The Truth and Matthew Shepard

Facts, Narratives, and Power

The story of Matthew Shepard has shaped our culture. But his tragic murder was exploited, and there's a lesson here for all of us. Stay tuned to BreakPoint.

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John Stonestreet

(Editor’s note: We originally stated that Matthew Shepard was from Montana. He was from Wyoming.)


Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late U.S. Senator, once famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

A sad and disturbing example is the tragic story of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old from Wyoming who in 1998 was brutally murdered, because—both activists and news media assured us—he was gay. His story was supposed to be evidence of a deep anti-gay sentiment in society—a stain that had to be addressed through hate-crimes laws, sensitivity training, and other measures. And so Matthew Shepard became part of the cultural narrative, a key component of the reshaping we’ve seen of American public opinion on homosexuality.

But even Aaron Hicklin of the pro-gay publication The Advocate admits that much of the accepted narrative is false. Citing the new book The Book of Matt, written by gay journalist Stephen Jimenez, he acknowledges that Shepard was beaten to death not because he was “gay,” but for “reasons far more complicated” than being homosexual—most likely a drug deal gone bad. Jimenez’ doubts about the naDaily_Commentary_10_03_13rratives go back at least to 2004, when in a 20/20 interview he countered the dominant way of telling the story.

This says something important about the power of story. Whoever seizes control of the story controls the debate—and actual facts become secondary. Another tragic aspect of the Matthew Shepard story is that his murder has been hijacked to serve a cause. And Hicklin actually admits this in his article, when he writes: “There are valuable reasons for telling certain stories in a certain way at pivotal times, but that doesn’t mean we have to hold on to them once they’ve outlived their usefulness.”

So Hicklin thinks it was acceptable to wrongly tell Shepard’s story as long as it was useful for the agenda. Friedrich Nietzsche couldn’t have said it better. He believed that truth was an illusion, so all that was left is the will to power. Use stories to accomplish your purposes, not to tell the truth.

Now my purpose here is not to fight over this already-exploited life and death. Rather, it’s to point out this very real temptation to power, and to challenge us—Christians—to avoid committing the same sin as other would-be cultural power brokers.

There is no justification for telling a version of a story that we know, or suspect to be, untrue, for omitting or embellishing details, for impugning motives, or using any other tactic to hijack narratives, even for a higher cause.

It’s tempting to use cultural narratives this way, and fall into an ends-justify-the-means mindset, especially when we feel we’re in the cultural minority and not playing on a level playing field. Because our “cause is just,” we rationalize untruth.

Examples abound: Christians embellishing their supposedly radical Muslim or atheist upbringing, apologists ignoring evidence that threatens their air-tight case for their position on something, or claims of religious discrimination when there’s more to the story.


But we must fight this urge. The God we worship is always true. He cannot lie, the Scripture says. So neither should we. And when we embellish our narratives to accomplish our “good” ends, we lose sight of the certainty of the kingdom of God. We somehow think the future depends on the outcome of this story or this event.

Christian, let’s remember that we have history’s overarching narrative, the big story, from the master Storyteller himself, the One who is the Truth. This is His world. He made it, and in Christ redemption and the restoration of all things is secure, Paul assures us.

So, yes, let’s tell stories, and especially stories that point to the truth about God in the world and in our lives. But in doing so, let’s do our best, with His help, to tell the truth.

Further Reading and Information

BP-Takeaction_100313The Truth and Matthew Shepard: Facts, Narratives, and Power - Next Steps

When facts are misused or hijacked to serve a cause, it’s a disservice to everyone. Whatever the issue, definitely tell the story—but remain committed to telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.


Matthew Shepard not murdered for being gay, new book claims
Joshua Rhett Miller | FoxNews.com | September 23, 2013

Matthew Shepard, Trayvon Martin and the Power of Leftist Myth
Ben Shapiro | Townhall.com | September 19, 2013

Not Sermons but Stories
Eric Metaxas | BreakPoint.org | January 8, 2013

Dilbert comic strip | Scott Adams


Liar Now = Loser Later
So to restate what Aaron Hicklin is saying, it is OK to lie to achieve your ends. Then if your conscience starts to bother you later, you can tell the truth. Beside the moral argument against lying there is a practical reason to not lie. You cannot trust a liar to tell the truth. It is sad that Mr. Hicklin does not realize that he has destroyed his own credibility.
The Truth and Matthew Shepard
Beautifully written - loved it!
Matthew Shephard story
Good point. God's Word assures us that the truth will be eventually known. When we "gild the lilly", or when we "adjust" the facts of a situation to make a point, our actions tell the world that we really do not believe that we have faith in what we profess to believe.
Jesus never felt the need to lie and neither should we.
This was a fantastic article John, probably one of your best.

-The Bechtloff