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Christian groups say hate crimes legislation will make it harder for them to hate gays
The Evening Bulletin
By: Joe Murray, The Bulletin
April 30, 2007

"The history of our race, and each individual's experience, are sown thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal," opined the ever witty, rarely wrong, Mark Twain. And if a lie is truly immortal, then the current campaign of misinformation surrounding the pending hate crimes legislation stands to become the George Hamilton of politics.

A few weeks back, writing on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (LLEHCPA), a measure that would expand existing federal hate crimes law to include classes such as sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, this author noted that the type of debate emanating from those organizations laying claim to Christian morality was quite disturbing.

Specifically, concern was raised about the tone of the debate. Christian groups were sending out "action alerts" scaring supporters into believing that passage of the hate crimes bill, a piece of legislation that has clear First Amendment safeguards, would result in preachers arrested from the pulpit and Christians shipped off for an indefinite stay at the Hanoi Hilton.

In the words of Andrea Lafferty, executive director for the Traditional Values Coalition, "Most Christians might as well rip the pages which condemn homosexuality right out of their Bibles because this bill will make it illegal to publicly express the dictates of their religious beliefs." This was a fear that bared as much resemblance to fact as Dannielynn Smith does to Howard K. Stern.

As any Beltway bandit will tell you, victory is not achieved by tackling the issue; it is obtained by framing the debate. And in this instance, those claiming the mantle of Christianity sought to frame the debate in a manner that politically distorts, rather than debunks, their opponents.

Responding to such a turn of events, this author wrote, "Even though such tactics may be accurate, they are anything but complete and they are not becoming of organizations proclaiming family values. While these PR stunts may fly for the rest of the folks on K Street, are they suitable for Christian organizations?" In light of the recent media blitz by "pro-family" organizations, it appears such a question was answered in the affirmative.

Make no mistake; this author has fought along side pro-family organizations and respects some of the causes, specifically the commitment to life, that are trumpeted, but there comes a time when one has to look at the big picture and ask whether those leading the cause are men of principle or agents of politics. And if one looks at the recent developments surrounding the hate crimes debate, it appears the answer to that question is the latter.

Just when it was thought that the hate crimes debate had hit rock bottom, some pro-family organizations opted to capitalize on tragedy and politicize the deadly shootings at Virginia Tech to score political points.

"Under this legislation, the crimes at Virginia Tech, which some are calling one of the deadliest rampages in U.S. history, would not be punishable to the level of these so-called 'hate-crimes'," wrote Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council (FRC), in an email alert sent out to FRC supporters. Perkins' analysis, however, was far from over.

Explaining why the hate crimes bill is not good for America, Perkins wrote, "If the House approves H.R. 1592 and the Senate follows, a homosexual would have more federal protection under the law than the 32 victims of last week's massacre."

Words cannot describe how disheartening such a comment, from a man who champions the values of Christianity, is.

While parents, siblings, students and staff mourned the senseless killings of 32 members of the Virginia Tech community, Perkins thought it was an opportune time, and perhaps even an exercise of his Christian duty, to exploit the tragic situation to aid in the manufacturing of a "homosexual agenda." This is not only degrading to Virginia Tech and to the gay community, it clearly prostitutes any notion of family values.

And while many would hope that Perkins' actions are isolated instances of political prostitution, one would be wrong as the folks at TVC found it prudent to debase the image of Christ to make a political point.

TVC has produced a "wanted poster" in which Jesus Christ, wearing a crown of thorns, is wanted for violating the proposed hate crimes bill. Under "identifying remarks," the poster reads, "scars along forehead, in the hands and feet, & scar on side." The poster states that Christ is "wanted for revealing the truth about homosexuality in 'The Bible' and encouraging his followers not to offend God by committing such behavior."

Pushing aside the fact that such a poster is more rhetoric than reality, is it not disturbing to all people, Christians included, that a hatred of gays has led to using the image of Christ in a political poster? Is this not using the Lord's name in vain?

How could a group purporting Christian values denigrate the image of their, and my, savior, by placing Him in the same category as Willie Horton? When did it become acceptable to turn a man who preached "love thy neighbor" into a biblical billy club? Christ is a source of salvation, not spin.

This is how far separated Christian activists, possessed by a deep seeded hatred of homosexuals, have become from Christian principles. It is now deemed appropriate, and considering the source of such behavior, "Christian-like," for activists to pit gays against the victims of brutal slayings and make a mockery of Christ's image to defeat a secular hate crimes law.

Can one imagine if the ACLU had used Christ's image in such a fashion? But because a pro-family group has tarnished His image for political gain, there is deafening silence. This speaks volumes on how animosity towards gays has turned principle into politics.

What does this say about the current debate surrounding the hate crimes bill? It says this debate is not about hate crimes as much as it is about homosexuality. Gays have been placed in the crosshairs of this debate, and therefore, the fringe of the religious right, which does not speak for all Christians, is pulling out the stops to slam the hate crimes door on the fingers of the gays.

If this debate was about the issue of hate crimes - the punishing of an individual because he chose a victim based upon a certain characteristic - this author would be advocating against this bill, but it is not.

Make no mistake - Christians, blacks and a handful of other groups already enjoy hate crime protection under a 1968 federal civil rights law. All homosexuals are asking is that they be included. If one wants to be against hate crime legislation on the principle that all crimes are motivated by hate, so be it. But one cannot lobby against hate crimes while one enjoys the benefit he is seeking to deny to others. This is the height of hubris.

This debate, though, is not a principled debate on the legitimacy of hate crimes; it is a debate that seeks to pit gays against Christians. It is a debate that seeks to separate, not unite, a debate that seeks to deny truth with tension. For proof, look no further than the American Family Association (AFA).

"Let's face it," wrote AFA founder Don Wildmon in an email, "homosexual and transgender activists know full well that the church is one of last bastions in Western culture that has yet to cave in to the demands of a radical agenda that seeks to redefine fundamental concepts such as marriage, family and gender." There you have it - no middle ground can be had and a scorched earth policy must proceed against the gays to protect Christendom.

Is this what Jesus would do? Nobody knows for sure, but one would think that Christ's name is more in line with an olive branch rather than a billy club.

Joe Murray can be reached at jmurray@thebulletin.us

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