From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians join nationwide mourning for murdered gay student

From John Rollins <>
Date 14 Oct 1998 19:18:55

in Wyoming

October 14, 1998

Episcopalians join nationwide mourning for murdered gay student in

by Kathryn McCormick
 (ENS) Shock, sadness and anger at the gruesome murder of a
21-year-old gay college student reached across the country as his
family and friends made plans for his funeral Friday in the
Episcopal church in Casper, Wyoming, where he had often served as
an acolyte.
 Matthew Shepard died Monday, five days after he had been
pistol-whipped and lashed to a fence post in near-freezing
temperatures outside Laramie, Wyoming. Two men have been charged
with his murder; their girlfriends have been charged as
accessories to murder.
 Police have said that robbery was the main motive for the
attack, but they have acknowledged that Shepard apparently was
chosen in part because he was gay. Shepard had said that he had
been beaten twice in recent months, attacks he attributed to his
open homosexuality.
 Shepard's fellow students at the University of Wyoming and
on campuses throughout the country, politicians from Wyoming to
the White House, and many others, including leaders of the
Episcopal Church, reacted swiftly to the attack, gathering in
vigils, calling for strengthened hate-crime legislation, and
reflecting on the meaning of the young man's death.
 One of the voices was that of the Rev. Bill Bacon, rector of
St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fort Collins, Colorado, near the
hospital where Shepard was taken for treatment and where he died.
Bacon was called to Shepard's bedside by the family.
 Noting that Shepard had been active in the Episcopal Church
and had attended Canterbury Club while at the University of
Wyoming, Bacon recalled in an essay written for the Colorado
Episcopalian, "Gathered around his bandaged body, we began the
Litany at the Time of Death. As lights blinked and the respirator
purred, I though of the obscenity of the Lambeth Resolution on
Sexuality" that condemned homosexual activity. "Especially," he
said, "the bit included as an afterthought, and not unanimously,
`We wish to assure them (homosexuals) that they are loved by God
and that all baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless
of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.'
 "Matthew, a child of God by Baptism.a Son of the Episcopal
Church. The obscenity of even thinking that a vote had to be taken
to ensure that he was a full member of the Church," Bacon said.
 Shepard's death, which came at the beginning of national Gay
Awareness Week, fueled calls from President Bill Clinton for
stronger national hate-crimes legislation and from Bishop Bruce
Caldwell of Wyoming for a hate-crime law in that state. Of the 41
states that have such laws, 21 specifically cover offenses
motivated by the victim's sexual orientation. Several efforts to
pass a law in Wyoming have failed. Less than a week before the
beating, Caldwell noted, Wyoming's diocesan convention had urged
the state legislature to pass an anti-bias bill.
 Acknowledging Shepard's death, Dr. Pam Chinnis, president of
the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies, pointed out in a
statement that four months earlier, an African-American man, James
Byrd, Jr., was beaten and then killed in Jasper County, Texas, a
victim of racial hatred.
 "These horrifying crimes, committed under cover of darkness
on lonely country roads, warn of the potential for evil that lurks
in every town and city, and in our churches, too," she said. "We
must take the message of these hate crimes seriously-our faith
requires it, and our survival as a civilization depends on it."
 Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, in a separate statement,
said he mourned the young man's death, adding, "The fact that
Matthew was an Episcopalian makes our grief no more sharp, but it
does give us a particular responsibility to stand with gays and
lesbians, to decry all forms of violence against them-from verbal
to physical, and to encourage the dialogue that can, with God's
help, lead to new appreciation for their presence in the life of
our church, and the broader community."
 According to news reports, Shepard was born in Casper. He
attended schools in Switzerland, on the East Coast of the U.S. and
in Denver. He traveled the world with his parents, who were
employed by an oil company, before returning to Casper. He later
attended Casper Junior College before transferring this fall to
the University of Wyoming, where he studied political science.
 Matthew Shepard's funeral is to be held in St. Mark's Church
in Casper. The Rev. Anne Kitch, assistant at St. Peter's Church,
Peekskill, New York, whose husband is a cousin of Shepard, has
been invited to preach. St. Matthew's Episcopal Cathedral in
Laramie also will hold a memorial service Friday for those unable
to attend the funeral.

--Kathryn McCormick is associate director of the Office of News
and Information of the Episcopal Church.

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