catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 19 :: 2004.11.19 — 2004.12.02


Spiritual violence and hate crimes

The saddest thing about preparing to write about the hate movement was there was too much to cover. Too many groups with too many vicious agendas. Too many victims of too many crimes. Too many people who have been broken by broken people and the rubble lies like broken walls all around our feet.

Do we start with James Byrd, victim of a modern day lynching in Texas? Or Tyra Hunter who was injured in a car accident and was treated by emergency personnel—until they discovered she was transgender and who died at the hospital when a doctor refused to treat her? Do we talk about Stephanie Thomas gunned down in Washington, D.C. or Matthew Shepherd tied to a fence in Colorado where his tears washed a path down his blood covered face?

Over and over I was brought to tears as I read reports of violent assaults and murders. Over and over again I was dismayed at the number of hate crimes in this country and mystified by the fact that my fellow human beings intimidate and threaten, rob and harm other people?simply because they are different.

The American Psychological Association says that hate crime is ?not only an attack on one?s physical self, bit it is also an attack on one?s very identity.? People fall victim to such attacks because of how they look, how they pray or how they behave. The FBI compiles Hate Crime Statistics every year, documenting crimes that occur based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability. Nearly 8,000 hate crimes were reported in the year 2002 and everyone believes there are many more that are never reported at all.

David Duke, one of our country?s more notorious white supremacists, is calling on all racist groups to be more effective in society by doing two things: first, to aim their hate and resentment at their real targets and not each other; second, to disguise their intentions as they infiltrate society. For instance, he is advising his followers to volunteer as little league coaches where they can gain access to impressionable children.

Someone could easily devote an entire to these hate crimes and those who commit them. But for now I want to focus on another kind of hate in action, a kind that never makes it to the FBI hate crime statistics, a kind that is not punishable in any way. Because it is, in fact, perfectly legal.

It is spiritual violence?perpetrated against God?s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children. It is an assault against the very spirit and soul of children of God. It is taught in pulpits around this country. It is asserted in editorials. It is found in magazines and books and television programs and political speeches. And it is a primary source of suffering for many of God?s children. In fact, some members of society have used these teachings as a license to kill. Sometimes these teachings are used as a motive for people to kill themselves.

?For day after day they seek me out; they SEEM eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They SEEM eager for God to come near them?? (Isaiah 58:2).

But their words and their actions speak otherwise.

Flipping through my latest Christianity Today

, with the promise that my subscription ends in October, a statement leapt off the pages and hit me right between the eyes. It spread across two columns of print with blue letters in something like 172-point font.

?The Supreme Court, in declaring all sodomy laws unconstitutional, has in effect [and this is in all capital letters] DECLARED THE NATION PAGAN.? It was written by Harold O.J. Brown, who serves as Professor of Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in North Carolina. Then as I scanned the headlines, I came upon this sad news:

The Roman Catholic Communion war has extended from abortion to so-called gay rights. After a bishop in Minnesota said he would not deny Communion to gay-rights supporters during Mass on Pentecost Sunday, a group of Catholic laymen took matters into their own hands. Calling themselves the ?Ushers of the Eucharist,? 36 laymen knelt in the center aisle at the Cathedral of St. Paul to block those who wore a rainbow sash from the altar.

Add to this the fact that Fred Phelps followers showed up in Minnesota last week. The vile signs and repugnant words hung heavy in the air about them. But the religious community can be much more subtle and much more effective in their attacks on homosexuals. The Federal Marriage Amendment and other anti-gay laws can easily be traced to anti-gay religious leaders misusing Biblical text. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Exodus and other Ex-Gay ministries can sound like loving attempts to bring wholeness to broken people. The idea is that people can change their orientation through religious and psychological deliverance. But such assertions are not only untrue, they are extremely dangerous.

The American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics all oppose the use of reparative or conversion therapy. The APA states, ?The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable.? It goes on to say; ?The potential risks of reparative therapy are great; including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapists? alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.?

At times the damage done is so great that it leads to suicide. This is what happened in the case of Stuart Matis, a young Mormon, who concluded that one could not be both gay and Christian. A few days before he took his life, Stuart wrote to his cousin:

The Church has no idea that as I type this letter, there are surely boys and girls on their calloused knees imploring God to free them from this pain. They hate themselves?. Every waking moment of every day they must be on constant alert to not divulge any clues that will identify themselves to their peers?. They are afraid of their parents. They are afraid of their Bishop. They are afraid of their friends. They have nowhere to go but to lay on their floors curled in a ball and weep themselves to sleep.?

So which is worse: physical violence or spiritual violence? One arises out of hatred and intolerance bred in a gang-like atmosphere. The other out of anti-gay rhetoric masquerading as a message of Christ?s love and the power to overcome obstacles but that gives rise to self-hatred and encourages intolerance in Christians and non-Christians alike.

?For day after day they seek me out; they SEEM eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They SEEM eager for God to come near them?? (Isaiah 58:2).

But instead they have armed themselves with a weapon of misinformation that perpetuates intolerance and preserves heterosexual privilege. The fruits of their labor are suffering, self-hatred and wasted gifts. By ignoring the true message of the Gospel, they drive people away from Christ rather than to him. By ignoring the true message of the Gospel, they imprison themselves in anger and ignorance and miss out on God?s amazing message of unconditional, life-giving love. How sad for those teachers of hate. How sad for all the victims of lies and intolerance.

I learned about Soulforce in Minnesota. It is a grassroots movement committed to nonviolence that seeks to apply the principles of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. to the struggle for justice. One of the things I find striking about this ministry is the attention they pay to their adversaries. Listen to these beliefs:

  1. My adversary is also a child of the Creator.

  2. My adversary is not my enemy, but a victim of misinformation, as I have been.

  3. My only task is to bring my adversary truth in love nonviolently, relentlessly.

  4. My adversaries? motives are as pure as mine and are of no relevance to our discussion.

  5. My worst adversary has an amazing potential for positive change.

This is the promise of the Gospel. I haven?t always been in the place I am today. I was raised with that wonderful admonition to love the sinner and hate the sin. It was only by taking time to listen to others, to read and to earnestly seek the truth that I have come to see that there is no sin in being created homosexual or transgender. Each of us is created as a unique human being?someone to be affirmed and celebrated. I firmly believe that there is nothing in the Scripture to justify our denial of that reality?nothing that condemns anyone in the GLBTQIA community?or any other community?for being who they are.

And I am not alone. Millions of Christians love and accept gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as equals in Christ?s kingdom. More are being added every day. But that isn?t happening on accident. It?s happening because we are talking about something that was once taboo. We are dialoguing with people who feel differently from us, we are reading the scriptures anew and we are opening ourselves up to a truth that transcends tradition and accepted social order. Some of us are part of that change because we have engaged in seeking the truth in a way that has opened us up to reality of Christ?s all embracing love. Some of you deserve our deepest respect and appreciation because you have found the courage to live your lives and speak your truth even when it was met with violent resistance.

Together we will continue to proclaim the message of love. Recently, our church members agreed on a one-year vision: that we would be known as the place on the Michigan lakeshore where ALL ARE WELCOME. That means that wherever we go and whatever we do we will be vigilant about 1) making sure everyone IS welcome and 2) working to make that reality KNOWN.

We have a great model for doing just that?Isaiah leads the charge. A new thing is happening! Isaiah declares. Do you not perceive it? This new thing includes the good news that God welcomes foreigners and eunuchs into God?s house and into God?s love. This good news means that are called to be partners with God?not by putting on the pretense of seeking after God, but by becoming agents of this change.

We must do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk. We must spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed. THEN our light will rise in the darkness and our night become like the noonday (Isaiah 58:9b-10).

As we work for repair and restoration we are co-laborers and co-creators with God. We have been empowered to rebuild the ancient ruins. We shall be called Repairers of the Broken Walls (Isaiah 58:12).

Discussion: The Gay Rights Fight

Should Christians be fighting for gay rights? What is the interplay between our beliefs about homosexuality and how our institutions (churches, government, etc.) treat homosexual individuals?

your comments

comments powered by Disqus