The sky is neither light nor dark but rather eerily confused, as if the very heavens were unsure how to respond to the dreadful sight displayed before it. A young man is alive but unconscious. His broken, bloodied and disfigured body is tied up and left for the beasts of the field to satisfy their savage cravings. His body is perfectly still, devoid of all movement, almost mythical to the nature that surrounds it. He is as a scarecrow, a statue, displayed for the birds of the air to swoop upon while gawking crowds gaze upon in scorn, pity or grieving love. His own spilled blood has become his clothing, drenching him from head to toe, replacing what had been torn off his own back in a fit of hatred. His tears are now the very waters of baptism, leaving anguished trails down his face, confirming a broken spirit weeping for himself and those that knew not what they did. This man has been ultimately despised and rejected by his fellow brothers, in a way few ever come to understand or experience on this Earth. His precious gift to the world was completely forsaken and his divine beauty unappreciated by those who refused to bear joyful witness to a life of honesty. This man is an icon of love and an icon of the atrocities evil can commit through judgmental human beings. Ultimately, he is the icon of sacrifice, lifted before us, beckoning us each to a better way. He is an icon of the Queer God.
This man we have just beheld could easily be Jesus on the day of his crucifixion. The man countless millions have called The Christ also found himself tied up and left for dead by ignorant men. He was the ultimate God-man who was bloodied and bruised for daring to be different and proudly proclaimed that difference to all who would have ears to hear. However, the man we have gazed upon is not Jesus, dying some 2,000 years ago on a cross, but rather our brother Matthew Shepard, tied to a fence in October 1998. Matthew is an icon of God, as we all are, a child created in the image and beauty of the Divine. Matthew is specifically an icon of the Queer God, as found in the hearts and faces of all those who were born outside the perceived normal realms of straight sexual orientation or gender identity. Do I mean to explain the Divine's sexuality or attempt to proclaim that God himself/herself is queer? No, this would be a pointless and futile endeavor. God, the source of love, which binds us all together in humanity, is beyond our comprehension and limited terms of physical, sexual or tangible description. However, I do challenge you to embrace the reality of the theology we teach in Christianity.
We believe all humankind has been made in the icon or image of God and brought to life by the Divine's own breath in an inexplicable way. The Hebrew Scriptures paint for us a provocative image of God and Adam embraced as God places his mouth over Adam's nostril to fill him with life, causing him to rise up. This is the very same God who brought Matthew Shepard into existence, causing him to rise up as a gay icon of his very own creator. Matthew was called to live a life of abundance as Jesus taught us. He was to find romantic love and happiness, and to become a vessel of heavenly love for those in his life, but this was cut short by those who hated his icon. Thankfully, in God's ultimate grace, Matthew's needless death has not passed us by in vain. His eternal rest has become a driving force in this country, both in the private family home and the public religious institution, to separate ourselves from deathly ignorance before we slay another icon made in God's image.
Divine love is manifested in our lives by our interactions and our relationships with others. Jesus himself gave us the new and greatest commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you." For Matthew, who was born homosexual, this love was manifested in a way that others found disgusting because of their own personal ignorance and stereotyping. They did not believe true love was possible outside their narrow view, similar to the Pharisees, who believed that the Law could never be fulfilled by someone as inclusive or free-minded as Jesus. Matthew was despised by many in his community for the simple fact that they could not see God in him. For this he paid the ultimate price of losing his life in a horrific manner, not so different from the crucifixion of the Divine of many centuries ago.
Was Matthew Shepard perfect, without stain and blameless at every turn of his life? I would surely hope not; if that were the case, he would cease to be an icon whom we could personally relate to. He no doubt ruffled feathers at times or caused others to become angry (this is human), and he wasn't the first or last to make a mistake. Jesus himself was known to turn over tables, threaten the status quo (making the rich and "normal" feel uncomfortable) and tell his mother to wait outside and keep quiet. Once, while speaking with an outcast woman, Jesus even responded by likening her to a common household pet: "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." However, being human has never disqualified the sacrifice of the God-man Jesus, nor should it allow us to ignore the death of an innocent man who became a beloved martyr at the hands of hateful men.
No doubt some would argue that the very premise of the statement or phrase "Queer God" is false, but I dare to ask you how God, who created each of us, can somehow be separate from his gay children. If God fills all things, does he not also take up residence in the gay man beaten and left for dead, leaving the undeniable mark of divinity? For some, there will never be an argument great enough to accept the beautiful truth that God has created some gay and some straight. But he has done just this, and in his servant Matthew Shepard he has revealed his queer side.
We love you, blessed Matthew, and we ask for your fervent prayers. May we see the end of the hatred that caused your tragic sacrifice of life by no longer remaining silent. You are a beautiful icon of the Queer God lifted before us, beckoning us each to protect all our brothers and sisters!
The icon of Matthew was painted by the hand of Fr. William McNichols and is used with permission.