Saturday, October 11, 2008

Weekly Witness for October 11

This week's Friday update is coming out on Saturday ... we've been in Anaheim for a meeting with the Claiming the Blessing Steering Committee and a site visit for General Convention 2009.
The content of this week's "Witness" is also slightly different.
Tomorrow, October 12, 2008, is the 10th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. In observance of that date and in celebration of Matthew's life, Integrity past-president Michael Hopkins offers the following reflection:

Matthew Shepard and the Church
by the Reverend Michael Hopkins

Ten years ago a young gay man, Matthew Shepard, was beaten and left to die in rural Wyoming. Two days later he did die. His death received national attention, joining with the death not too long before of an African-American man, James Byrd, dragged behind a truck in Texas.

The two deaths revealed the intolerance and hatred of "minorities" that still lies just below the surface of America. It can be said that we have come farther along in these last ten years both in terms of sexual orientation and race, but hate crimes continue as a sign that we have many miles to go.

I had a personal relationship with the death of Matthew. Besides being a gay man myself, Matthew was also an Episcopalian, as, of course, I am. In addition, I was President of IntegrityUSA (for all of ten days) at the time of his death. I felt compelled to attend his funeral at St. Mark's, Casper, on behalf of his sister and brother gay and lesbian Episcopalians.

There I came face to face with the hatred that killed Matthew in the guise of protestors from a church in Kansas led by a man named Fred Phelps. They held signs proclaiming Matthew was a "fag" who was even now burning in hell, and their verbal taunts were even more horrific. The only consolation was a group of good souls standing silently between them and those of us waiting in line in the cold outside the church.

Mr. Phelps and his followers are in the extreme even in the realm of those Christians who are of the opinion that sex between men or between women is intrinsically sinful. And yet the entire church that remains ambivalent about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is culpable in the physical, psychological and spiritual violence inflicted on us. This includes my own beloved church, much as most of it would term itself "progressive." Real discrimination continues and discrimination is at least spiritual violence, pure and simple.

In the Episcopal Church, one of the options for the general confession in our liturgy includes repentance for "the evil done on our behalf." It is a powerful phrase, although the church has barely begun to unpack the many ways it is true and face up to them, which is the only way for repentance to be genuine. The awful truth is that the death of Matthew Shepard was part of the "evil done on our behalf." Any amount of ambivalence or hostility toward lgbt people is in collusion with such an evil act.

Someone at the time of Matthew's death, on various listservs on which Episcopalians can be found, emotionally declared that the church had "blood on its hands." The statement was met with a great deal of protest and even outrage. As a leader, I myself distanced myself from the remark, its own collusion. It was, however, the truth.

My deep prayer as I contemplate this anniversary is that one day, in my lifetime, the church (at the very least, my church) will own up to this truth, repent of it, apologize, and finally amend its life to erase the ambivalence. As Matthew showed us, it is a matter of life and death.

Matthew Wayne Shepard
December 1, 1976 - October 12, 1998

May he rest in peace and rise in glory


In the News

  • We rejoice at the news from Connecticut on the Supreme Court ruling there in favor of marriage equality. Integrity's statement, issued shortly after October 10th ruling, applauded the decision as one "in favor of marriage and against bigotry."
  • Meanwhile, in California, the work continues to defeat Propostion 8 and protect marriage equality. The shift in the poll numbers in California indicate that the multi-million dollar full-of-lies ad campaign launched by the resolution proposers has been influential. No on 8 forces are working hard to respond and Integrity is working with them. The margin is still "razor thin" ... visit the No on 8 website to see how you can help save marriage equality in California on November 4th.
  • We also want to note the courage of the witness of Roman Catholic priest Fr. Geoff Farrow in coming out and speaking out against Prop 8 in Fresno, CA. Read about his witness here ... and give thanks for all those who risk so much to speak truth to the powers that continue to oppress and marginalize LGBT people everywhere.

Upcoming Events

  • Creating Change will take place January 28-February 1, 2009, in Denver. On January 29th the conference will include a day-long institute titled "Empowering and Working with People of Faith." Is is geared for people of faith and religious organizers who want to build a more powerful faith-based movement for LGBT equality and for secular activists who want to build stronger relationships with communities and leaders of faith. This year's Institute will emphasize the strength of multi-faith organizing and will explore sexual liberation, sexuality, and the ways in which religion and spirituality are resources. Conference registrations are now being accepted. The early bird registration rate of $250 is available until November 30, 2008. Integrity encourages all local leaders and inclusion activists to attend.
  • Looking further ahead, the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church will be held in Anaheim CA from July 8-17. Some information is already available on the General Convention 2009 web pages. Check them out and bookmark them for future reference as we move toward GC'09.

1 comment:

Ann said...

The funeral was held at St. Mark's, Casper - Anne Kitch, Matt's cousin and a priest in the Diocese of Bethlehem preached.