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Pastor says law of love will change our humanity

Steve Davis, who is executive minister of administration and staff in collaboration with Kelle Brown who is minister of worship and pastoral care at Plymouth UCC in Seattle, recently attended the Oct. 26 service for the interment of the ashes of Matthew Shepard in the Washington National Cathedral.

Steve Davis represented Plymouth Church Seattle at interment of ashes of Matthew Shepard. Photo courtesy of Plymouth UCC in Seattle

Matthew was a 21-year-old college student in Laramie, Wyo., who was tied up, savagely attacked and left for dead 20 years ago because he was gay, said Steve.

His murder attracted media attention and galvanized support for laws protecting the rights of LGBTQ Americans, Steve said.

Plymouth, where he has served since June 2016, is Steve’s first full time ministry in the UCC, following 27 years of ministry in the United Methodist Church in Texas, New Mexico and Georgia, after graduating from seminary at Emery in Atlanta, Ga. 

He was asked to leave that denomination when it came out during during his divorce from his wife that he was gay.

Steve began attending the Cathedral of Hope UCC in Dallas and there he was encouraged to pursue ministry in the UCC.  His ordination was transferred to the UCC.

“I was not aware I was gay until my late 40s.  I thought I was a strong ally, but through counseling recognized he had been gay,” Steve said.

Steve said when he saw a posting this summer on Facebook from the Washington Post that Matthew’s ashes would be interred in the Washington National Cathedral, he wanted to go, but didn’t know how. Plymouth UCC said he could go and represent them on behalf of the UCC to “stand in solidarity with those whose voices were never heard in their experience of hate and those who lost their lives.

Bing Tso, Plymouth’s vice moderator, connected him with a friend in the national UCC who helped make connections to make it possible, along with support from Plymouth to go.

He connected with and went with Matthew Braddock, the pastor of Christ Church UCC in Silver Spring, Md.

“It was a transformative event,” Steve said.

Bishop Gene Robinson, who made the interment possible, spoke in the service of remembrance and thanksgiving, reminding people that churches, synagogues and mosques have often been the source of the greatest pain for LGBTQ people.

For Matthew, who grew up Episcopal, to come back to the church, “it’s the cathedral saying some churches are different, some churches have been on this journey with you.  Some churches not only welcome you, but also celebrate you.”

Matthew’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard and their other son and daughter, Logan and Marlow, had not buried his ashes for fear the grave would be desecrated, Steve said. 

Matthew’s father said, “Matt was blind, just like this beautiful house of worship.  He did not see skin color, religion or sexual orientation.  All he saw was the chance to have another friend.  It’s so important that we now have a home for Matt.  A home that others can visit, a home that is safe from haters, a home that he loved dearly.”

Bishop Mariann Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, spoke of young people coming from across the country, having tours and
“being educated here.  When they pass by, they will pass a plaque in his honor.  They will see that this is a church that has learned from the example of violence that we need to stand and be counted as among those who work for justice and for the full embrace of all God’s children.”

Steve was later in the crypt and saw a group of middle and high school students hear Matthew’s story from a docent.

“These are people who were not alive when he was killed, but they heard his story and were inspired,” he said.

The docent also said that Matthew’s death and the death the same year of James Byrd, an African-American man who was dragged behind a pickup truck by three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas., had impact on Capitol Hill, where the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed in 2009 and signed by President Barack Obama.

For Steve, it was empowering to be there.  He had vivid memories of the murder and wondered how someone would do such a horrific act to someone not like them.

“I could see how the tragedy has been turned into a force for advocacy for human rights and human dignity,” he said, also telling of learning of the work of Matthew’s family to inspire others through the Shepard Foundation.

While in Washington, D.C., Steve said he stood in front of the Supreme Court and saw the words, “Equal justice under the law” inscribed on the building.

“Justice does not always happen equally,” he said. “Justice sometimes takes a long time to happen.  Because of Matthew’s life, there will now be new tools for justice to be done and for there to continue to be a voice for advocacy, justice and inclusion for all.”

On Sunday, Nov. 4, Steve preached at Plymouth on the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue.

“No human law will change hearts committed to hatred, but the law in the commandment of love God and love our neighbors will change our humanity,” he said.  We can bring justice into human laws, but we can bring transformation into our humanity when we live out love of God and neighbor.  We do not lack knowledge, but we lack action.  We cannot remain silent.

“Loving God and everyone requires that we be engaged in our communities actively and we make love visible,” he said.

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Pacific Northwest United Church News - Copyright © November-December 2018


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