Canaries in the Mine
By: Lori Heine
I'm going to make a seemingly odd claim. I think, nonetheless, that it's a true one. The gift gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender believers bring, among so many others, is that of safeguarding the state - the overall health - of the Body of Christ in today's world.
In one sense, conservative Christians - in fact, most Christians - sense this. But only, all too often, they see it in a negative and self-serving sense. That is to say, they see the disturbing, inconvenient reality of us as a sign, in itself, that there's something deeply wrong in the Church.
There is. But we are not it. The existence of people God made, in "His" own image, and for whose salvation Jesus gave His life, is not what's wrong with the Church. Truth is not what's wrong with it. What's wrong with it is that so many do not want to face the truth.
What will become of a faith in which truth is rejected? In the long run, it will suffer hopeless corruption. But by the grace of God, it would not even survive.
GLBT folks are, indeed, like the canaries that miners used to put down in the shaft, in cages, to indicate to them whether it was safe to work down there. As long as those canaries kept on singing, they knew there was enough good, clean air for them to breathe. But when they found the little birds dead, they knew that so much poisonous gas had seeped into the mine that they themselves could no longer stay there. The canaries' gift, for which they gave their very lives, was their life-saving warning to the miners.
Is it our God-given mission to die - or, at least, to somehow sacrifice ourselves - for the sake of the heteros, much the way it was the "duty" of those poor little canaries to die so that the miners might live? I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not mean that at all. But our spiritual health is, very much, bound up with the love of Christ we either do or (sadly, far more often) do not feel coming from the hetero majority. Many of us have suffered and died - sometimes at the hands of others, sometimes, one way or another, at our own - because of the blistering condemnation we've received from those who have appointed themselves to speak for the Church. To all who truly care about the health of the Body of Christ, this Pharisaism, ignorance, self-centeredness and faithless hysteria should set off bells of real alarm.
If the conservatives succeed in their dogged efforts to drive us out of the Church, they will do so at a terrible cost. For if they do succeed in this, they will destroy the Church. The Holy Spirit is, to the Body of Christ, what oxygen is to the rest of us. When God's own, beloved children are driven, in great numbers, out of the Church, then the Holy Spirit has in fact been quenched. This would be a mighty high price to pay for the sake of the stubborn, pharisaically proud adherence to a mere handful of Bible verses - verses the overwhelming testimony of the entire rest of the Bible overrules.
As unfair as it may seem, periodically, over the course of Christian history, there have been groups of people who have been placed in the position of "canaries in the mine." Slaves of African descent have had their turn, as did the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, Native Americans, and - of course, off an on nearly perpetually - women and children. The health of the Body of Christ is threatened, sometimes even gravely so, by the way the majority of believers treat minorities or those who are otherwise vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. How "the least among us" are treated was, according to Jesus Himself, the chief indicator of His followers' fidelity to Him (or of their lack thereof). For how we treat "the least of these," He asserts in Scripture, is how we treat Him.
There is, indeed, a Christ-like element to our unfortunate role. Not because God wills our sufferings, but because of the opportunities they present. They graphically illustrate the duties of the followers of Christ toward other people and toward one another. How we endure the ordeal presents us with a tremendous opportunity, as well. Bearing this cross with courage can help lead others to true faith and a closer walk with God.
Again, that doesn't mean we should "just stop whining and take it." It may be moral to admonish an individual to do this, and of course Christ bore His passion and death meekly and on behalf of us all. It becomes far less moral, and more problematic, when an entire group of people is being told to do this. We have an obligation not only to fall in Jesus' footsteps by meekly bearing our cross, but also to be Christ in our world today by working to overcome injustice. When we meekly bear our burden on, year after year, decade after decade and century after century, we are resigning not only ourselves as individuals, but a multitude of others to this fate.
We have the right to decide this for ourselves as individuals. We have no right whatsoever to make that decision for anybody else. Nor is it in any way Christ-like for other Christians to abuse us, contenting themselves by lecturing us about our duty to "bear our cross" while they persist in abusing us. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about oppressed minorities bearing the cross alone, while the fat, comfortable and self-satisfied majority cheerfully heaps on the oppression.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the heterosexual majority's victimization of sexual minorities is senseless and gratuitously self-indulgent. They are projecting their own sins onto us - for the very purpose of allowing them to silence their consciences so they can go on sinning. And, in refusing to listen to the ongoing testimony of truth about our lives, they are attempting to silence the Holy Spirit. They are acting not out of faith, but out of a lack of it. Someone needs to tell them this, and not only would it be gross negligence on our part of we didn't persistently try to, but if we don't tell them, who will?
In their own way, religious extremists in our society want to turn back the clock just as surely as do the Islamist extremists in the Middle East. They hate modernity, progress, science - even any ongoing dialogue with God is suspect to them. They will first try to destroy the most vulnerable, especially gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, but anyone who thinks that they will stop with us is a fool. After they come for us, they will come for others. Sacrificing us will save no one else.
If we can help stiffen the backbones of our fellow Christians to resist this onslaught, we can indeed give them a tremendous gift. The gift we have to offer may be unwelcome to many, but that makes all the more urgent the necessity that they accept it.
We also bring the gift of our humanity - the common ground we share with all other believers - and of that which makes us most truly human: our need for love. We bring the gift of our vulnerability, and of the chance for others to do the right thing by us - to show compassion, to show decency and courage and integrity in their dealings with us.
There are stories abounding these days, in the Body of Christ, not only of great shame and disgrace, but also of true heroism. There are some fine Christians out there, working and fighting for our humanity. They are determined to save the Church from those who would bring it down. Enabling them to serve God so heroically is also a gift bestowed, to no small degree, by us.
Another gift we bring is the opportunity to face - and trust - truth. Faith cannot long survive in people who are afraid to face the truth. This fear leads to (and perhaps even emanates from) a form of atheism too cowardly even to call itself by name. Those who do not trust in the truth do not trust in God. Theirs is a cardboard, cartoon god - a deity who must be propped up with lies.
We bring the chance to face truth bravely, and to grow in trust in God. Faith is like a muscle; it grows stronger with exercise, but without exercise it atrophies and dies.
Our self-appointed foes can no longer sustain the lie that comforted them for so long - the lie that all gays are selfish rebels who hate God, want to destroy America and choose to be gay out of sheer wickedness. Their own "ex-gay" programs prove that they themselves do not believe this. Every time they tout the supposed successes of the program (those "successes" increasingly shown to be themselves bogus), they reveal themselves to be liars for having asserted that homosexuality is a "choice." They know good and well that it isn't, or else they would have no takers for the quack cures on which they make so much money.
It has now become incredible to claim that all gays hate God. The very fight anti-gay heteros so doggedly wage to keep so many of us out of their churches shows they know this to be a lie. Nor can they go on denying that they themselves take far greater liberties - with moral teachings much less ambiguous - in their interpretation of the Bible. It is impossible for even the strictest conservatives to credibly condemn us while at the same time bending the rules whenever and however it happens to suit them. They find loopholes for themselves where there clearly are none, but they slam in our faces isolated snippets from Scripture that say nothing about loving and committed same-sex relationships, but everything about the same sort of hedonistic license they themselves so often take.
The truth is catching up to them, and there is nowhere for them to run - nowhere to hide. They have made their hatred of science clear, but science itself is the fruit of Christian piety in the Western world. They can't hate science without hating the truth. Nor can they hate the truth without hating God.
GLBT Christians from all points on the spectrum come together easily for worship and fellowship. The overwhelming majority of straight Christians today find that virtually impossible. The interdenominational divisions we have overcome have completely divided them. There is much that they could learn from the simple fact that we are glad to be Christians - and grateful for God's love. We appreciate everything they take for granted.
Isn't our enthusiasm for our faith a gift that we can share? Enthusiasm, after all, can be infectious. In short, we can show these people how to be real Christians. Of course they seem far more willing to see bad examples from us than they are good ones. But make no mistake about it, they are watching us all the same.
Those of us who let ourselves be defined by our anger and resentment, however justified they may be, run the risk of defeating the possibility of any good impression we might give. Again, those in the hetero majority are watching us - many of them waiting for us to fall. Although they haven't the sense to realize it, our failure would be no great gift to them. Our greatest gift to them, actually, would be our success.
Sometimes it seems the only thing left that can unite straight Christians across the spectrum is homophobia. I could be facetious and suggest that this unity, at our expense, might be yet another of our special gifts to them. But of course to unite in hatred, in dogged opposition to love, is no genuine Christian accomplishment at all. If, indeed, the only cause over which they are capable of uniting is hatred, then the canaries are already dead.
We have to hope and pray that there is more to unite the members of the Body of Christ than hatred. We have to help them unite, once again, in love. The greatest gift the canaries can give to the miners, after all, is not to die, but to live.
Lori Heine serves on Whosoever's board of directors. She maintains a blog called Born on 911.
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