October 19, 1998 -- As mourners gathered in Casper, Wyoming, on Friday to mourn the death of brutally slain gay college student, Matthew Shepard, and as anti-gay protesters picketed the funeral, the Womens Division began its annual meeting half way across the nation, remembering the slain and addressing hate crimes and intolerance.
Directors of the Womens Division of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church spent some of their justice priorities committee time in Stamford, CT, at their annual meeting ironing out the details of Womens Division actions, which implement General Conference resolutions addressing hate crimes.
They recalled another recent hate crime--the June 7 killing of James Byrd, an African American who was beaten by three white men, chained to a truck, then dragged two miles until he was decapitated in Jasper, TX, and they analyzed the connections between all crimes of hate. Taking action and expanding already existing programs, Womens Division directors voted to:
- encourage United Methodist Women members to organize and advocate for stronger hate crime laws,
- provide Biblically based resources that address hate crimes and intolerance,
- provide funding to local, community-based networks who educate for tolerance and support victims of hate crimes,
- track hate crimes across the nation, and
- educate United Methodist Women members and others about hate, language of intolerance, stereotypes, prejudice/bigotry, and advocacy around these issues.
"United Methodist Women have historically been proactive about issues of race and gender," says Lois Dauway, assistant general secretary for Christian Social Responsibility of the Womens Division. "We must act to stop the increasing incidents of hate crimes in our society."
"Most hate crimes are carried out by otherwise law-abiding young people who see little wrong with their actions," says a cited study by the American Psychological Association. Most hate crimes are fueled by personal prejudice, rooted in the idea that someone who is different is threatening, according to the study.
Recent media campaigns with slick slogans like "Truth in Love" and "Hope not Hate," portray Christian words but promote bigotry, says Ms. Dauway. "Waging these campaigns of fear and misinformation help prevent laws against discrimination and violence."
The Womens Division actions, brought to light by the recent violent attacks, are in response to General Conference resolutions on global racism and its violation of human rights (The Book of Resolutions, pg 256) and teens at risk who are dealing with questions of sexual orientation (The Book of Discipline, para 66 H).
"Children are not born with hatred. They are taught hatred," says Ms. Dauway. "We have a responsibility as part of our mission to condemn hate violence and teach children not to hate."
The Womens Division represents United Methodist Women, a one-million member organization whose purpose is to foster spiritual growth, develop leaders and advocate for justice. Members raise more than $23 million a year for programs and projects related to women, children and youth in the United States and in more than 100 countries around the world.