"What killed Matthew Shepherd?"
Sermon for October 25, 1998
Re-thought anything you’ve heard on the news lately? I have. . . the murder of Matthew Shepherd for one thing. I am convinced that re-thinking, careful thinking is probably one of the most essential things for us to do in a hot media age. . . and, furthermore, as Christians, we should re-think things deeply and scripturally lest we be misled by the many other "scripts" which are floating around in our cultural moment. You will recall that Paul has said that we are full of goodness, and of all knowledge so as to be able to instruct. So, our first need is to be instructed by the scripture which reveals God’s view of murder and the best place to go for that is the first murder, that of Cain and Abel, recorded in Genesis 4:2—12.
The Lord has looked with favor on Abel’s sacrifice of "fat portions" but not on Cain’s offering of "some fruits of the soil." Cain was infuriated and it showed in his countenance. He was angry at God’s judgment. The proper solution and alternative to murder, of course, would be for Cain to address the insufficiency of his worship, and do what is right by God in offering a better, more costly sacrifice. What he elects to do instead is to attack and to kill his brother. Cain clearly has it in mind to harm his brother; he takes his anger out on an innocent third party. When God says to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" All the horror of primal murder is summed up in that simple, direct question. Murder is not a mistake, it is not an error of judgment. It is a work of Satan and those who do such things are fully responsible. They are terrorists of the worst kind.
"I don’t know," Cain replies, "Am I my brother’s keeper?" The reply is dishonest because Cain knows full well where the body is. And he knows that his brother is dead, at his own hand. So, he lies. But the rest of the question points us in a particular direction. Cain is, as we all are, his brother’s keeper. He has a fundamental obligation to "keep," to take care for and to look out for his brother. Cain’s anger has spawned a treacherous indifference in his heart as regards his brother’s well-being. He is bearing the marks of the beast, of Satanic influence being both a liar and a murderer.
Sadly, there are those who have exploited the murder of Matthew Shepherd to further their angry, dehumanizing political agenda. They claim that ads taken out by Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Coral Ridge Ministries last summer offering to help anyone who wants out of the homosexual lifestyle—an effort undertaken prayerfully and lovingly—have promoted an atmosphere conducive to violence against gays. A heinous crime such as Matthew’s brutal slaying is not one bit worsened by attaching the label of "hate crime;" nothing can make murder more reprehensible, wicked, or evil than it already is. I would dare to say that in some important ways such labeling diminishes the horror of murder by linking it to social discrimination. God forbids murder, in the Ten Commandments, period, without even raising the issue of a hateful motivation. The world, influenced by gay activists and human rights campaigners, is trying to force legislation outlawing "hate crimes," but the word of God suggests a far more radical solution. Here’s what Jesus says about hatred ( Matthew 5:21-22):
You have heard that it said to the people long ago, "Do not murder, and
anyone who murders will be subject to judgment." But I tell you that anyone who
is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to
his brother, "Raca," is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, "You
fool!" will be in danger of the fire of hell.
With this Jesus radicalizes our thinking far beyond the thinking which the proponents of hate crime legislation dare advocate. It is contempt of others that Jesus singles out as the main problem—self-righteous superiority doesn’t fare well with the Master whether Christian, or non-Christian. Jesus teaches that if we are to root out murder, we must start with the name-calling, labeling . . . and we must start with the plank in our own eye.
The escalation of punishment in this passage is toward matters that we carelessly hold to be insignificant. While I’ve pointed this astounding teaching out before, I should briefly review it with those who may have missed it. We have here three offenses: murder, calling someone "empty-headed"/raca—or as we might say, idiot, and thirdly, calling someone else a fool. It follows the pattern of most serious to the least serious—at least to our way of thinking and the dictates of what is reasonable. Joined with these offenses are consequences, but they become graver as we move through the sequence of offenses with the result that while the person who murders is tried before the district court, and the more serious insult is to go before the Supreme Court of the Jews, the Sanhedrin, the person who name-calls is said to deserve the fires of hell.
Name-calling? Yes, name-calling and contempt of person out of which it proceeds are the ground out of which anger and murder spring. Contempt of person masks an unacknowledged judgmentalism, pride, selfishness and, yes, murderous intent! Hate crime legislation cannot even begin to address hatred as thoroughly, deeply, and resoundingly as God has already has. Even if we ignored, which as Christians we cannot, all the positive injunctions about love (love your neighbor, love one another, love your enemies), we would still have a solid foundation upon which to dispute the accusations of hate-mongering currently being leveled against Christian leaders and Christian organizations. All of whom would be guilty of the most rank hypocrisy if the accusations are true. And if the accusations are untrue, then those who say such things are at best ignorant, and at worst contemptuous and self-condemned. And that of course is one of the most compelling arguments against "hate crime legislation;" namely, that those who profess love and reject the ways of hatred are being targeted by some as creating a climate of hatred. If those who favor "hate crime" legislation cannot make even so fundamental a distinction, cannot distinguish between real hatefulness and alleged, or projected hatefulness, the laws will be fundamentally unjust and discriminatory—harming a host of persons who are actually opposed to the very things the legislation purports to oppose! Christians are the kindest fellow citizens that a gay, non-Christian might hope for.
These thoughts about murder, hate crimes, hatred and the contempt of person which causes one person to kill another are really painful to discuss. Indeed, the issues raised seem to orbit around the axis of pain itself. We resonate with Jesus’ teaching about the origin of murder in name-calling because it is true. We also resonate with the pain of rejection which is found in the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:10-12):
The Lord said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me
from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which
opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work
the ground, it will no longer yield its crops to you. You will be a restless wanderer
on the earth."
A tragic judgment of homelessness and fruitlessness comes to Cain for the shedding of Abel’s innocent blood. He is under a curse. Those who murdered Matthew Shepherd are also under a curse, his blood also cries from the ground. They are charged with murder before man, and contempt of person before God for which the judgment is hellfire. How we should pray for them, even as we pray for Matthew’s grief-stricken family! How we should pray for those who are so indifferent and callous as to use Matthew’s death to further a political agenda and to descend to name-calling and contempt in the advancement of their cause! What remedy is there?! Those who have sinned by murder, by contempt of person, by name-calling and ridicule of other persons (who happen to disagree with themselves), they all need to repent before God. The first should seek forgiveness for what they have done and the latter should turn from their wicked ways, which spawn violence, hatred and further murder before it is too late.
How can we manage to be heard on this matters? We cannot, unless we have done the difficult work of examining out own hearts for contempt? Are we secretly holding lesbians and gays in contempt? Repent. Are we holding gay activists to a higher standard than we are willing to abide by? That’s contempt. Repent. Do we hold members of the opposition party, or hypocritical politicians of all stripes and position in contempt? Repent. We should practice humble praying for those we happen to disagree with, acknowledging that our right to disagree also secures their right to disagree! Are we holding bosses, co-workers, fellow travelers on the highway, professionals, men, women, or family members in contempt? Before you do anything else repent before God least you come into stern judgment and are treated worse than murderers. Those who refuse to attend to this business are laboring under a curse whether they know it or not.
How many of us are honestly in touch with the curses we labor under? And there we shall remain until they be removed from us by the cross of Christ who held no one in contempt but freely died for all? How many of us are living lives crippled by alienation, tormented by the sense that heaven is barred up against us? In pain, and making a hash of our pain management? But Paul has said we are full of goodness, all knowledge and able to instruct—if only the plank of contempt could be removed from our eyes so that pure, liberating love of God could healingly flow from us, move through us towards that needy, lost and twisted world! Let’s go to God and ask forgiveness and so remove any hindrance to God’s love shining through us. Let’s forgive others freely, even those who hurt, offend and falsely accuse us of hatefulness, hypocrisy, or contempt. Let us not be guilty of holding in contempt those who hold us in contempt any longer. Then Christ shall indeed be lifted up and many, many desperately hurting people will be drawn to him . . . surely our humility and sacrifice of love is worth the victory Christ shall secure wherever His people take down the strongholds of contempt, pride and judgmentalism.
I begin this way because I’ve just come back from Louisville, Ky. with full eyes and a heavy heart. There was so much sadness to deal with in here, my heart, and there: a new urban center, a re-vitalized downtown in de-vitalized surroundings, the emptiness of poverty, destitute faces and litter everywhere, just out of sight and just out of the streetsweeper’s reach. Homeless folk, hopeless folk. . . but splendid high rises, burnished steel, acres of glass. . . towering over what little remains of the historical commercial district and river front. I am still struggling to sort out what it all signifies. Old veterans, deceased sailors, a memorial honor roll, renewed friendship and yet intense loneliness . . . reading a book in the second floor hallway, talking to conferees from Human Services and Welfare Administration. Praying with people and going to church on Sunday, then walking back to the hotel with Dad to "Rally Burger" where an urban beggar asked me to buy her a meal and bring it to her. I refused to take the meal to her, but I did help her purchase a meal and insisted that she wait with me in line to be served. (That gave us a chance to visit and I asked God to bless her day.) The inescapable and endless blare of CNN News Channel in the lobby, drove me to seek out quiet spaces of meditation and prayer. It was a great trip for Dad and me overall, even with the 2 ½ hours mechanical delay during which I pondered many things: getting home, missing my family, longing for those I love here, enjoying the warmth of the night on the Star of Louisville cruise ship, my amazement at the homes of historical importance.
I also pondered the re-opening of the Paula Jones case, a woman who has been deprived of justice due to politics and the President’s behavior. I listened to Robert Bork talk about the cultural confusion of our day, our lack of liberty and bondage to ideologies of the left and right. A bit more harshly, of course, came the news of the Shepherd murder in Wyoming with fresh impetus for hate crime legislation. I recall this initiative faltering as earlier cases "proving the need for hate crime legislation" turned out to be acts of violence perpetrated by gays against gays. . . the facts proved damaging to "the cause" because it became clear that only heterosexuals could perform "hate crimes," which makes as little sense as insisting that only whites can be racist.
And we should be careful that our outrage not be channeled at others—pistol whipping is not a Christian behavior! Christians are in fact in solidarity with those who are horrified at this savagery. However, it is not supremely important to us that Matthew was gay, what matters to us is that a person that God-created has been wickedly murdered by those who do not walk in the way of love of others. Christians neither condone, nor promote murder. Abel’s murder also terminated a relationship and in so doing ran absolutely contrary to humankind’s God-given purpose and design. Our original intent, that for which we have been created, has been violated. We hurt for his family and friends. It was the failure of Cain to esteem his brother rightly, to honor their relationship that is so irretrievably sad. We are in danger of the same failure by those who would take advantage of this murder to further an angry, dehumanizing political agenda. Referring to leaders of Christian organizations as "emboldened thugs" is reckless and shameless misrepresentation and, in fact, qualifies as hate mongering of the most despicable sort. Homosexual activists need to hear the biblical caution (Hosea 8:7)"They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind." Their hatred of traditional values and the spokespersons for those values will return to haunt them as they pervert language and promote the very climate of hate they purport to oppose. Hateful motivations pre-exist hateful acts in an atmosphere created, in part, by both parties to the current debate over gay rights.
I say, dare advocate because what Jesus actually teaches us all brings everyone into judgment along with their cultural opponents, both those who promote, and those who oppose hate crime legislation. Typically, those who favor hate crime legislation are angry, as evidenced in their slogans and name-calling, and condescending towards "the fools, the empty-headed, right-wing religious fanatics" whom they view as being obstacles to their enlightened political will. and the political ugliness that we tolerate in public debate on social issues.
that being the most dangerous kind. Murder Wounded people, the scapegoated and verbally assaulted folks, get angry and, eventually, they, unless the mercy of Christ prevails in their hearts, may arrive at the ultimate form of retaliation called murder, or some lesser form of violence such as oppression and repression. is by its very nature a terrible act of judgment, whether intended as an explicit act of judgment or not. The murderer has determined that his/her victim is no longer worthy of living and, having de-humanized that person, proceeds to remove that person as an obstacle to