Hate Crime Petitions Gain Wide Support
by Dana Jones
Despite an organized effort by the Institute on Religion and Democracy – a right-wing, religious think tank – to dilute hate-crime legislation at General Conference, three resolutions, including one written by the Women’s Division and submitted by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, passed by large margins.
While several delegates echoed the institute’s arguments during legislative-committee debate, most rejected them and supported strengthening the denomination’s stand against hate crimes. Resolutions from the Women’s Division/General Board of Global Ministries, the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, and the United Methodist General Commission on Religion and Race won significant support in committees. All were placed on consent calendars, a procedure by which a group of resolutions come to the full conference for approval without debate.
Also approved on a consent calendar was a resolution submitted by the Methodist federation for Social Action, which adds condemnation of hate crimes to the Social Principles of the denomination. That resolution adds the following sentence to paragraph 66 of the Book of Discipline:
"We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or economic status."
The Women’s Division resolution, titled "Hate Crimes in the United States," call on United Methodists to speak out. It says:
"When church members do noting about hate language or horrifying atrocities such as the murders of James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard and have not actively taught tolerance, we participate in the social support of hate."
The resolution calls upon the church through general boards and agencies and appropriate structures to:
The Institute on Religion and Democracy launched its unsuccessful attack on the hate-crime resolutions during a luncheon-meeting speech at the site of General Conference. Institute President Diane Knippers said hate-crime laws foster identity politics, which she defined as a situation that encourages advocacy groups to compete for "most-victimized status."
"Hate-crime laws require discrimination –- discrimination among various possible groups to identify which ones get a specially-protected status," Ms. Knippers said.
"Rather than advocating for the expansion of hate-crime legislation, I believe the church should call for its reduction. I’ve come to understand that hate-crimes legislation isn’t about criminal justice –- it’s about criminalizing unpopular ideas find fostering identity politics....Hate-crime legislation will have unintended consequences that will rip apart, rather than restore, our social fabric."
Ms. Knippers challenged the concept that hate crimes lead to a climate of fear in society, saying crimes that stir social terror are as likely to be random violence against innocent victims as crimes incited by prejudice against groups of people.
The Women’s Division/General Board of Global Ministries’ resolution parallels one approved by division directors in October 1998. Since that time, members of United Methodist Women have been tracking media coverage of hate crimes by clipping newspaper articles and making notes on radio and television reports, then sending the information to the general Board of Global Ministries’ team on Ministries in the Midst of Hate and Violence.
For information on how you can participate in this tracking effort, call Sandra Peters, 212-870-3734.
Resolutions from the General Board of Church and Society and the General Commission on Religion and Race are similar to the Women’s Division resolution. Complete texts of the resolutions will be printed in the 2000 Book of Resolutions, which will be available late in the year from Cokesbury Bookstores, 1-800-672-1789.