Sunday, October 28, 2018
Matthew Shepard, Twenty Years Later, Rest in Peace
When I was as little girl in Catholic school, I was taught how important martyrs and martyrdom are to our understanding of our faith.
I found the idea unappealing. Why did there have to be such suffering? Why couldn't our moral universe encompass only sweetness and light?
As I grew older, I pondered another question: how could the average decent person, people like my friends, like myself, have supported systems like slavery and Jim Crow?
The martyrs of the Civil Rights movement, like the four little girls murdered in a bomb blast in a Birmingham church, may have taught me something about both questions.
Maybe ugly injustice is not exclusively the product of fanatics. Maybe ugly injustice is a product we all create. There are the fanatics leading the parade, of course, but the rest of us just go along. We say nothing, after someone tells a joke that offends us, we do nothing when the institutions we work for deny equal benefits to selected groups of our fellow employees, we hear nothing when our religious leaders preach a discrimination that Jesus never practiced.
I again ponder martyrdom and the education of the average, decent person in the wake of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a college student, around five foot tall, around a hundred pounds, who was tricked into a pick up truck, beaten, burned, and tied to a fence in a position typical of crucifixion. Later, his funeral was picketed by church members carrying signs reading, "Fag Matt in Hell."
We are shocked. Shocked. After the shock wears off, I hope Matthew's death can teach us as only martyrdom can, what the true face of homophobia is.
Twenty years ago, my short essays were occasionally broadcast via WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. This was one of them.
On October 26, 2018, Matthew Shepard's ashes were laid to rest in the National Cathedral. Matt's parents had feared that placing them in any marked place would result in vandalism. They hope that, in the cathedral, Matt's ashes will be safe.