From the Legal World
When confronted with charges of harm to another person, occasionally defendants will claim “Gay Panic” in explaining why a defendant harmed another person of the same gender. The defense is banned in some states, because it argues that the defendant acted in the way they did because of unwanted advances by a person of the same gender.
In short, the individual is so scared or aggrieved by perceived or actual advances (or perhaps their own unreconciled attractions) that they claim the panic became temporary insanity, causing them to not be culpable for the harm or murder they inflicted upon the other person. It is still claimed in court–most recently in April 2018. From the article, an LGBTQ advocacy group responds:
Defense attorneys have an obligation to provide a “zealous defense” of their clients…but such defenses are “playing on the fact that LGBT people are considered ‘others’ or outside what is normative or not as valued as others in society.”
In short, defense attorneys, desperate for any defense of their client, resort to playing on people’s prejudice against LGBTQ people, even to the point of excusing harm done to others.
Gay Panic in the Church
Looking back over the past ten years, a similar form of Gay Panic Defense has halted efforts towards equality, women’s empowerment, and even the foundational pieces of our United Methodist theology.
“There’s More Here Than Meets The Eye”
In 2008, the UMC passed a series of constitutional amendments, to be approved by the annual conferences. It would have equalized the structure of The United Methodist Church worldwide, making our unique denomination more equitable worldwide. The conservative caucus groups rallied against them, with former Asbury President Rev. Dr. Maxie Dunnam making videos against them (this is the best video). They did so by alleging this was a pro-gay plot by Gay Texans and that a vote for it was a vote for homosexuality.
The amendments failed in 2009, and the structure of The United Methodist Church remains untenable and inequitable, which has lead to harm and inequality across our denomination. Gay Panic prevailed, but what a pyrrhic victory that hobbled a global church!
Grace Available To All*
At the 2012 General Conference, delegates who were deciding on changes to United Methodist polity and doctrine voted to add the following:
“We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all—that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
Sounds great, right? It’s a quote of Romans 8, and it’s a direct reference to John Wesley’s doctrine of prevenient grace.
But it only passed by 53%. Only 53% of the delegates to General Conference, the representative leadership of millions of Methodists, affirmed that statement. The floor speeches made it clear that some delegates made the “God’s grace” statement into a debate over LGBTQ inclusion. (Here’s a deeper dive into that vote)
Gay Panic, fear that a quote from the Bible was a backdoor to LGBTQ inclusion, drove some of the 47% to oppose a fundamental United Methodist doctrine of equity and equality before God. Incredible.
Women’s Full but Unequal Participation
Finally, we get to this past week’s debacle: the Constitutional Amendments related to the inclusion of women and girls in The United Methodist Church’s inclusion statements. Two attempts to get language supporting women’s and girl’s equality in the church–which oddly is not in our highest doctrine, despite our status as the largest American denomination that ordains women–both narrowly failed with over 15,000 United Methodist representatives voting against them. Here’s a video response.
The bishops responded as a whole, and the woman bishops responded as a distinct group in a persuasive letter. United Methodist Women responded, as well. To draw out one response, Rev. Leigh Goodrich at GCOSROW wrote:
“We had hoped that our denomination had arrived at a place where women would be welcomed into the worldwide Church just as men are. Unfortunately, we were mistaken. Still, we are grateful to the 28-year old clergywoman who supported an amendment that we have tried to pass for as long as she has been alive and the 82-year old laywoman who cannot believe we are still struggling with this issue. Like the persistent widow in Luke 18, we have and will continue to work for women’s full and equal participation throughout the connection.”
While each statement of opposition or support refer to women, the Annual Conference floors was they were hotbeds for concerns about LGBTQ inclusion. Amendment #2 was claimed to be a secret attempt to include transgender* persons in the church, which we do anyway (we have no polity against trans* persons). Such a claim made it impossible for some African conferences to have public debates on the Amendment, due to some cultural norms against open discussion of sexuality.
Gay Panic provided a convenient cover to stop a statement of full inclusion to women and girls from becoming one of the highest levels of UMC polity.
A Second Chance
The sigh of relief you might have heard on Thursday, May 10th 2018, was the announcement that one of the Constitutional Amendments above had included language that had actually been removed at General Conference. The entirety of United Methodism voted on the wrong copy of the amendment. So we get a redo.
Clergywomen across the globe have signed onto a joint statement in response to the amendments’ initial failure (over 750 signatories as of this writing), saying in response to the redo:
The news of this re-vote means that we United Methodists have a rare opportunity to right an injustice. While this doesn’t erase the painful message sent by the first vote, the United Methodist Church has the opportunity to send a new message. We urge those who voted against Amendment I to listen to women and learn why it matters to them that God made them in the Divine image. We also urge all disappointed by the original vote to remember that Amendment I failed by a margin of fewer than one hundred votes. In light of this, we urge all clergy and delegates to vote at their respective Annual Conferences. Your vote matters. Show up. Vote. Affirm that God has created women and men equal in God’s image.
Oddly enough, the line removed on the floor was the one named by Liberia and the IRD as why they would not support equity women and girls:
“The United Methodist Church recognizes it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female, as maleness and femaleness are characteristics of human bodies and cultures, not characteristics of the divine.”
Conservatives are rejoicing that they can support for women and girls now that they do not have to have a conversation about the gender of God, and that they still defeated the other amendment due to gay panic.
Root Cause is Patriarchy
The about-face on the amendments reveals a common thread from 2008 to today: anything that challenges patriarchy is to be opposed by all means necessary, including gay panic.
- Gay panic is used to keep structural changes at bay because changing the game moves patriarchy to a new playing field they haven’t utterly dominated. This also applies to the One Church model which keeps pro-gay conferences from infecting others.
- Gay panic so utterly colors the debate that basic affirmations from Romans and Wesley are narrowly supported because “they might be about The Gays,” which challenges heterosexual patriarchy’s dominance.
- Gay panic is used to mask theologies that see women and girls as less than men, so much so that they allow that panic to oppose adding their affirmation to our highest polity, less it dilutes claims about the “correct” gender of God.
There’s a difference between men being under attack, and patriarchy being under attack. The failure of these amendments speak to the truth that men cannot often tell the two feelings apart, and confuse theological claims against patriarchy
What Panic Hath Wrought
Perhaps one of the most lasting consequences of this gay panic defense is its effect on a single influential bishop.
Bishop Scott Jones was the principal advocate for the constitutional amendments from 2008, and he got burned by his own supporters for it. In response, Bishop Jones has not wavered from his support of clergy trials and his opposition to structural equality in A Way Forward. Indeed, last week he wrote a Judicial Council brief challenging the legitimacy of A Way Forward’s process, in direct opposition to the rest of the Council of Bishops who supported the process.
Charitably, I could see Bishop Jones’ actions as recognition of gay panic and his desire to eradicate it from the United Methodist Church. But rather than lead the whole church to justice and inclusion, his choice is to remove LGBTQ inclusion and progressive influence from the United Methodist Church, by all means, so gay panic can no longer derail other efforts. Who knows what will be next.
A sad choice of mission from a powerful bishop over one of the largest annual conferences in United Methodism.
Gay Panic is a form of patriarchy that is keeping The United Methodist Church from affirming women and girls and creating the structural changes it needs to be an equitable worldwide denomination. There are many actors and many causes that perpetuate this situation, and all are called to repent, support women, girls, and structural equity, so that patriarchy might be silenced, and equity under God might reign.
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