Fighting Against Great Odds
August 25, 2013
Mohandas Gandhi led India to independence from British rule through civil disobedience and nonviolence. While he is well known throughout the world as the father of the Indian nation, he is perhaps better remembered for waging a “war” through nonviolent means of boycotts, non-co-operation, and civil disobedience. Many members of his family have taken the personal philosophy and actions of Mohandas Gandhi as their own, and are still working to ensure greater protection of human rights and dignity in all areas of life.
A few years ago I had the privilege of listening to a lecture given by a grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, Arun Gandhi. Speaking to an audience of mostly students, Arun began with a simple but profoundly symbolic demonstration of what his grandfather’s life and beliefs were all about. He asked the audience members to turn to the person next to them. One person should make a fist and the other person should try and open that fist. Throughout the auditorium one could see people either trying to hold their fist together as tightly as possible, while others tried with great strength to open the fist of their neighbor. After a minute of this experiment, Arun Gandhi asked if anyone was able to open the fist of the person sitting next to them. While a few of the “stronger” boys did raise their hand, the vast majority of people were unable to accomplish the given task. Then Arun asked a very simple question – did anyone just ask the other person to unclench their fist? Wow – in an audience of some 600 people, not a single person thought of this simple, easy, and painless way to accomplish the given task. The concept of nonviolence, and non-struggle did not occur to a single person. Are we, as a society, so geared towards aggression that we automatically take the way of antagonism and even violence to win at something so insignificant as opening a fist? Perhaps we are afraid that the other person might think of us as weak for using an unconventional, non-confrontational method to accomplish the charge?
Mohandas Gandhi was a realist. He knew that India would be unable to fight against the mighty British Empire in any conventional battle. The loss of life, mostly Indian, and the financial cost was more than his occupied country would have been able to bear. Ingeniously, although with great skepticism from his countrymen, he employed the methods of non violence and civil disobedience, enriched by his Hindu faith, that would ultimately bring India independence from Britain. While Gandhi might have looked weak and incredibly naïve to take on the powerful British Empire in such an unconventional manner, ultimately he would win the struggle and India would achieve its freedom from foreign domination. Gandhi was not afraid. He held to his convictions and was not afraid of defeat. He remained dedicated to the cause in a dignified manner to the end of his life. Gandhi was assassinated in1948, some five months after India became a free country.
What can Mohandas Gandhi’s life and philosophy teach gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people across the world? What can LGBT Orthodox Christians learn from Gandhi’s teachings and methods? During Gandhi’s lifetime most of the world refused to act against British aggression and dominance over India and declined to help the struggling nation and yet he persevered. They were confident and yet humble, dignified and unflinching in the pursuit of a goal. Orthodox Christians in Russia, Georgia and other parts of the world have used their fists to fight against members of the LGBT community. They have been supported by powerful members of government and even more powerful members of the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church. And yet they fight against us in vain. No amount of power and influence can silence the truth – that our sexual orientation was given to us by our Creator who instilled within us the ability to love and be loved. As Orthodox Christians who are LGBT we must take the next step and ask those who would harm us to open their fists and to use their hand to embrace us. How many of us have been able to turn an adversary into a friend and a supporter simply by being honest about who we are and who we love? We need to express that same honesty and openness in the Church.
It can indeed be frightening to be Orthodox and to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. While we are fearful of losing connections to our family members, or being rejected by friends, we also risk being thrown out of the Church, denied the holy mysteries (sacraments) and completely shunned. It is also even more humiliating when we know that those making the decisions in the Church to deny us the mysteries are frequently gay themselves. Yet our first response should not be one of anger or condemnation, but of empathy and kindness. Let the bishops and priests and laymen see our faith and our courage and willingness to be open and unafraid. If our Orthodox faith and our membership in His holy church is something we value, then no amount of hatred, disrespect, or even humiliation should ever deter us in our struggle. Let’s begin by asking the Patriarch, the bishop, the priest and our fellow church goers to unclench their fist and take our hand. We may have to ask 1,000 times – but in the end we must believe that God’s children will embrace us just as our Lord has.