From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Bishop, other United Methodists condemn killing of gay student

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 16 Oct 1998 13:37:18

Oct. 16, 1998        Contact: Tim Tanton*(615)742-5470*Nashville, Tenn.

By United Methodist News Service

Voices from around the United Methodist Church are denouncing the murder
of a 21-year-old gay college student, whose funeral service was held
Oct. 16.

"The murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of
Wyoming, sickens me," said Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, who leads the United
Methodist Church's Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone conferences. "It is a
vile sickness in our society and our culture that we must overcome with
legislation and with prayer. We reject violence whenever it happens
anywhere in the world. God's love is for all. I know only one meaning of
that word, and that is: all, everyone, no exceptions."

Shepard's funeral service was set for 1:30 p.m. at St. Mark's Episcopal
Church in Casper, Wyo. The University of Wyoming student died on Oct.
12, after lying in a coma for several days. He had been beaten and left
tied to a split-rail fence outside Laramie, in near-freezing

Two 21-year-old men have been charged with murder for the killing, and
their girlfriends are accused of helping the men cover up the crime.

The killing is being called a hate crime, and it has rallied human
rights groups, gay organizations and other supporters of anti-hate crime
legislation. Police have said that Shepard was targeted because he was
gay, but that robbery was the primary motive for the crime.

Leaders of the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone conferences are sending a
letter of support to the Shepard family. Pastors and lay leaders also
are working together to pass anti-hate legislation. The Wyoming Church
Coalition, the Mountain States Network Against Bigotry, and the
Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment have been working
together for eight years to get legislation passed.

Ministries in the Midst of Hate and Violence, a program of the United
Methodist Board of Global Ministries, issued a statement on Oct. 16
expressing outrage at the killing and urging Congress to pass the Hate
Crimes Prevention Act. In the statement, program officials pledged to
continue fighting bigotry and promoting tolerance and reconciliation.

"As people of faith, we condemn any and all violence inflicted on the
basis of sexual orientation or because of any other bias," the statement
read. "We are all God's children, and no person from any group should be
a target for murder or any other violation because of hatred."

In Wyoming, the general reactions among United Methodists have been
"hurt and anger and pain and shock," said the Rev. Lynn Evans,
superintendent of the Wyoming/Northeast Colorado District. 

Evans planned to be among a group of people gathering outside St. Mark's
in Casper during the funeral service to form a physical barrier between
the church and anti-gay protesters across the street. Evans and the
other members of the ecumenical group planned to wear yellow ribbons on
their sleeves.

United Methodists in the region are responding to the killing in a
variety of ways, Evans said. "We're not only participating in a great
many of the vigils that have been held, but also the Wesley Foundation
is doing a series of teach-ins on homophobia and what homosexuality is."

"We had chosen violence as our overall theme this year and had already
planned this series on homosexuality and homophobia," said Marian
Paxton, director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Wyoming
in Laramie. The series starts Oct. 18, and will feature a local
counselor as well as Joretta Marshall, who teaches pastoral counseling
and pastoral care at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

The Wesley Foundation joined with other foundations and campus
ministries in a vigil for Shepard and also planned on attending memorial
services Oct. 16 and Oct. 19.

Students at the university are "terribly upset," Paxton said. 

Four students with the foundation attended last May's Student Forum,
held by the United Methodist Student Movement in Chevy Chase, Md.,
Paxton said. There was a lot of discussion about homosexuality at that
event, and the students "became more aware of their sisters and brothers
who are homosexuals," she said.

"I think their major concern is that this is a human being that is a
caring, loving person, and no one deserves to be treated like this. No

The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell, of Park Hill United Methodist Church in
Denver, is one of the ministers who has organized United Methodists in
responding to the Shepard tragedy. He issued a statement condemning the

"As a United Methodist clergyman who is African American, I had hoped
that in 1998 we had ceased lynching persons because of the way they
looked or what their sexual orientation might be, or for any other
reason," Caldwell said. "The beating and death of Matthew Shepard
indicate my hopes were premature.

"May persons of all faith traditions, and those who profess no religious
faith, declare an end to the practice of stereotyping any person or
group," he said. "May all of us work harder to end the hate and stop the

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