Saint Matthew Shepard, Rest In Peace – Solus Jesus
Matthew Shepard was murderd in 1998. I was twenty years old and halfway through college — the age when most people explore dating and discover more about their own sexuality.
He was only a year older than me.
On Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. will hold a ceremony to dedicate a plaque for his burial site there. He was interned just last year, twenty years after his murder, because of fears people would vandalize any grave site where he was laid to rest. His grave has become a pilgrimage site for many LGBTQ+ people — a place to light candles, lay flowers, and commemorate his life.
I remember crying when I learned about his killing. I remember picturing what happened, step by step: two men luring Matt to their car to rob him, driving him into the desolate countryside of Wyoming, tying him to a fence post, beating him senseless, removing his shoes, and leaving him to try and survive freezing cold weather overnight. Something about him being barefoot seemed especially cruel. Over and over my mind replayed what it would be like to have my hands bound behind me and left, bleeding and bludgeoned, to freeze.
I couldn’t say I was gay out loud to myself until I was 30 years old. My fundamentalist Christian upbringing played a large role in my repressing my sexuality, but so did stories like Matt’s. A part of me knew being gay made me less safe.
And, the thing is, it does make me less safe. I’ve been outted and fired from a job for being gay. I’ve lost housing. I’ve lost friends. When my wife and I considered adoption we came to understand exactly how hard it is in the state of Michigan for same-sex couples to adopt. When we wed, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in all fifty states. I’m my happiest and best self being married to my wife, but it sure would be nice to be treated like a human being equal to all other human beings.
Matthew Shepard would understand, were he here today. He was an innocent scapegoat, slaughtered because of our cultural anxiety about queerness.
I’m a pastor, and the God I follow had something to say about scapegoating innocents. When humans declared his innocent son, Jesus, guilty, and put him to death, God overturned our human death sentence and raised him back to life. Jesus stands for and with all of the innocent scapegoats of this world, including Matthew Shepard.
May he rest in peace.