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Thoughts on Annual Conference (COB 2011)

The Church of the Brethren Annual Conference business session closed on a disturbing note as General Secretary Stan Noffsinger announced that a “credible death threat” had been made against “a gay person here at Annual Conference.” As details emerged, it was clear that this was a calculated and very serious threat. And because it specifically targeted the victim’s sexual orientation, it was also a hate crime. Hate, or bias-based crimes, are crimes that are motivated by hostility towards the victim as a member of a particular group. Although an attack or threat may be directed towards one individual, hate crimes also are intended to send a message of intimidation and control to an entire community that “their kind” will not be tolerated; thus generating fear and a sense of vulnerability. Research indicates that hate crimes have more serious psychological effects than non-bias motivated crime, most likely because hate crimes are attacks upon a fundamental aspect of a victim’s personal identity, involving traits such as race, ethnicity, sexual identity, disability, etc. They also are more likely to be violent and serious than non-bias based crimes. In his statement to the delegate body, Stan Noffsinger very passionately said, “this is not behavior that is acceptable within the Church of the Brethren and we want to be very clear that it will not be tolerated.” While I applaud the strength of Stan’s statement, he fails to address the fact that the Church of the Brethren is actually very tolerant of all kinds of expressions of hate and intolerance directed towards lgbt people. As this conference made quite visible, Brethren freely engage in hostile speech, enthusiastically support institutional discriminatory practices, and rarely question bullying behaviors that are designed to send a message that lgbt people are neither wanted nor respected. Even our peace and justice organizations are unable to acknowledge that lgbt people are specific targets of injustice and violence, preferring instead to frame “the issue” in terms of theological or biblical disagreements of opinion in need of simple mediation. It should really not surprise us too greatly when a zealot takes things to a more overt and violent level. Annual Conference forced us to see less dimly the violence that those of us who are lgbt have long been aware dwells within and among us. What we as a church do with this knowledge will be a decisive measure of our integrity and faithfulness. While I have grave doubts as to our capacities, I pray that we do not fail.

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