I’m living through a strange season and perhaps a decade of life that feels a little hopeless. I’m jaded enough by disappointment and disheartenment and cynical enough to know about flawed systems, power structures and corruption, I’m able to see the cracks and holes in most institutions and yet I’m still able to be inspired by prophets and truth tellers and an ancient gospel of radicality that is all at once theological, revolutionary and subversive. I’ve spent the last six weeks spinning out for a number of reasons and it was this image that pricked my sad, disillusioned heart and showed me beauty amidst terribleness once again.
Both this image of protest and solidarity and the following soliloquy by Rory O’Neill/Panti Bliss is about so much more than homophobia and a petty tit for tat argument about equality. It is about oppression, and the dehumanisation of our friends, families and neighbours. It is about the stripping of dignity, potential and flourishment from our communities and from society at large. It is about the despicable actions, words, assumptions and attitudes of all of us striving for power, authority and preference when we all should know better, act better and consider each other better.
This rating and slating of people is happening on our watch and we all have dirty hands. I would impress on you the urgency and need there is for you to sit for eleven and a half minutes here and let the words of this prophet* wash over and through you.
Homophobia is an enormous consuming and pervading negative attitude about and towards those who aren’t heterosexual, whether you are the person who is nervous in a gay bar, repulsed by a same sex kiss or the mother or grandmother who fears that her son or grandson might be gay. But I would also suggest that it is significantly tied into fears of sexuality, the body, desire and the potential upending of most structures we live within because it talks about ordinary life that is made radical because it is different. It could be an unease with a changing social make up that means children don’t assume parents are male and female, or that marriage is so much bigger than a social and religious institution to demonstrate a particular theology, regulate sexual behaviour and make sure that women and children are looked after and provided for. It could be the rug moving out from under you as you encounter different theological and biblical perspectives that show your construction, understanding and relationship to and with God is based on your understanding of sin-identity and brokenness and burden. You may find that a theology proposing wholeness and beauty and image bearing is actually harder to accept due to the legacy of dirt, guilt and shame you’ve been handed down. It could be the alienation from your own body and sexuality that means its impossible and terrifying to see the body and your sexual relating as anything more than functional and tolerable. This means that the possibility of the body and sexuality revealing the incarnation and being integral to the redemptive and revolutionary act is paralysing. Homophobia is about fear, not only of people on an individual basis, but of change, of difference of perspectives that may alter your own. Let’s be honest about how terrified we are, let’s start conversation about the things we hit against in terms of assumptions and prejudice about people and relating to them which we ALL carry regardless of sexual orientation or sexual identity and expression.
Panti talks about pain, suffering, violence and oppression, she talks about the burden of oppression and difference. She is staggering in her articulation and what she says and how she says it is so, so smart it makes my eyes sting.
And so, from one homophobe to all homophobes out there reading this: this is our watch. We are the generation that carry more education and information about prejudice and othering than any other in history. We understand human identity in radically different ways to our ancestors. We understand dignity, esteem and personhood and we assume the principles of liberty and justice in ways that other generations would not have been able to comprehend. The classrooms and playgrounds more and more affirm difference and otherness, our attitudes and assumptions have the potential to start valuing diversity in extraordinary ways.
No wonder those ‘in charge’ and those who are afraid are a little scared of the ways that society may topple if we really embrace the dignity of every person – power would change its entire face and appearance and so, therefore, would God.
We live in a time where we’ve more lay theologians and bible (and other religious texts) scholars than professional academics/religious leaders – faith communities and the church are wide open (they always should have been). We’ve now access to a broad and beautiful tapestry of testimony and prophetic imaginations that talk of beauty, love, justice and divinity and expose the sacred to have been among and within us all along. Panti reveals it and demonstrates it – and she’d probably be flabbergasted to hear me say that – but because I know what she said is about so much more and is so much bigger than Ireland she will be heeded by many around the world – and that is so exciting.
I’m not a zealot, I’m not an evangelist – well I don’t think I am. But I am passionate and hungry for hope and meaning and some sense of what we’re all doing here.
I think what we’re meant to be doing here is bestowing honour and dignity and reward upon each other. We’re meant to be shepherds to one another, ensuring each others cups are overflowing and in order to do that well we’ve to understand our own intrinsic worth, value and divine imprint in order to see it and behold it in others.
Attitudes and assumptions affect and influence violence ‘nice educated people’ discussing the worthiness and risk of other people’s relationships and bodies are a version of violence that can look as ugly and fearful as the assaults and persecution of sexually diverse people in Russia portrayed in Channel 4’s Hunted last night. It may be ‘civilised’ but it is still oppressive, it still creates fear and hierarchy and isolation. These conversations, attitudes and views shape the fists and the kicks and the bruises and the cuts, the self harm, the loneliness, the anxiety and the exclusion that results from homophobia. And by homophobia I mean fear, the deep rooted fear of change, prospects and revolution that not being heterosexual can suggest and hint at.
I’ll be ashamed until I die of the way theology, scripture, politics and economics are manipulated to prioritise some people and some relationships over others – But I’ll be inspired to keep breathing in and out and to keep plodding on through when I see the way that the gospel seeps in, breaks through and uses the most beautiful and unsuspecting mouthpieces as it’s prophets to point to a better and more dignified way to live and love in these beautiful and terrible times.