Eureka Springs, Arkansas – Controversy over the acceptance of LGBT people in Arkansas is splitting the Christian community in Eureka Springs. Organizers of the local “Celebrate Jesus” Easter parade, who initially permitted First United Methodist Church to participate in this year’s event, barred the church a week prior to Easter. Why? Because, reports Ozarksfirst.com, the Methodist Church was to carry a banner that read, “Jesus Loves All” — a message deemed “offensive” by parade officials.
Church member Suzie Bell told Ozarksfirst reporters that her church’s exclusion was because of their reconciling stance towards LGBT people. “They wanted to know what our banner was going to say, and it said “Jesus loves all. They had decided that they did not want us in the parade, and that we weren’t welcome,” Bell said. “[The negative decision] was based purely on our love and acceptance of the LGBT community.”
The “Celebrate Jesus” parade has been a community staple for three years now, according to local news outlet in Rogers, KNWA. When reporters questioned parade organizer Laura Nichols about why the Methodist Church was barred from the parade, she refused to speak with them, but issued a lengthy statement instead. The statement reads, in part:
“This day isn’t a day of pointing fingers or playing the blame game. This parade is to honor our Lord and Savior and for praising God for sending His only Son who willingly went to the cross, died and rose on the third day that when we repent of our sins and accept Him… Regardless of what has been stated in the papers. We do not have anything against the Methodist Church. After all my uncle was a Methodist minister. Nor do we have anything against the homosexual community.”
Methodist Church member Bell isn’t buying it, and is troubled by the organizers’ lack of explanation. In rebuttal to Nichols’s statement, Bell said, “I’m sad, I’m sad that this is something that would divide Christians, It doesn’t seem right.” The United Methodist Church had recently become a Reconciling Congregation, meaning that the congregation publicly welcomes LGBT people and celebrates their sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.
The sign the Methodist Church prepared to carry in the parade, that Jesus loves and accepts all people, was apparently a step too far in Arkansas where controversy has raged over a thinly-veiled discriminatory “Religious Objections” law passed by the GOP dominated legislature which Governor Asa Hutchinson turned back to lawmakers at the last minute because of a storm of criticism over the law’s discriminatory intent. The Governor pressured the legislature to tweak the law just enough that the could sign it, and avoid the missteps recently disabling the Indiana RFRA. Critics of the “Arkansas Fix” say that the new language doesn’t ensure that LGBT residents of the state will be protected from religious-based bigotry.
When “Jesus Loves All” becomes “offensive” to other Christians because of their politicized right wing desire to stymie any dissent on the matter of LGBT people in their community, it isn’t the United Methodist Church who has gone a step too far. As the Arkansas Blog opines in relation to the decision to tell the reconciling Methodists they are no longer wanted in the parade, “Saying ‘Jesus Loves All’ does point a finger in the current debate. Sad to say. I think if He’d visit lepers and eat with publicans and other sinners, he might even drop a cake off at the house of a couple of lesbians. He’d certainly walk in a parade with them.”
Russellville, Arkansas – Jake Burris, campaign manager for Democratic Congressional candidate Ken Aden, came home with his four children to find their pet cat slaughtered on the front porch. “LIBERAL” was scrawled in magic marker on the lifeless body. In a clear example of terrorism, the innocent animal had been bashed in the head and left so that it could not be missed by Burris, who is locked in a tight campaign struggle against a right-wing Republican opponent to elect his candidate to the U.S. House of Representatives. But instead of Burris finding the carcass of the family pet before his children, his little boy found their kitty first. Blue Arkansas wrote movingly about this atrocity:
“This is terrorism. There’s no other word for it. A police report has been filed. Jake said the kids seem to be handling it okay. The one that discovered the cat was too young to be able to read and Jake had quickly gotten the others into the house before they saw it. Pope County is an insanely conservative area and the Aden campaign has been shaking things up even there and it looks like another right wing sociopath with a taste for violence has come crawling out of the woodwork in response. I asked Aden for a comment on the record:
‘“This is sickening. To kill a child’s pet…I’m at a loss for words…I’ve seen the best and the worst of humanity, but this is something else.”’
Defenseless, innocent victims pay the price of hate ideology and violence first–our pets. Violence against human victims is underreported, but statistics on this dimension of hate violence are non-existent. The numbers of pets slain in hate killings must be astronomical. Political liberals, progressives, LGBTQ people, women, racial/ethnic minorities have all experienced the terrible shock, anger, and raw fear Jake Burris and his family faced yesterday at the hands of irrational hate groups who send a message of terror by killing cats, dogs, birds and other family pets.
The murder of pet animals is often a prelude to anti-human violence. Gay man Charlie Howard found his cat dead on the front steps of his apartment in Bangor, Maine with its neck broken shortly before a gang of Bangor’s youth threw him off the State Street Bridge. Friends of Charlie’s said that after he found his cat killed, he became depressed and fearful. He had every reason to be, as it turned out. Charlie drowned in Kenduskeag Stream because three boys hated him because of his sexual orientation. The pet killing was a telegraphic message of homophobia, sent from people who warmed up to killing Charlie by taking the life of his companion.
I know the feeling that terrorized Charlie Howard and that the Jake Burris and his family face now. In the early 1990’s, I came home from pastoral hospital visits to parishioners to find my English Bulldog Buck and my Basset Hound Beau butchered, hanging up in a tree in my Eastern NC parsonage yard. Anonymous opponents suspected I was gay, and tried to drive me out of the church I was serving by slaughtering my pets. In those days, I lived a single, closeted life, serving churches with the fear of discovery of my sexual orientation. My dogs were my only companions, and paid the ultimate price because cowards thought I would run. I did not run. I stayed at the church and fought back successfully. But the loss is still with me.
Reuters reports that the campaign of Republican incumbent Steve Womack, Aden’s opponent in the heavily conservative 3rd District of Arkansas, has condemned the killing of Burris’s cat. Candidate Aden and Burris said they do not believe anyone in the Womack campaign perpetrated the crime. The Russellville Police Department is treating this incident as an animal cruelty case, and the investigation is ongoing. But the fact remains that the atmosphere of irrational hatred propounded by unreasoning prejudice is lethal.
Jake Burris told Blue Arkansas, “I’ve got a gun and I know how to use it. If I have to protect my kids I’ll do it without hesitation.”
We have a duty to all life to find a cure for hate. Our pets pay as terrible a price as we do because of hate violence. Perhaps the shock of a story like this can awaken the consciences of our neighbors to work with us to create a world safe for all creatures to live without fear. ~ Stephen V. Sprinkle, Founder and Director of the Unfinished Lives Project, Associate Prof at Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas
Harrison, AR – Ten-year-old Andrew Pendergraft has a picture-perfect American family, and preaches hatred against LGBT people and racial minorities. He hates “homosexual heroes” and “race mixing.” In the most recent edition of “Hatewatch,” the Southern Poverty Law Center highlights the story of this young, blond boy and his sisters Charity, 19, and Shelby, 17, who are being reared by their parents in the culture of hatred for all things non-white and homosexual. The Sun carries an extensive article with revealing photos of the boy, who recently ranted against the Disney animated film, “The Princess and the Frog.” While Andrew opines that the African American Princess is good for all the “black kids,” the fact that the Prince is white is terrible, because that is “race mixing”: “If all other people mix up there won’t be any more white kids,” the Sun quotes him as saying, “So don’t race-mix.” Andrew goes on to complain that the film is anti-Christian since the “good guy” is a Voodoo priest, and Voodoo is a black race blasphemy, while Christianity is the religion of white people. “Voodoo doctors worship the Devil so it’s a pretty bad movie for kids, especially white kids,” Andrew concludes. “Be white and proud. Bye.” The story of the Pendergrafts who have swallowed Klu Klux Klan doctrine hook, line, and sinker, is a warning to American society about the new shape of deadly hatred in this country: the intersection of oppressions and hatreds. Race hatred and anti-semitism do not exist in a vacuum from homophobia and heterosexism. In the Sun interview, Andrew’s mother Rachel proudly states that she home schooled her children because if they were to attend a public school, her kids would be taught about “heroes of the homosexual agenda, and that it is OK to race-mix.” Mrs. Pendergraft goes on to say, “They would be taught that there is a great socialist agenda in America and they can get on that bandwagon.” Undergirding the new face of American hatred is an old evil: support for hate ideology by a particularly intolerant version of the Christian religion. Little Andrew loves to go to the White Christian Revival Center in Harrison where he preaches, and after he finishes shooting his latest segment on the family internet TV project, “White People TV,” he and about 30 other Klan Kids go out bowling. “It is so much fun!” Andrew enthuses. The flaming cross is central to the whole hate project, according to Andrew’s sister, Charity, and has been misunderstood by outsiders and race-mixers: “We don’t call it cross-burning. It is meant to highlight that Jesus died for us on the cross,” she told the Sun. The sincerity of this belief, that the Christian God only approves of white, straight people, and their paranoia about the supposed “extinction of the White race,” make for a dangerous future when inculcated in children so young. According to The Sun, current membership of the KKK in the United States stands at around 8,000, and is growing strongly after the election of America’s first African American “race-mixing” President, Barack Obama.