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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

’Stone Gays’ Killer Was Victim’s Sole Heir

By Kilian Melloy -
Suspect John Thomas in custody
Suspect John Thomas in custody

The young man who filled a sock with rocks and batteries and then beat a 70-year-old friend to death says he did it because the Bible instructs believers to stone gays to death. But the killer only took action after the older man made him sole heir to his estate, according to a March 18 Philadelphia Inquirer article.

The sordid tale of Biblical literalism and homophobic violence erupted into the headlines after 28-year-old John Joe Thomas of Delaware Country, Pennsylvania, told authorities that he had bludgeoned 70-year-old Murray Joseph Seidman to death because the Bible told him to do so.

Thomas took the Bible at its word with deadly literalness. "I stoned Murray with a rock in a sock," he told authorities after his arrest.

The article said that Thomas had notified police of the killing on Jan. 12, an estimated five days after it happened. Police arrived at the apartment building where both Thomas and Seidman lived to find Seidman’s body in his apartment. Thomas told police, "I’m not going down there again, there is too much blood."

Before calling police, Thomas had confessed the killing to a friend. Police later linked Thomas to the crime, partly through hearing about the confession. Thomas then confessed, but said that the older man had made sexual overtures to him.

John Aravosis at AmericaBlog noted in a March 18 post that it was unclear as to whether or not Seidman actually was gay. However, Thomas seemed to believe that he was, telling authorities that he prayed over the matter and was given a "message in his prayers that he must end Seidman’s life."

"Though the relationship between the two men is unknown, Thomas was the sole executor of Seidman’s will and knew how much money was in Seidman’s bank accounts, police say, not to mention Thomas was a daily visitor to Seidman’s home for over a year," noted a posting at Rose Speaks, a website devoted to "Celebrity and High Profile Trials."

Thomas’ explanation for why he killed Seidman seems to be a mixture of two time-honored defenses for killing gays, combining a claim of Biblical instruction with a claim of "gay panic," in which a perpetrator alleges that overwhelming fear, blind rage, or both drove him to murder a sexually aggressive homosexual.

Anti-gay religious activists say that gays should be denied equal individual and family rights before the law due to injunctions against homosexuality in the Bible. Aravosis noted that many English translations of the Bible refer to killing men for the "sin" of same-gender sexual intercourse. The Bible also blames the victims of anti-gay killings for their own murders, with scriptural verse declaring, "their blood shall be upon them"--an antiquated way of saying that men killed for sexual contact with other men should be seen as having brought lethal violence down upon themselves, with no recrimination falling upon those who take violent action against gays.

"How Christians get away with selling the Bible with those quotes still inside is beyond me," Aravosis wrote. "Yes, I know the translation is wrong, but it’s the accepted translation in far too many mainstream versions of the Bible," Aravosis added. "And Christians do nothing about it, other than quote it against us in order to take away our civil rights."

Aravosis went on to say, "The Bible is quite literally used to kill us. It’s time Christians grew up and stopped selectively using the Bible to justify their own internalized bigotry (or political homophobia). You don’t hear a lot of Christians talking about how ’God is in the mix’ when served lobster, or debating whether to stone a politician who has been divorced (both are in Leviticus)."

All Quiet on the Radical Anti-Gay Front

Though anti-gay religious sites such as Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, LifeSiteNews, and OneNewsNow remained silent on the killing, the response from people of faith who did post commentary was thoughtful.

A March 21 posting at Religion Dispatches Magazine noted that the victim had made his killer the sole heir and executor of his estate prior to his brutal murder.

"[T]he full story reveals that Thomas’ ’the Bible made me do it’ excuse may just be that. Thomas had another, far older, motive for the killing: money. He was the sole heir to Seidman’s estate." The posting acknowledged that Biblical verse calls for the violent eradication of gays, but added, "The Bible never mentions stoning gay men."

The exact means of execution gays should face under Biblical instruction was not at issue, however, the article said. Rather, the larger issue was how those seeking justification for anti-gay violence exploit Scripture. "Bibles don’t kill people, ignorant Bible readers kill people," the article asserted.

"The Bible is not meant to be a book of answers where you can just open it up and find out exactly what to do next," the posting continued. "It is not a Ouija board or a divining rod. Instead, it is a collection of writings from wildly different times, cultures, and points of view. In fact, it contradicts itself from book to book, and sometimes from chapter to chapter.

"To say, ’the Bible says ...’ as if it settles an argument once and for all is a terribly naïve way to read a very complicated text."

A Mormon blogger claimed to have been acquainted with both Thomas and Seidman, and wrote that they were both converts to the Mormon faith, with Seidman having brought Thomas into the religion’s fold. The blog also cited media accounts that said that Seidman, who worked in a hospital laundry, befriended Thomas while the younger man was a psych patient, and asserted that Thomas was schizophrenic.

"[I]t was with shock that I heard the news today from a ward friend that John Thomas was arrested for the murder of Murray Seidman," the March 21 posting at Curie-Us stated. "And I was further shocked by the bizarre news of an Old Testament stoning for homosexuality."

The blog posting added, "I don’t think this was a case of religion leading someone to believe they should murder. This is a case of mental illness leading to a divorcement of mental capacities from rational thinking. Another ward friend who was closer to John Thomas than I was, told me that John Thomas had decided to stop taking his medicine, believing he did not need it and that sincere prayer would be sufficient. Apparently it was not."

An atheist blogger called for religious leaders to repudiate the notion that God demands blood sacrifice in the form of gay executions.

"According to the Bible, a father is perfectly within his rights to drag his disobedient son to the edge of town and, with the help of friends and neighbors, stone the poor boy to death," noted Tommi Avicolli Mecca in a March 19 Open Salon blog. "Adulterous women and men meet the same fate.

"It’s all very troubling," added the blog posting. "Not just because some 28-year-old in Lansdowne has apparently taken the Bible a little too literally, but because Christian preachers don’t make it crystal clear to their faithful that stoning or murder of any sort is not something modern society endorses, no matter what ’sin’ someone commits."

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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