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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
November 1998

The Murder of Matthew Shepard

The murder of Matthew Shepard has produced more media coverage that civil marriage discrimination, Jimmy Creech's trial or the anti-gay ads. The Philadelphia Inquirer, for instance, ran an editorial, a cartoon, three opinion pieces, letters, major articles and related human interest stories. Social, political, and religious reactions are complex; we believe it is important to view them separately, especially with the huge effort to confuse them. Reactions include calls to add orientation to existing federal hate-crime law; react civilly and forcefully to anti-gay statements; and overturn sodomy laws and end marriage discrimination.

The has been an effort among anti-gay-rights activists to confuse the first two points and suggest that there is an attempt to outlaw all negative comments about homosexuality, and therefore conservative Christianity. This approach was exemplified by Gary Bauer, Robert Knight and Steve Schwalm of the Family Research Council, and by Pat Buchanan. Schwalm complained that "militant homosexuals" were characterizing the FRC as hateful and extremist. He also said adding sexual orientation to hate crime laws would criminalize the expression of "pro-family beliefs" and "disagreement with the political message of homosexual activists." In a USA Today opinion piece, Robert Knight said the FRC was "championing the traditional family." In his column, Pat Buchanan said Shepard's death was "being exploited to launch a new round of Christian-bashing." Anti-gay activists seemed incapable of condemning the killing without adding qualifying statements. In a New York Times article, John Paulk, whose wife Anne was featured in the first anti-gay print ad, condemned the violence and said gays and lesbians were advocating an agenda "contrary to biblical norms."

Commentaries against adding orientation to hate crime laws (some from gay rights supporters) generally contend that all crimes are hate crimes. We suggested a distinction in many letters: a hate crime is a terrorist act, aimed not just at the victim, but everyone sharing the characteristic that inspired the attack; these crimes inspire imitators and serve by reference as a weapon of intimidation.

Statement from the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold

I grieve at the death of Matthew Shepard, and deplore the hate and violence which led to it. My prayers are with Matthew, his family, his friends, and his parish. Matthew was not only a member of our church family, but of our human community. He could have been our child. He was our brother.

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 us to new appreciation for their presence in the life of our church, and the broader community.

I pay that this unnecessary tragedy will make plain why we cannot be silent in the face of intolerance, or quietly accept the climate of hate and fear of "the other" that makes such a crime possible. May we accept anew our responsibility to be agents of the healing love of the risen Christ.

Statement from the Rev. Troy Perry

Our hearts and prayers go out to the family of Matt Shepard. We mourn his passing and decry the senseless act that claimed his young life.

If there is a ray of light today, it is that Matt's life and death have served to bring us together and have reminded us in powerful ways of the sanctity and dignity of every life.

I am please to report that many UFMCC congregations, both across the US and internationally, will be joining hands with many faith communities to hold interfaith candlelight vigils and memorial services in honor of Matt's life throughout this week.

As moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, I will be traveling to Casper, Wyoming for the funeral services of Matt Shepard this weekend. I will carry the love, prayers and support of our denomination to Matt's family and friends and will honor his brave and too-short life. I will count it a privilege to stand in solidarity and support with the community which helped to birth his sense of activism and his deep commitment to justice.

I call upon all people to uphold Matt's family with our love and prayers and to take hope that Matt has truly "slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."

The Murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian

Statement from Kate Michelman, President, National Abortion Rights Action League: "The cold-blooded assassination of Dr. Slepian is a shocking example of just how far some opponents of abortion and reproductive rights will go to deny women their constitutional right to choose. Coming on the heels of the gruesome murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, it is also a telling reminder of the increasing climate of intolerance and hatred we now see in America." Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice: "Dr. Slepian was a physician who cared deeply for his patients -- his greatest joy was bringing babies into the world. He was not an abortion provider, he was an obstetrician-gynecologist and a fertility specialist, a man dedicated to providing complete health care to all his patients. He was not pro-abortion, he was pro-total health care."

Interfaith Service

On October 28, First Baptist Church of Philadelphia hosted an interfaith service to remember and mourn Matthew Shepard, James Byrd, and Barnett Slepian which was sponsored by the Interfaith Working Group, the Alliance of LGBT Religious Communities, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and the Federation of Reform Synagogues of Greater Philadelphia.

Thanks are due to the volunteer choir, to the Church of the Holy Trinity for providing choir rehearsal space, to everyone who attended, and those who participated in and organized the service: Rabbi Rebecca Albert, Brian Anderson, Rt. Rev. Charles Bennison, Rabbi Henry Cohen, Rabbi Sue Levi Elewell, Rev. Nina Grey, Cantor Naomi Hirsch, Daniel Howe, Cantor Jenny Izenstark, Rev. Jeff Jordan, Rev. James H. Littrell, Rev. Dwight Lundgren, Rev. Patricia Pearce, Rabbi Linda Potemken, Barbara Purdom, Br. Ben Regotti, Rev. Stephen Snider, Kevin Vaughan, Rev. Paul Washington, Sr. Joanne Whitaker, and Tom Whittemore. The Collection was split between the Matthew Shepard Fund and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Mormon Contributions in Hawaii and Alaska

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints contributed $600,000 to Save Traditional Marriage '98, which is campaigning to amend the Hawaii constitution to allow the legislature to forbid the recognition of same-gender marriages, according to the Honolulu Advertiser. Papers in Alaska reported a $500,000 contribution to the campaign to amend the constitution in that state.

Los Angeles Denounces NARTH

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously condemned a conference being held there by the Claremont Institute and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), according to the Los Angeles Daily News. Joseph Nicolosi of NARTH said the condemnation infringed on his free speech rights. Council members called the conference "an anti-gay event that will promote hate that can lead to violence against gays, like the recent beating death of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming." The flier for the conference stated that the "homosexual movement has targeted children, the family and popular culture in its attempt to increase its numbers and acceptance in society," and that "children are being indoctrinated through homosexual propaganda in school and in the media." It also said that "homosexuality is not a civil rights issue," and "homosexuals are trying destroy organizations such as the Boy Scouts, which seek to promote decency and traditional morality."

United Methodist Church

According to the Chicago Tribune, Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, who brought charges against Rev. Greg Dell, a Chicago pastor, for performing a same-sex union, has himself officiated at two such ceremonies, and has been a leader in the movement to remove anti-gay language in church policies. Bishop Sprague said, "I hope to make it a teaching moment. I hope the whole church will learn what a terrible box we have put ourselves in." Meanwhile, the lay leader of the California-Nevada Conference and her partner of fifteen years are planning a union ceremony; more than 67 UMC clergy have agreed to co-officiate. The Judicial Council will rule in early November on the constitutionality of the ban on same-sex unions.

Anti-Gay Children's Literature from Coral Ridge

The September 1998 Christian Alert Bulletin from the Center for Reclaiming America had an ad for "Resources for Christian Living." One book listed is called "Mommy, Why Are They Holding Hands?" The cover blurbs say: "The nation's first Bible-based children's book focused on preventing homosexuality," and, "A story to help children learn what the Bible says about the sin of homosexuality." The text for the ad reads: "Homosexuality is commonly discussed on television, radio, and in print. In public schools, homosexual activists portray homosexuality as 'normal.' The messages must be countered at home. But how? In this illustrated story for children in grades three through five, young Sarah sees two men holding holding hads at the mall and discovers, as her mother leads her through the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, what God's Word says about sin and forgiveness."

Letterhead Changes

We welcome Rabbi Sara Levine of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Rabbi Yael Levy of Congregation Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia, and Rabbi Rochelle Robins, a chaplain at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Rev. Patrick Maye of Unity Fellowship Church has moved out of the area. We still have room (believe it or not!) for other clergy, congregations or religious organizations in east or central PA, southern NJ, or DE who want to publicly declare their support for gay rights, reproductive freedom, and separation of church and sate and add their names to the letterhead/web page.

Additions to the Web Page

The IWG web page now has the full text of Martyrs of Our People, a statement regarding the murder of Matthew Shepard from the Gay and Lesbian Rabinic Network. There are also links to a letter to Gary Bauer from the Gallucio Family and The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State.

Television Version of the Anti-gay Ads?

With a great deal of publicity, the Center for Reclaiming America and the Family Research Council announced the creation of television ads like the print ads which we reported last month. The announcement of the new ads allowed Janet Folger of the CRA to get even more free air time with the broadcast media. The ads, however, don't seem to have actually run anywhere as yet. The Washington Post printed, and then retracted, a report that they would run in key Congressional districts.

And In New Jersey

Governor Whitman made two new appointments to her Advisory Council on AIDS: the Executive Director of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, and the New Jersey Director of Concerned Women for America. According to the Asbury Park Press, three members of the council died within the year, and there are now no board members living with AIDS.









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