From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutherans Condemn Murder of Matthew Shepard

From NEWS <>
Date 15 Oct 1998 16:14:47


October 15, 1998


     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- "Our church repudiates all words and acts of hatred
toward gay and lesbian persons," said the Rev. H. George Anderson,
presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  "I
personally deplore this act of violence."  Anderson responded to reports
that Matthew Shepard died Oct. 12 of injuries received in a beating Oct. 7
outside Laramie, Wyo.
     Laramie police say robbery was the main motive for the attack and
that Shepard was apparently selected for robbery in part because he was
gay.  Shepard of Casper, Wyo., was a student at the University of Wyoming
in Laramie.
     "This senseless act has deeply shocked us all," said the Rev. Allan
C. Bjornberg, bishop of the ELCA's Rocky Mountain Synod.  "It has broken
the hearts of all who believe in the worth of every human being.  Such
terrorism against gay and lesbian persons is to be abhorred," he said.
     "I earnestly invite prayers for the family and friends of Matthew
Shepard, for the perpetrators of this gruesome act, and their families.
May God guide us all to increased compassion and understanding," said
     "As a church that welcomes all people, we are deeply grieved that
anyone would be singled out as a target of hatred," said the Rev. Paul K.
Erbes, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Gillette, Wyo., dean of the Wyoming
conference of ELCA congregations.  "In the midst of this hatred, however,
the church has been called to give witness to the power of Christ's love
for all people as well as Christ's power for forgiveness of all sins."
     Two Laramie men were charged with Shepard's murder.  Two women were
charged as accessories.
     "ELCA congregations in Wyoming, especially those in Laramie and
Casper, are deeply involved in ministering to families and individuals on
all sides of the horrible act which took the life of Matthew Shepard," said
Erbes.  "I am heavily saddened for the Shepard family and I also grieve for
the families of the perpetrators.  These are all our brothers and sisters."
     Erbes said he was praying for his colleagues in the Episcopal church
of Wyoming, "who have been called into direct ministry in this difficult
situation."  Shepard was an Episcopalian, and a funeral service will be
held Oct. 16 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Casper.  St. Matthew's
Episcopal Cathedral in Laramie will hold a memorial service that day.
     "We call on all Lutheran churches to pray for an end to hate crimes,"
said Bob Gibeling, program executive for Lutherans Concerned/North America,
a society of gay, lesbian, bisexual and "non-gay" Christians dedicated to
fostering understanding, justice and reconciliation.  "We cannot remain
silent in the face of such a hideous hate crime."
     Gibeling stressed that Lutherans "preach the gospel of God's
unconditional love and amazing grace," and he blamed such violence in part
on preachers "with biblical interpretations that view gay men and lesbians
as sub-human.  This is not the message of the gospel."
     In March 1996 the ELCA Conference of Bishops issued a letter that
said, "We repudiate all words and acts of hatred toward gay and lesbian
persons in our congregations and in our communities, and extend a caring
welcome for gay and lesbian persons and their families.  We call upon all
our pastors, as they exercise pastoral care, to be sensitive to the gifts
and needs of gay and lesbian members."
     Several churchwide assemblies of the ELCA, the church's chief
legislative bodies, have resolved to welcome gay and lesbian people into
ELCA congregations.  The 1993 assembly extended that message to express
"strong opposition to all forms of verbal or physical harassment or assault
of persons because of their sexual orientation" and support for the civil
rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation.

For information contact:
Frank Imhoff, Assoc. Director (773) 380-2955 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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