are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered and live in cultures shaped by hatred or intolerance of homosexuality.

Indeed, we should be very afraid for them. The Southern Poverty Law Center tells us that hate crimes against gay men and lesbians increased 260 percent between 1988 and 1996; that lesbians and gay men are physically attacked in bias-motivated assaults six times more often than Jews or Hispanics and twice as frequently as blacks; and that anti-homosexual hate crimes exhibit "extraordinary viciousness and brutality."

We've all heard of the brutal murder of Matthew Shepherd, but most of us are not aware that in the year after his death, in the period from October 1998 to October 1999, at least 19 gay men, lesbians and transgendered people were stabbed, beaten, shot, slashed and burned. All died because someone believed they didn't deserve to live.

Well, you might say, that's awful-but what does it have to do with us?

Perhaps we need to know that forty percent of the people who harass gay men or lesbians make specific references to religion, God or the Bible during their assaults.

Perhaps we need to know that the United States Department of Health and Welfare has identified religion as a risk factor in gay youth suicide, explaining that "Family religious beliefs can be a primary reason for parents forcing youth to leave home if a homosexual orientation is seen as incompatible with Christian teachings. (Their language.) These beliefs also create unresolvable internal conflict for gay youth...They may feel wicked and condemned to hell and attempt suicide in despair..."

Perhaps we need to know that Matthew Williams, who murdered Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder in their beds last spring told his mother when she visited him in jail, "I think God put me here as a witness....I have followed a higher law. I see a lot of parallels between this and a lot of other incidents in the Old Testament. They threw our Lord and Savior in jail." Williams represents himself as a religious martyr, jailed for his faithfulness to God in killing two gay men.

And this has a lot to do with us.

We are people of the Word. We believe that words, and how we use them help to shape our world. How else do we explain the size of our United Methodist Book of Resolutions? The United Methodist Church participates in the creation of this violent culture through its words, through its continued promotion of a lie, that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

This was a lie when it was adopted in 1972, for even then we knew that faithful Christians did not all agree on our Christian teachings about homosexuality. It is an even greater lie now.

In April of 2000, scientists will release the report on the genome project, an international collaboration to map all human genes. Already, five years ago, a leader in the National Institute of Health, who was Catholic, gathered with religious leaders and told them, "We will need to get down on our knees, for we have borne false witness against our brothers and sisters."

Homosexuality is not a choice and it is not a sin. It's the way some people are, people created by God, people beloved by God. And God is saying, "Let My People In!"

Now, I know, that some will try to persuade you that you have to "hold the line" or there will be schism. But we all know the church can't split unless you vote to separate it. And you're not going to do that. This church is too important to you, to me, to all of us.

Some will try to stampede you into fierce language and punitive postures. But I think you're better than that. I know, I believe, that we are all of us, everyone in this room, people of God, doing our best to be faithful, glad for the space that gives us room for unity without uniformity.

Some say that we are a threat to the church. I say, we are your colleagues, your pew-mates, your pastors, your bishops, your children and your parents. We are Christians, we are United Methodists and we are yours, called by God to be in this place, in this time, in this church.

Our children are teaching us a phrase. When they have hard decisions to make, when pressures assail them, they ask themselves, "What Would Jesus Do?" It's a good standard, a very good question for these times.

When faithful and loving couples come to their faith communities asking for blessing and support, "What Would Jesus Do?"

When teens are driven from their homes by our language of judgment, "What Would Jesus Do?"

When talented and grace-filled Christians answer God's call and present themselves for ordination and service to our church, "What Would Jesus Do?"

I think maybe God has a sense of humor. I've thought that a long time with respect to the Roman Catholic Church, experiencing a severe shortage of priests. Sometimes, I think God is saying to that denomination: "Hey, I'm calling plenty of people into the priesthood-and they're women! Let my people in!"

And I think God is speaking to us as well. Are our numbers down? Let my people in! Have we lost our sense of celebration? Let my people in!

Do we long for vital community? Let my people in!

Do we ache to speak an effective word of reconciliation to a fractured and violent world?

Do we? Do you?

In 1996, General Conference delegates heard the musical group Montana Logging and Ballet Company sing the song they wrote to honor Bishop Tutu and his struggles in South Africa, "Take the Barriers Down." Now Bishop Tutu himself is saying to us, this discrimination against lesbians and gay men is wrong. Take the barriers down.

I believe that God is calling to us. Listen, listen to God's voice in the night. Listen to that persistent voice, echoing through the ages: "Let my people in! "

Thank you.

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