Do Our Debates Lead to Violence?
of hatred and violence fill our newspapers and televisions almost
daily. During this past year we have seen horrendous acts of violence
against people because of their sexual orientation, the color of
their skin, their ethnic background, or their beliefs and faith:
- Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, beaten and left to
die on a fence in Wyoming
- James Byrd Jr., an African-American man, dragged behind a truck
to his death in Texas;
- Dr. Barnett Slepian, an obstetrician who believed that a woman
has the right to choose an abortion, gunned down by a sniper
in his kitchen in New York;
- Hundreds of ethnic Albanians slaughtered in Kosovo;
- Those killed in a marketplace bombing in a small town in Ireland;
- Those killed in the U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.
The Pecan Tree in Mississippi where Raynard
Johnson was found hanging. Family and religious leaders believe
it was a lynching.
Photo: Sandra Peters
Hate is scary. By definition, hate is an intense hostility and
emotional aversion to someone or something. It is displayed with
words, harassment and/or acts of violence including killing. It
is sometimes hidden from friends or family, but at other times
it is bragged about. Hatred can be motivated by the desire for
political power, for the need to "put someone in their place," even
by religious beliefs.
Hatred can also be caused by fear. It may be fear of the unknown,
fear of someone who is different. The fear may be irrational
but it causes people to slash out at the other. Fear is
easily transmitted to others, especially from adults to children,
and can easily be stirred up by reciting ugly stories and myths.
Whatever the cause, hatred is dangerous to those who are hated
and those who hate.
Hatred fueled by words or stories quickly moves to unrest and/or
violence. Look at these examples:
- From the Civil War to the 1940s, lynchings of African Americans
occurred in the United States. They were caused by hatred and
fueled by stories of rape and lust.
- When Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, a black woman, saw a dear and
close friend lynched, she became an outspoken opponent of lynching.
Ms. Wells-Barnett challenged the myths that black men where a
race of rapists. She wrote lynching was done by Southern white
men because "he had never gotten over his resentment that
the Negro was no longer his plaything, his servant, and his source
- Anti-gay jokes and jibes are prevalent on college campuses
and in high schools across our country today. In a recent study,
22 percent of gay high-school students in Massachusetts reported
skipping school at least once a month because they felt unsafe.
Thirty-one percent said they had been threatened or injured at
school in the past year.
- Even while Matthew Shepherd was dying in a Fort Collins, Colo.,
hospital, a Colorado State University fraternity float in the
homecoming parade had a scarecrow labeled in spray paint, "Im
Gay." During a parade this summer in Queens, N.Y., a parody
of the death of James Byrd Jr. was featured on a float.
United Methodist Bishop Michael J. Coyner of the Dakotas Area
raised a challenging question in an October 1998 e-mail message.
Talking about the death of Matthew Shepherd, he wrote:
"This terrible news event from Wyoming makes me wonder about
the current debate in our United Methodist denomination over the
issue of homosexuality. Somewhere in the midst of this significant
debate and its related topics of scriptural authority, the role
of church tradition, medical evidence and personal experience,
have we as a denomination sent any false signals that would allow
anyone to think that hatred of homosexual persons is ever acceptable?...Has
all of this debate given anyone the idea that we would ever condone
violence against gay and lesbian persons?"
His question can also be raised about the debates on abortion
and racism. I would hope we are careful in our debates, but even
within the church, the hatred appears in threats and accusations
against people who do not agree on these issues. Care must be taken
by all of us that our debates do not lead people to slash out with
physical or verbal violence.
Hatred is a taught emotion. Let us in our words and deeds, teach
our children, our young people and each other Jesus message
of love of all our neighbors in order to overcome the hate that
is around us and among us.
Responsively Yours ,
Joyce D. Sohl
Deputy General Secretary
This article was taken from the February 1999
issue of Response magazine. All photographs, unless otherwise
noted, are copyright © Women's Division, General Board of
Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church.
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