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UMW Official Magazine Accuses UMC of Hate Crimes For Opposing Homosexuality

February 26, 1999


TO: Directors, Women’s Division, GBGM
Joyce D. Sohl, Deputy General Secretary, Women’s Division
Dana E. Jones, Editor, Response Magazine
FROM: L. Faye Short, President, RENEW Network
SUBJECT: February Issue Response Magazine
I have received and read the February issue of Response magazine dedicated to the topic When We Hate. While this is a legitimate area of concern for United Methodist Women to address, an astonishing deduction is interwoven within several of the articles and is the main topic of others. An illogical and erroneous leap is made from legitimate hate crime concerns to accusations that many Christian organizations, and, yes, even churches, are instigators of hate and hate crimes.
  • In Joyce Sohl’s column, Responsively Yours, she quotes Bishop Michael Coyner’s remarks about the Matthew Shepard killing wherein he questions whether our debate within the church about homosexual practice helps to condone violence. While Ms. Sohl’s article contains quotes and questions rather than accusations, the end result is to raise suspicion about our church’s claim that homosexual practice is "incompatible with Christian teaching."

  • Kelly Martini’s article Creating Fear of Difference Online refers yet again to Lois Dauway’s oft-quoted disparaging remarks about the "Truth in Love" campaign, which offered the hope of a transformed life to gays and lesbians. Ms. Dauway said, "Recent media campaigns with slick slogans like ‘Truth in Love’ and ‘Hope not Hate’ use Christian words to promote bigotry." She claimed these outreach ads were "campaigns of fear and misinformation." Such statements castigate Christian organizations who are endeavoring to uphold the Biblical witness within society.

  • Perhaps the most shocking article, both because of its pictorial images and content, is Looking for Hate in All the Wrong Places by Meg A. Riley (a Unitarian Universalist minister). Pictured on the two-page spread with the accused killers in the James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard cases are Dr. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, and a group of Promise Keepers. This pictorial layout visually links Focus and Promise Keepers with those who perpetrate violence. Focus on the Family is identified in the caption as a "right-wing organization that attempts to influence U.S. politics." In the article, Focus is criticized for its pro-life position on abortion. Promise Keeper’s position on male/female relationships is misrepresented with the claim that Promise Keepers and their wives sanction male domination. Again in this article, the "Truth in Love" campaign is attacked and the campaign’s claims that homosexuality can be "cured" by religious conversion is billed as quite incredulous.

  • The article Contemplating Matthew Shephard makes the most blatant parallel between hate crimes and the church. Author Mag Segrest states, "On the question of anti-gay violence and hate, the Christian church has blood on its hands. It took many blows of a pistol to cleave Mr. Shepard’s spirit from his body. Within Christianity, church fiat is the equivalent of Mr. Brin and Mr. McKinny’s pistols." She then proceeds to outline the various steps that have been taken within denominations to uphold their church law against homosexual practice and the ordination of homosexuals. Ms. Segrest then ensures the reader draws the conclusion she intends by stating, "Travis Brin and Aaron McKinney beat Matthew Shepard to death to make it clear that to them, he was not fully human. The debates on homosexuality across denominations send the same message when they put the question of human community up for a denominational vote."

We know that hate and cruelty, indeed sin, exists in this world. It is right to decry brutality such as that exhibited by those who killed James Byrd and Matthew Shepard. Perpetrators of these and other such crimes should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and everything possible should be done to deter such brutal acts of violence on the part of individuals or groups. But to put Promise Keepers, Dr. James Dobson and the Church of Jesus Christ in the same camp with those who hate and kill is an incredible accusation-it is unconscionable.

The kind of rhetoric used in the February issue of Response against Christian organizations and against the Church’s stand on homosexual practice sends the message that it is homophobic and promoting of hate crimes for Christians to say: homosexual practice is sinful and homosexuals can change. This flies in the face of the vote at the last four General Conferences to retain in the United Methodist Book of Discipline the statement that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, and the statement that denies the ordination of practicing homosexuals.

What we are seeing is the use of the official United Methodist Women’s magazine to discredit the commitment of the church to the biblical standard on the issue of homosexuality. Response is being subsidized significantly beyond subscription income with organization funds. (According to 1997 records, Response subscription income was $522,000 versus expenditures of $1.3 million, which included salaries and benefits in the amount of $416,000.) United Methodist Women are paying for the production of Response both through their gifts and their subscriptions. In the case of this issue, they are paying to subsidize opposition to their church’s official position on homosexual practice and to speak against other Christian organizations seeking to uphold the biblical standard through a public witness.

This is not the only time Response magazine and other UMW resources have been used to promote a position taken by the Women’s Division in behalf of the women of the church. While this issue of the magazine maligns the political activism of other religious groups (identified as the "religious right"), no mention is made of the Women’s Division’s own well-documented partisan political involvement on Capitol Hill. Perhaps we must ask, "Can the Women’s Division be trusted to rightly portray the conscience of United Methodist women through its publications and actions?"

The majority of women within the United Methodist Church would concur that Scripture conveys a standard of moral and ethical practice applicable to us all as we live out our Christian lives. We are called away from a life of sin into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And, we fully recognize that we have been called to share this ministry of reconciliation with the world. Sharing Christ and calling people to God’s standard is not an act of hate-it is the deepest act of love we can offer.

I appeal to the elected Directors of the Women’s Division to address the serious nature of the accusations made in the February issue of Response magazine against Focus on the Family, Promise Keepers and other Christian organizations who supported the "Truth in Love" campaign. The attack on the good character of these organizations in this issue of Response is so offensive that a retraction and apology would be in order.

I also appeal to the Women’s Division staff, the directors and the staff of Response to remove from its campaign against hate crimes any implication that to bear faithful witness to the Church’s stance on homosexual practice is part of a rhetoric of hate. The Women’s Division has voiced its acceptance of the will of General Conference as outlined in the Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions. Any programs or campaigns it promotes should therefore uphold, not call into question, Church law.

I appeal to you all to faithfully represent the women of the United Methodist Church who empower your ability to act by their gifts and their trust in you.

Be humbly worthy of that trust.

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