Matthew Shepard died on Oct. 12, 1998, at the Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo. Five days earlier the University of Wyoming student had been violently beaten, tortured and tied to a fence near Laramie, Wyo.
In the hours following the assault on Shepard, two of his friends speculated to investigators that he had been targeted because he was homosexual. Homosexual activists quickly alerted the media and representatives from both descended on Laramie.
Even before any real facts had been established, homosexual activists promulgated the narrative that Shepard was the victim of a brutal hate crime. The media swallowed the story and, in short order, Shepard was deemed a martyr in the cause for homosexual rights.
It was just a dark twist of fate, many insisted, that caused Shepard to encounter the homophobes who took his life. Many similar beatings would occur, activists insisted, unless hate crimes laws were enacted to protect homosexuals.
Since his death, Shepard has been venerated by the homosexual rights movement, portrayed as an innocent young man guilty of nothing more than seeking to live his life as a homosexual. He has been memorialized in song, on stage and in print. Foundations have been established to help further the agenda of homosexual activists. Hate crimes legislation even bears his name.
There is only one major flaw in all of this: It seems to be predicated on a myth.
A recently released book, written by an awarding-winning journalist who also is a homosexual, contends that Matthew Shepard was not beaten and tortured by homophobe strangers. Rather, the book maintains, Shepard knew his assailants and had even fraternized with them.
In "The Book of Matt," Stephen Jimenez puts on display more than a decade's worth of research that includes interviews with more than 100 people, thorough examination of police records and meticulous scrutiny of court documents.
Jimenez' conclusion is that Shepard was a user, as well as a dealer, of methamphetamine and not only knew his murderers but had even been intimate with one of them.
The brutal assault that resulted in Shepard's death, according to Jimenez, was likely a result of drugs and the relationship he had with his killers and not a random homophobic hate crime.
The Advocate, regarded as America's leading homosexual magazine, even admits Jimenez' evidence is more than compelling. "In the process, he amassed enough anecdotal evidence to build a persuasive case that Shepard's sexuality was, if not incidental, certainly less central than popular consensus has led us to believe," The Advocate said in a review.
"In essence, The Book of Matt, is not about the killers' culpability but about sloppiness on the part of the media and allied organizations who used the Shepard case in fundraising pitches," The New York Post stated in a review.
In Kirkus Reviews, the magazine summed up Jimenez' book by noting, "The tragedy was 'enshrined ... as passion play and folktale, but hardly ever for the truth of what it was': the story of a troubled young man who had died because he had been involved with Laramie's drug underworld rather than because he was gay."
There is no doubt that Shepard's death was brutal, horrific and heartrending for his family. However, compounding the tragedy was the willingness of homosexual activists and a compliant media to perpetrate and politicize a myth in order to advance an agenda.
This is not the first time homosexual activists have used a myth in their effort to gain societal acceptance. The movement has long inflated the percentage of people who identify as homosexual in America. For years activists have maintained that 10 percent of the U.S. population identified as homosexual. Numerous studies repeatedly have shown the actual figure to be somewhere between 1.5 and 3.0 percent.
"For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived and dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic," President John F. Kennedy told the 1962 graduating class of Yale University.
The only one way to address a myth is by declaring truth. "You shall know the truth," Jesus said, "and the truth will set you free." The apostle Paul admonished that we should share the truth in love.
When it comes to cultural myths, eventually the truth comes out. When it does, as in the case with Matthew Shepard, we must call attention to the truth.
As to God's truth revealed not only in the Bible but also in creation, we simply must declare it. The light of truth removes the cloak of darkness by which a myth can thrive.
It may take time, but truth will always trump a myth. Even one as venerated as Matthew Shepard.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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