How shall integrity face oppression?

August 11, 2013

 

W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois was an African American civil rights activist (1868-1963) and one of the co-founders of the NAACP.  His written works as well as his spoken rhetoric were aimed at combating racism, and in particular combating discrimination against African Americans which was enacted in the reprehensible form of Jim Crow laws. Du Bois is perhaps best known for his work The Souls of Black Folk (1903), aimed at showcasing the intelligence of the black race, as well as explaining the double consciousness that African Americans experienced, being both American and Black. A prolific writer of over 30 books, within many of Du Bois’ volumes one finds an immense wealth of erudition and insight into the particular problems America faced – and to large extent still faces – in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In one of Du Bois’ lesser known works, The Black Flame Trilogy, he raises fundamental questions principally important to African Americans fighting discrimination and intolerance in the post-Reconstruction era.  The work of historical fiction follows the life of one man, Manuel Mansart, from his birth to his death, and serves as a vivid example and reminder of the injustices that African Americans were forced to live through in this country. When surrounded by prejudice and bigotry Du Bois places vital questions into the mind of Mansart about how he is to live his life:

 “How shall Integrity face Oppression? What shall Honesty do in the face of Deception; Decency in the face of Insult; Self-defense before Blows? How shall Desert and Accomplishment meet Despising, Detraction and Lies? What shall Virtue do to meet Brute Force?”[1]

These deep-seated questions about how the oppressed is supposed to act when faced with extreme discrimination and even violence, are placed in the mind of the central character, Mansart. And although these questions were written over half a century ago, they do not belong to another time, they are indeed, timeless. Having complete respect for the intellect and place that Du Bois holds in American history and his impact upon the African-American conscious, I cannot help but draw a parallel to the struggles gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals face today not only in America, but across the globe. These exact same questions need to be asked and answered today by those of us who face persecution by governments, by churches, and by society simply for being who we are, who God made us to be.

While some smaller parts of the world, particularly Western Europe and certain areas of North America, have become ever more tolerant of gays and lesbians, protecting their human rights in law, we continue to witness horrific acts being committed against members of the LGBTQ community in other parts of the world. For example, the Russian Duma (Parliament) has announced that it might direct police officers to arrest openly gay athletes competing in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi. The island nation of Jamaica continues to see mob attacks against gays and lesbians. Cameroon has seen an increase in the murders of gay men. Zimbabwe’s president openly calls for gays to be persecuted and “rot in jail”. In Russia and Georgia gay men are being beaten in the streets. In the case of Georgia, recent attacks against the LGBT community were led by Orthodox priests. And so as a community we must ask the same questions which faced Mansart: “How does integrity face oppression? What shall decent do in the face of insult? How shall accomplishment meet despising, detraction and lies? What shall virtue do to meet brute force?”

And while the sadistic attacks in Russia and Georgia and other parts of the world disturb us for their brutality, there are also more subtle attacks taking place. One Orthodox “pastor” from Texas recently wrote the following on his blog: “No matter what the cause might be (we can respectfully agree to disagree on that one for today’s purpose) we cannot go around the fact that some people are attracted to the same sex. In the same time, people are also attracted to things like stealing, committing adultery, coveting, lying etc.”[2] How does a gay man or lesbian react when a priest tells him or her that their God given sexual orientation is the same as stealing or lying? What does decency act in the face of insult?

I wish that I had an answer to these important questions, I do not. 

-Regretfully I have not always faced my own oppression and the oppression of others, with integrity, as I have caved to what I perceived was a stronger power;

-Regretfully I have not always been honest about my own sexuality when confronted, as I have caved to what I perceived was a stronger power;

-Regretfully I have not always acted with decency when witnessing the lies and insults against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people, and I caved to what I perceived was a stronger power;

-Regretfully I have not always been virtuous when witnessing verbal brute force committed against my brothers and sisters who are part of the LGBTQ community, as I caved to what I perceived was a stronger power.

I would never give advice to gays and lesbians living under repressive regimes and in homes of intolerance, because I can’t even imagine the perilous circumstances under which they must live however, I can give them hope and support. But for those of us blessed to live in countries and societies with a fair amount of support and protection, we must be reminded that the stronger power is not always the truth. Yet every time that we fail to be open and honest about who we are, or who we love, or fail to stand up to the “stronger power” in the defense of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, we contribute to the oppression, deception, insults, lies and brute force. We are the ones that need to change in order to affect change.



[1] The Ordeal of Mansart by W.E. Du Bois. Mainstream Publishers, New York, 1957. p. 275.

[2] http://dialogues.stjohndfw.info/

  1. Vladimir Vandalov Said,

    Thank you! Beautifully articulated and refreshing candor !

  2. andre Said,

    Thank you Vladimir for your kind words.

  3. Rachel Said,

    Another wonderful read, thank you.

    When I read that quote “How shall Integrity face Oppression?….” my first thought was of Christ at His Passion… He was insulted, spat upon, mocked, struck, called a criminal and died a criminal’s death, even though He is the only blameless one. I try to think of this whenever I feel insulted about my sexuality.

    I am trying to work up the courage to go to Liturgy tomorrow for the first time since Easter. I was considering going to another church in the area where the priest does not know about my sexuality and just staying quiet, until I read this… You are right that by our silence we contribute to oppression… God forgive me for my weakness.

    I spoke to a Ukrainian friend today (who identifies as Russian – she is 40 years old and raised in the Soviet Union) about the recent events in Russia, and she doesn’t think it is really a big deal… She said that they simply do not ‘promote’ homosexuality because then more and more people will choose to be gay. She is a very close friend and I had to fight tears and temper to have this conversation with her. She doesn’t have an issue with homosexual relationships and warmly regards me as Orthodox but still has some serious misconceptions…

  4. Laura Said,

    “Yet every time that we fail to be open and honest about who we are, or who we love, or fail to stand up to the “stronger power” in the defense of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, we contribute to the oppression, deception, insults, lies and brute force. We are the ones that need to change in order to affect change.”

    Convicting words. I have not yet been open with my family (both at home at at church) about my support of my LGBT brothers and sisters…and every day it gets harder and harder to stay silent. I don’t know what to do.

  5. andre Said,

    Laura,
    Thank you for your comment. Perhaps my words were too harsh, and I do know that there are situations were it is dangerous to come out – but too many times, I have taken the easier path and just kept silent for the sake of expediency or simplicity. I would advise you to pick and choose your battles. I often thought that when St. Paul said “fight the good fight” he also meant – choose the right battle to war against.
    I bid you strength and peace.
    Andriy

  6. Laura Said,

    The thing is, I don’t think your words were too harsh. I am filled with compassion and sorrow when I read the stories of the persecution of LGBT people, but until now I’ve done nothing. I think you are right about choosing your battles, though. Maybe the best thing I can do for now is reach out to LGBT people I know when possible, one at a time. I’ve never participated in overt persecution, but I am deeply sorry for some of the ignorant things I’ve thought in the past – a more subtle form of persecution.

  7. andre Said,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment and support of this website. We have all sinned in this area. The great thing about being a Christian is that it is never too late to change and make the decision to take action in the right direction. Reaching out to LGBT people that you know one at a time is a wonderful way to start. Support is so vital.
    I bid you peace,
    Andriy

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