When Matthew Shepard was murdered Rosean and I were living in Lander, Wyoming. When we heard about what had happened, we were terrified; our sense of security went right out the window. It was suddenly very real, that we could lose our lives in an encounter with a hateful stranger. We could die simply because we were lesbians. The fear was surprisingly visceral. And I think every gay man and lesbian in the state of Wyoming felt the same thing. That’s what a hate crime does — it terrifies a whole group of people.
For people of color, especially for black African Americans, the terror of the hate crime is built into the very fabric of one’s days. It’s not a new thing; it’s ongoing, a constant awareness — a fact of life over which one has little control.
It’s heartbreaking that little kids must be taught how to appear non-threatening to white people, how to keep their hands in sight and be real polite. Never talk back. Never even appear to be threatening. And the sad truth is that sometimes the training they get works, but often it doesn’t. Innocent people are beat up, imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit — often couldn’t possibly have committed — and killed.
But, the hate crime is just the tip of the boil that has infected the whole organism, just the most visible symptom. The sickness, and it permeates every cell of the body of our country, is systemic racism. We find it in our school systems, medical systems, judicial systems, how our laws are enforced, where people live and where they play.
And finally it has come down to this: one more person was brutally murdered, and the event was captured on video. And this time what was set off in people to whom the same thing could happen at any moment was not terror but rage. Not terror but “by God this is the last straw.”
What’s our responsibility in what is happening in the streets of our country right now? What should our response be?
Today is Trinity Sunday. This is our day to celebrate the tripartite nature of God. Today, the most important aspect of the Trinity in my mind is the nature of Christ, the second Person. Fully human and fully God at once, Christ is the tangible, embodied presence of God, and shows me who God is and what God wants. He is the part of God I pray to when I want to share my most human feelings. He is my companion, guide and comforter. He is also that within me which is a window to eternity. He is the voice of truth, my compass. He is Love.
As followers of Christ we are called to put Love into practice. Love is a driving force, a dynamic energy that changes the face of creation. It allows us to reach beyond the limitations of narrow kinship bonds to value all living creatures. As I value and commit myself to all my neighbors, I find the way of salvation which is the very heart and soul of Christianity.
For Rosean and me, the single most important thing that helped with our feelings of terror and helplessness following the murder of Matthew Shepard was the support of our church. A year earlier we had had a commitment ceremony at our home. People who never would have imagined that they would be at a “marriage” of two women came. They pledged to support our relationship — that our people would become their people and our God their God.
Following Matthew’s death, they came out in support of gays and lesbians across the state. First they hosted a memorial service and invited people from other churches in town. Then they went on to pledge their support for GLBT rights in the community and they fought for full inclusion of GLBT people in the greater Episcopal church, which, as you know, was at that time really struggling with this issue.
.We are called in the same way to take on the issues of institutional racism. Together and individually, we must allow ourselves to be called by the compassionate heart of Christ into addressing the pandemic of racism. Individually, where do our skills and passions lead us to contribute? As a Church, what can we do?
Photo from the Women’s March in Denver 4 years ago