Monday, October 12, 2009

Modern gay martyr: Matthew Shepard

The Passion of Matthew Shepard By William Hart McNichols ©
Matthew Shepard (1976-1998) brought international attention to anti-gay hate crimes when he died on Oct. 12, 1998.

 The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Matthew Shepard Act on Thursday (Oct. 8), broadening the federal hate-crimes law to cover violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Senate is expected to vote on it within days.

Shepard was a 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming at the time of his death. He was brutally attacked near Laramie, Wyoming, on Oct. 6-7, 1998 by two men who later claimed that they were driven temporarily insane by “gay panic” due to Shepard’s alleged sexual advances. Shepard was beaten and left to die. The officer who found him said that he was covered with blood -- except for the white streaks left by his tears. Father William Hart McNichols created a striking icon based on his report. McNichols dedicated his icon The Passion of Matthew Shepard to the 1,470 gay and lesbian youth of commit suicide in the U.S. each year, and to the countless others who are injured or murdered. Now the Matthew Shepard Foundation seeks to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance. McNichols is a renowned iconographer and Roman Catholic priest based in New Mexico. After earning a Master of Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute in New York, he studied icon painting with the Russian-American master Robert Lentz. Like Lentz, he paints some icons with contemporary subjects, as well as many with classical themes. McNichols’ own moving spiritual journey and two of his icons are included in the book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry. P.S. President Obama signed "The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act" into law on Oct. 28, 2009.
This post is part of the new GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.


LX said...

Careful using the terms Martyr and Saint loosely!

When we say Martyr, we mean someone who has died for a cause. When we are talking about 'saint' Martyrs we mean those who died for their faith in J.C., Matthew Shepard is a Martyr against violence and for social justice... but I don't think we can call him a saint on the basis of his death.

That said; I'd hope that he is in heaven! which is really what it means to be a saint.

Trudie said...

Back to something Kitt reminded me of very recently -- the term "saint" applies to all of us, living or dead, who are believers in and followers of Jesus. As is so beautifully illustrated over and over again in "Jesus in Love", the concept that God's heart is open to all of us all the time is enough to make the term "saint" applicable. I believe it can be said that if Matthew was living openly and honestly as a gay man, accepting the possible risks of witnessing to the reality of his own persona as a beloved child of God, and this openness and honest is indeed what led to the vicious murder, then the term martyr applies absolutely. By the way, LX, my dictionary does not limit martyrdom only to believers in Jesus. It says, and I quote, "a person who is put to death for refusing to renounce a faith or belief". I believe the faith Matthew refused to renounce was the faith that his sexual identity is beloved of God, and I believe his killers put him to death for that. I think that far from being used losely, the terms Martyr and Saint are ABSOLUTELY applicable here!

KittKatt said...

Thanks, LX and Trudie. I value the chance to define what it means to be a saint or a martyr. Trudie, I share your viewpoint and I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Here’s a dictionary definition of saint:
1.a. Christianity A person officially recognized, especially by canonization, as being entitled to public veneration and capable of interceding for people on earth.
b. A person who has died and gone to heaven.
c. A member of any of various religious groups, especially a Latter-Day Saint.
2. An extremely virtuous person.

In the New Testament, St. Paul used the word for every member of the Christian community, a practice continued by Rev. Troy Perry, found of Metropolitan Community Churches. one of my memories from working with Rev. Troy Perry was that whenever he wrote a letter to the membership of UFMCC, he address it as "Dear Saints." We always got back some responses from people protesting, "I'm not a saint!" But to Troy, we are all saints.

Obviously I’m not sticking to officially recognized saints in this GLBT saints series. The series exists to address the problem of churches not officially recognizing the gifts of GLBT people of faith. I am leaning more toward saints as virtuous people, members of a religious group or people who died and went to heaven (and nobody can prove who did or didn’t go to heaven).

Neither saints or martyrs are limited to the Christian faith, although that is a common usage. I do hope to add people of other faiths to the GLBT saints series in the future.

So, LX, I like your last line, “I'd hope that he is in heaven! which is really what it means to be a saint.”

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