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Pro-Homosexuality Affirmation News List Responds to RENEW Criticism of UMW Magazine

The Church and Anti-gay Violence By Morris L. Floyd

From: UM Affirmation

The author invites reaction to the following analysis. Send mail to Affirmation at PO Box 1021, Evanston, IL 60204, or email to

In early March the murder of Billy Jack Gaither was the second anti-gay killing in six months to gain national attention. Unfortunately it was just one of dozens of acts of anti-gay violence documented in newspaper accounts during the period. As happens in many such cases, one of the confessed murderers says they killed Gaither because of a sexual advance. However, the February 19 crime was no quick angry response to an unwelcome proposition. The killers admitted they had been planning the attack for two weeks before the fatal night. They enticed Gaither to leave a Sylacauga, Alabama, bar with them, stuffed him into the trunk of his own car, took him to a deserted land reserve, beat him to death with an axe handle, and set his body afire. The virulence of the act and the attempted destruction of the body are typical of hate crimes.

Ironically, those who call for a literal interpretation and strict adherence to some Biblical passages seem less troubled by violent language and acts than by the possibility of loving relationships between people of the same gender. The fury of right wing United Methodists is now at the February issue of Response magazine (published by United Methodist Women), which focuses on hate crimes. Joyce Sohl, who is staff leader of the Women's Division, cited in her column the soul-searching questions of North Dakota Bishop Michael Coyner about whether the United Methodist debate on homosexuality has the effect of encouraging violence against LGBT people.

In a public letter to elected directors of the Women's Division, L. Faye Short, president of the RENEW Network (the women's organization of Good News), complains that Bishop Coyner's remarks "…raise suspicion about our church's claim that homosexual practice is 'incompatible with Christian teaching.'" Ms. Short is shocked by what she calls "the illogical and erroneous leap…from legitimate hate crime concerns to accusations that many Christian organizations, and, yes, even churches, are instigators of hate and hate crimes." Apparently she has not heard about the Rev. Fred "God-hates-fags" Phelps.

Ms. Short and other leaders of the "Christian" right understandably want to distance themselves from brutal crimes like the murders of Mathew Shepard and Billy Jack Gaither. However, no amount of denial can obscure the link between hateful rhetoric and hate-filled brutality. Ms. Short says it was wrong for Response to depict groups such as Focus on the Family as perpetrators of anti-gay violence. However, these groups are part of a nationally coordinated effort to deny GLBT people the civil and human rights that the United Methodist Discipline says should be protected. Two years ago, for example, they supported a "get out the Christian vote" effort that succeeded in repealing human rights protections for GLBT people in the state of Maine. They also can be counted on to oppose special laws addressing hate crimes. The impact of these groups' rhetoric is demonstrated by dramatic increases in anti-gay violence tracked in Colorado and Oregon by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs during debates over civil rights laws in those states.

Furthermore, it is a very short distance from declaring our love "incompatible with Christian teaching" to sending a message that condones brutality. As Mag Segrest points out in the Response article "Contemplating Matthew Shephard," the United Methodist Church and other denominations underline the point whenever "…they put the question of human community up for a denominational vote."

In their approval of Focus on the Family et al, the leadership of United Methodism's right wing wants to take the same approach to the Discipline that they do to the Bible - literal interpretation of the parts that support their prejudice while they ignore the message as a whole.

The people of Sylacauga, AL, are fortunate to have another type of United Methodist leader. ." No flaming liberal, the Rev. Hughey Reynolds, pastor of First Church, made it clear in his March 7 sermon that he supports the official United Methodist stance. He also addressed what he called "the spiritual issue behind the heinous crime committed in our area by people from this our town against one of our own neighbors." He acknowledged press reports that "attributed the hate behind this senseless killing to the pulpits of our area which issue anti-gay judgments and stir the fears of Christian people which cause us to further isolate anyone we suspect to be homosexual." He added: "And I pray to God now that I do not occupy one of those pulpits responsible for stirring fears which kindle hatred of those who are gay."

Moreover, referring to the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), Reynolds encourages his congregation to "Start inside looking honestly at yourself and you will find a place, which is also your place of healing, where you are much less likely to cast judgment against your neighbor….And really it is in your own healing and mine that you and I find a right relationship with others and can lead them to Christ."

Participating in the March 9 memorial service for Gaither, the Rev. Lawton Higgs Sr. of United Methodist Church of the Reconciler, Birmingham, said, "We're here to celebrate this evening that God is not hate, but God is love."

They are a marked contrast to those who excoriate United Methodist Women for inviting the church to consider Bishop Coyner's concern.

Birmingham Area Bishop Robert Fannin has yet to respond to Affirmation's inquiry about his response to the Gaither killing. However, he and his colleagues in the Council of Bishops still have the opportunity to reclaim the proper role of the United Methodist Church in this issue. They can remind state and federal legislators, in the words of a New York Times editorial, that: "Governments need to say, because citizens need to know" that it is wrong to attack people "just because of who they are." They can remind the people in their communities that the United Methodist Book of Discipline has not yet set aside the biblical mandate against murder.

Affirmation: United Methodists for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns.
P. O. Box 1021, Evanston, IL 60204.  Web site:

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