Mohandas Gandhi

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.

  1. Vladimir Vandalov Said,

    Thank you for your words of inspiration, motivation and perseverance in this spiritual warfare! May God save and protect you!

  2. andre Said,

    Thank you Vladimir for your kind words and support. We are all struggling and are in pursuit of the same goal.
    I bid you peace,
    Andriy

  3. Noel Warren Said,

    I have been rather naive about how great the odds are that LGTB people in Russia and the Orthodox Church worldwide are facing. A poll by a Russian news service, Interfax, reported that 87% of those polled opposed Gay Pride celebrations in their country, 5% agreed that LGTB people should be “liquidated” and 20% believed they could be cured. Putin and Krill obviously have a lot of support if this poll can be trusted.
    I agree with the non-violent approach. Our messages should be about love and hope for all Russians.

  4. andre Said,

    Noel,
    Thank you for your comment and support as always. I know that others want a more confrontational approach and I do no judge them for that. It is also possible to “drive the demon out” with numerous approaches. Prayer and Fasting is certainly a Biblical way and should be tried – perhaps even along side the other methods.
    I wish you well.
    Andriy

  5. Georges Said,

    In his autobiography, Fr Gene Robinson wrote that, while still a priest, there was a fellow old homophobic priest. Fr Gene and his husband invited that old priest to have supper with them. The old priest went, just by politeness. He saw that they were a normal, Christian family like his. Moreover, as the old homophobic priest was in a wheelchair, Fr Gene installed a wheelchair facility. The old priest got impressed by his hosts’ charity. He changed his mind, and later expressed the wish that, when he dies, the funeral Mass be presided by Fr Gene. And so was it.

  6. andre Said,

    Georges,
    Thank you for your comment and support. Frequently this is all that it takes to change minds – human contact and first hand observation with a great dose of kindness and charity. Invite someone over to your home, share coffee or a meal and they will see how similar we are to them.
    Andriy

  7. Miriam Said,

    I was chrismated in 2000. Before be so, I confided in my spiritual father, the associate priest of my parish, that I was a pre-op transsexual male to female women. The spiritual darkness in the room became palpable. He looked at my and said: “never…NEVER ever say again what you just told me”….thus the old don’t ask don’t tell. He was an ex Anglican and perhaps a little more familliar with people who might be out. But he was emphatic: Tell no one—not any other clergy—no one. About one year later, a women who had suspected me, and herself was an expatriot Anglican, told the archpriest that I was a trans-person (I don’t know what words she used), because her daughter had seen the “M” male designator on my driver’ license when, while the latter was working at Wal Mart, I made a purchase from her, paying with a check and having to show my ID. Without even verifying it or asking to talk to me, the archpriest ordered the subdeacon and priest to not give me communion. I returned to my place and continued till the end of the liturgy. The archpriest refused my calls. I gave up. After seven years, in 2007, I called the Bishop on the phone. I told him what happened. He said that it was horrible what happened. He said that I was not excommunicated. I asked permission to change to another jurisdiction. I am a member of another parish, now, and the priest accepts me, I get a little gossip about the matter because we are becoming pan orthodox–but I know that Christos wishes me to be in his church, he wishes for me to love him, he wishes for me to be saved…and part of theosis is being WHO and WHAT you are—it is what God chose for me. I am as the Ethiopian.

Add A Comment