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Your Free Speech in Jeopardy

Last month I received an email from Joyce Meyer Ministries with a loud subject line:

Your Free Speech in Jeopardy

When I opened the message I found the "Hate Crimes Bill Update."  See a PDF of the notice here.

So I went to the website and looked up the additional information (which was subsequently removed, but I saved a PDF). The link I’ve given is to the frame that Joyce’s website displays; however, the information itself is located on another website.

As I read I became more upset. How would hate crimes legislation criminalize thoughts, feelings and beliefs? And what’s this about me publicly flaunting my sexual orientation? So I wrote Joyce the following letter…

July 18, 2007

Joyce Meyer Ministries
700 Grace Parkway
Fenton, MO 63026

Dear Joyce:

Over the past several years I have watched your show, read your books and your magazine and benefited from various resources that you have offered. I have attended two of your ministry conferences with Hillsong Australia and will attend another this weekend. I believe that God has used you and your ministry to effect positive change in the lives of many people around the world. I thank God for this.

I find myself writing to you because of the email that I received from your ministry today with the subject line "Your Free Speech in Jeopardy." My heart sank as I read the contents of this email. It is not that I did not previously know your feeling regarding the need for homosexuals to be healed of a lifestyle that you deem sinful. The matter deals more directly with the misinformation broadcast by the letter and the underlying message conveyed to untold thousands on your mailing list.

Through selectively noting the bill’s presenter (Senator Kennedy) and then proceeding to paint a false and fear-provoking picture of religious persecution that will come about simply because someone verbally expresses his or her religious beliefs, your email makes it appear that upstanding Christian people are somehow threatened by this legislation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

• Based on the H.R. 3335, a hate crime is defined as "a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person."

• The new bill has nothing to do with our religious beliefs about homosexuality. Instead, it deals with crimes of violence, defined in 18 USC, Section 16 as use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against a person or property of another or any felony that carries substantial risk of that same physical force against a person or property of another in the course of being committed. Physical force is quite different from expressing a religious conviction.

To put this in plain English, this bill is designed to deal with assaults, murders, threats of violence, rapes, etc. committed against people based on characteristics (real or simply perceived) that distinguish them from the majority. I find it hard to believe that you would actually advocate for any of these forms of violence against anyone. As we both know, Jesus’ teachings certainly don’t include beating up effeminate men with baseball bats or lynching people because they don’t meet a culturally defined gender role. Whether we believe that people are committing a sinful act or not, there can be no excuse for violence against them.

I am not asking you to change your interpretation of Scripture (unless, of course, it advocates for violence against anyone). I do however ask you to reconsider placing your considerable influence on the side of any debate which, when broadly interpreted, leads to tacit sanctioning of violent crime against anyone. The wording of this law provides for equal protection of people of all orientations, including heterosexuals. It also would provide protections for people against whom violence is either threatened or committed because of their religious beliefs – including Christians like you and me.

If in the end you are unable to advocate for equal protection from the threat of violence for all people, then I implore you at the very least to refrain from actively pursuing the injustice of denying safety to those who are already taunted, beaten and killed in this country with alarming frequency. Rather than add to the message of "God hates fags" promulgated by people like Fred Phelps, I would ask you to consider a more nuanced message such as that of Tony Campolo who shares your belief that homosexual behavior is sinful, but nonetheless insists that protection from violence should be equally provided for everyone in our country.

May the grace of Jesus Christ continue to be with you as you travel. And may the Holy Spirit provide you with discernment regarding this important issue.

Your Brother in Christ,
Bryce E. Rich

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