Institute on Religion and Democracy
October 8, 1999
Yesterday, Americans at 350 different locations participated in "Stop the Hate Day," on the first anniversary of the murder of the young homosexual, Matthew Shepard in Larmie, Wyoming. Organized by the left-leaning Interfaith Alliance and Fellowship of Reconciliation, this protest was supposedly aimed at simple hate and violence.
Over 100 organizations endorsed "Stop the Hate," but oddly, none of them was conservative. Indeed, none of them could really be called anything but left-of-center. Many could even be called far-left. Has America really become so poisonous that only left wing groups can summon the courage to condemn criminal assaults aimed at minority groups?
In truth, "Stop the Hate" was about considerably more than opposition to hatred. It was a not very deeply disguised effort to stigmatize conservative and traditional religious beliefs as the torpid spawning waters of prejudice and violence. Religious Left groups comprised the majority of the anti-hate coalition. Apparently unwilling to engage in the specifics of a thoughtful debate, they instead resort to smearing their ideological opponents as allies of white supremacists, misogynists and "gay-bashers."
The America described the anti-hate coalition is quite an ugly one. "Profligate hatred fills the population of this nation," the Rev. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance warned at the anti-hate press conference. "Violence inspired by that hatred is rampant in our midst." The Rev. Steven Baines of the Equal Partners in Faith agreed. "Hate violence and the rise of hate groups in America are threatening to deteriorate the very fabric of our national tapestry," he said. Baines alleged that the killers of Matthew Shepard "had learned from society and places of worship to hate someone who was perceived to be gay."
The killers of young Shepard were bar lizards, not altar boys. Their apparent objection to Shepard's homosexuality, if in fact that was their motive, was not likely based on anything they overheard in a church. They obviously were ignorant of, or indifferent to, basic Christian teachings about human decency, as found in the Sermon on the Mount and the Ten Commandments. Yet the anti-hate coalition discerns that traditional Christian (and Jewish) opposition to homosexual practice was somehow the root cause of Shepard's murder. In their view talk about biblical sexual morality is inherently "hate talk."
"Those who would use the Bible or Quran or Bhagavad-Gita [Hindu scriptures] as weapons of hate commit a grave injustice against our sacred traditions," asserted Rabbi Adat Shalom at the anti-hate press conference. Baines said that he and his anti-hate colleagues are standing by, "needle in hand" to begin mending our tattered national tapestry and restoring it to "its original beauty."
Thanks, but no thanks. Baines' group is focused on pressuring churches to liberalize their traditional teachings that restrict sexuality to heterosexual marriage. The "original beauty" of our country is not so much the goal for Baines as creating a new egalitarian, sexual utopia where only consent governs when sex is appropriate.
Disagreement with the concept of sex as merely recreation is hardly evidence of hatred, much less violent intentions. Yet a resource booklet distributed at the press conference linked neo-Nazis and skinheads with opposition to homosexuality and a "deeply-held bias" towards keeping Christianity culturally dominant in America. I suspect most Nazis and skinheads would themselves be surprised about their supposed alliance with Christian culture.
Although most of the organizers of the "Stop the Hate Day" are affiliated with nominally Christian institutions, the victims they mention are only those targeted by racists and homophobes, such as Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, the black man dragged to death in Texas. Isaiah Shoels of Columbine High School is mentioned because he was targeted by his killers as a black student. Unmentioned are students who died professing their faith in God. The anti-Christian blasphemies shouted by the killer at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth are also ignored.
Don't expect a "Stop the Hate" day at next year's anniversary of the Wedgewood murders. And don't expect participation by the anti-hate coalition in this November's International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, which commemorates Christians who are imprisoned or murdered in places like Sudan, China, and Saudi Arabia. This overseas persecution is government-sanctioned, unlike the despicable but isolated hate crimes that occur in this country.
We perhaps should not be surprised when church groups like Pax Christi, the Episcopal Church, the National Council of Churches, Church Women United, the National Coalition of American Nuns, and the United Methodist Board of Church and Society endorse "Stop the Hate" day, along with the Gay & lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. But it is still disappointing.
This anti-hate coalition gives the appearance of concern only for politically correct victims, and is preoccupied with the mainstreaming of homosexuality. Without evidence, it faults conservatives and traditional religious people for creating a rampant climate of hate. And it ignores the still basic decency of most Americans, nearly none of whom sympathize with authentic hate groups. The "Stop the Hate" coalition should be more honest about its real goals.