Clergy weigh impact of new hate crime bill

Sunday, September 28, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:13 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

While triumph might be on the minds of some gay men and lesbians in Canada, some religious conservatives fear that a new bill extending protection in hate crime laws to include sexual orientation may threaten fundamental freedoms of speech and religion.

The bill, awaiting approval in the Canadian Senate, was proposed by the first openly gay member of Parliament, Svend Robinson, member of the New Democratic Party. The law would ban “the incitement of genocide or hatred against an identifiable group defined by color, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”

Religious conservatives worry that under such a law, the Bible could be classified as hate literature because of passages interpreted as anti-gay.

But religious freedom was not forgotten in the drafting of the bill. An amendment created a “good faith defence from prosecution for opinions expressed in ‘good faith’ or based on a belief in a religious text.”

Despite the amendment, some worry that a “good faith” defense is not enough.

Asked to consider the Canadian bill, Max Jennings, pastor at Forum Boulevard Christian Church in Columbia, said the Bible is the one absolute and the one truth, which stands as his bedrock in life. Citing a bill that would allow same-sex unions now being promoted by California Gov. Gray Davis, Jennings said he fears people are moving to a point where they have no absolutes.

And he is concerned at the suggestion that the Bible could be construed as hate literature.

“Canada must not have a godly government,” Jennings said. “The Bible is very explicit in that behavior. I am against sin, but I love people who commit sin. We don’t hate people, but we despise sin.”

Celebration Fellowship of Central Missouri ministers to all people, especially gay men and lesbians. The fellowship’s pastor, Joe Hoover, said that he wants to see gays and lesbians protected. “I have a hard time differentiating hate crimes. Anytime someone harms someone else, that’s a hate crime,” he said.

Hoover states on the Celebration Fellowship Web site that Christians may fall into the trap of taking six Scripture verses out of context — for example, the first chapter of Romans — to make statements such as “Homosexuality is an abomination” or “God hates homosexuality.”

“The Bible can be made to say anything you want it to if you take it out of context. For so many years, the Bible was used to condemn women, or (to promote) slavery and now we’re working on correcting those errors,” Hoover said. “It does condemn some activity, but it is the same activity for heterosexuals.”

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