This week a popular Christian magazine picked up on the recently released annual hate crime statistics report for 2011 from the FBI, noting that for the first time, hate crimes against gays outnumber those against religion.
Incidents of religious bias previously outnumbered incidents of sexual orientation bias – but not any longer. Hate crimes against the LGBT community have taken the #2 spot on the Bureau’s list, with nearly 21% of over 7,240 incidents motivated by sexual-orientation bias.
Hate crimes against our LGBT brothers and sisters are on the rise.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time the magazine has reported on hate crimes. A past article by the popular magazine included responses from Christian groups to a federal hate crimes law in 2009 that moved to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of federally prosecuted hate crimes.
That law, known as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, is named in part for Matthew Shepard. The late Shepard was a gay 21 year-old Wyoming college student who had been targeted because he was gay :: He was subsequently robbed, pistol whipped, tortured and left for dead by two men.
He was found, tied to a fence. The woman who discovered his near-lifeless and blood-soaked body initially mistook him for a scarecrow.
The men who perpetuated this heinous act were found guilty – but not of a hate crime.
They weren’t charged with one, because no criminal statute provided for such a charge.
The hate crimes prevention act bearing his name had previously been dropped from a bill in 2007 due to strong opposition from the same groups who would later unsuccessfully oppose it two years later (when the bill was finally signed into law).
Out of fear and falsely envisioning a world where pastors could be arrested for preaching against homosexuality, a number of Christian groups fought tirelessly to keep crimes against folks like Matthew Shepard from being designated as ‘hate crimes’.
Others were dumbfounded by the opposition to a bill that would protect a percentage of the population against violence and hate crimes.
One was quoted as saying ::
‘I would think that the followers of Jesus would be first in line to protect any group from hate crimes. He was the one who intervened against religious violence aimed at the woman caught in the act of adultery.’
‘Religious leaders who are concerned about hate crimes legislation should separate out their views on homosexuality from what life is like for gays and lesbians in America,‘ another said. ‘They don’t have to agree with someone’s way of life in order to acknowledge that there are real threats to people that need to be addressed.’
Two years later, according to the report, hate crimes against the gay community are rising.
This is unacceptable – but also unsurprising.
Is it any wonder, when we respond out of fear in an us-versus-them mindset and treat a percentage of the population as ‘less than,’ Other or second-class-citizens, that there would be an increase in violence against that same group?
Even if those within the religious communities would condemn violent attacks on the LGBT community (as most did while simultaneously opposing the introduction of the Matthew Shepard Act), the very act of fighting against protecting the rights of a certain community will unintentionally lead to the abuse of that lack of protection.
• Step 1 :: Agree that it is OK to treat some people different than others.
• Step 2 :: Agree that violence can be a useful tool to solve some problems.
• Step 3 :: Apply that violence to other people you deem lesser than you using whatever criteria you choose.
Is that not the path to all forms of violence, really?
All acts of violence stem from the dehumanization of another.
If someone fails to celebrate the imago dei in another – fails to see them as a beautiful expression of the Divine even in spite of their differences – then it is not surprising that apathy, ignorance, intolerance and even violent responses would follow. This trajectory is both inevitable (as we’ve seen in Uganda) and completely incompatible with the teachings of Jesus.
Obviously there are diverse theological views of the christian faith tradition regarding the morality of homosexuality.
Yet even when we disagree about a subject as controversial as sexuality, we should still look for a way to live together in harmony with all people.
Let us work tirelessly not to withhold certain rights from a select percentage of the population, nor to pass legislation that would keep any group at the margins of acceptance;
Rather, may we devote our time, energy, efforts and resources to the much greater work of seeing and celebrating the image of God stamped upon each and every person, and participating in reconciling all people toward his hesed love for all humanity.
For discussion :: The same friend I quoted in the article also asked these questions ::
‘If our churches marginalize gay people, are we complicit in these crimes? Does the rejection of gay people by the church sanctify, or put God’s stamp of approval, on the dehumanizing attitudes and actions toward gay people? These are important questions.’
Important questions indeed. What do you think?
Michael Kimpan is the author of the WayWard follower blog, a site designed to inspire thoughtful conversation and movement among followers of Jesus Christ. Michael works with The Marin Foundation in Chicago, a non-profit organization which works to build bridges between the LGBT community and the Church.