It was in Spain, 1975, in the last days of General Franco’s dictatorship, that Antoni Ruiz from Valencia, just 17, told his mother that he was gay. His family sought advice from a nun. The nun went straight to the police. Antoni was arrested and sent for trial. He spent three months in prison. He was raped and psychologically tortured by the guards and prison doctor.
Other gay men during Franco’s time were locked up in “correction camps”, given electric shocks, and forced to watch pornographic heterosexual movies. Although thousands of political and other prisoners were pardoned in 1976, gay men were left in jail to serve their sentences.
It is always sobering to read of the injustices meted out upon homosexual people. It is sobering to realize that what happened in Spain is not unique. Nor is 1975 unique. Violence, physical and psychological, has been inflicted upon gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people by individuals, governments, doctors and religious in many countries in many times. And so it continues.
The purpose of telling Antoni’s story is to fuel our rage. While the word rage can be thought of as extreme anger or violence, it can also be used to describe that determined, potent force that motivates social reformers in their work for change. It is this use we find in Dylan Thomas’ poem: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Feelings of sadness and sorrow are usual initial reactions in hearing the stories of victims. Yet these feelings are not the fuel one needs in order to work for years trying to change systemic structural injustice.
In the Bible the word compassion, literally ‘with’ [com] ‘passion’, is a synonym for rage. Yet like many biblical concepts pertaining to justice however it has been de-powered, de-politicised, and moulded into a caring concern that no one could possibly object to. Similarly the word ‘passion’ itself, used to describe the brutal torture and death of Jesus, is often thought of as a patient acceptance of suffering. Oh that we could regain the sense of Jesus, and the prophets before him, raging against injustice wherever it manifests!
I suspect the nun in Valencia had heard the Bible read most of her life. I suspect she was faithful in worship, and in carrying out the rules and caring concern of her religious order. I suspect she had heard the condemnation of homosexuality from Leviticus 18:22. I suspect she had heard that the government is ordained by God from Romans 13:1. I suspect too that her encultured prejudices and fears were confirmed rather than challenged by Holy Scripture.
When the moment to be true to her faith came, namely to defend the vulnerable, she believed that her religion demanded she handed Antoni over to the police. She believed that God wished Antoni to be incarcerated.
The current strife in the worldwide Anglican Communion over the acceptance of homosexuality is focused around two issues. One is the extent of autonomy that a province of the Church should have. What constraints if any should be put on existing provincial autonomy when other provinces find their decisions difficult? Some want a form of centralism and a ‘covenant’ to express that. Former colonies like New Zealand and the United States are, not surprisingly, wary of centralism.
The other issue is the Bible. There are numerous scholars who have written on and debate the issues surrounding homosexuality. There are some who see the Bible as condemnatory of homosexuality. They see it as a sickness, an abhorrent aberration, or a sin. There are others who see the Bible as articulating great themes, like liberation, and different cultural ways of expressing them. ‘It is destructive abusive relationships’ they say ‘not mutual loving relationships that should be condemned’. Then there are others who see the Bible as largely compromised by the knowledge of its authors. The moral dictates of communities that existed over two thousand years ago they believe need to be tempered by the more contemporary understandings of science and the humanities. Often the Bible debate comes down to Jesus and the way people choose to view him. Would he be tolerant and accepting of sexual otherness, or restraining of difference?
Grappling with these issues are an interesting and diverse plethora of international personalities. There are lots of egos, lots of territory staking, and lots of mediating. It is very time consuming.
I view the Anglican arguments over homosexuality differently from many. Mostly I don’t care about covenants, conferences, or splits; or even about how others might choose to read the Bible. Mostly what I care about is the Antonis of our world. I care that fear and prejudice, backed by religions that understand their sacred texts as intolerant of homosexuality, continue to violate and brutalize the Antonis by word and deed. I care that a faithful nun, nurtured and shaped by the Bible and her Church, is an accomplice to that violence and brutality. I care that Christianity, allegedly following the example of Jesus, sits talking and arguing when the Antonis are continuing to be abused.
I have a deep rage within me, nurtured by my mentors and the Anglican tradition in this land, and fueled by the stories of Antoni Ruiz and others who have been treated unjustly. This rage keeps me true to my baptismal calling and makes me impatient.
In rural Oxfordshire where I was working in 2006 I found a wonderful tolerance of villagers who were gay. The criteria for acceptance of someone was not ‘Whom are they sleeping with?’ or ‘Who do they vote for?’ or ‘What do they believe?’ but rather ‘Are they willing to support the communal life of the village?’ In other words being a good neighbour was the most important thing. It reminded me of a story about a Samaritan. If only that nun had thought like a Samaritan rather than a priest or Levite.
First published as 'Raging for Jesus' by Tui Motu www.tuimotu.org/ and reproduced with grateful acknowledgements. This essay was highly commended in the 2008 Australasian Religious Press Awards.
(c) Archdeacon Glynn Cardy is vicar of St Matthews-in-the-City, Auckland, Aotearo / New Zealand. His other articles can be viewed here: http://www.stmatthews.org.nz/nav.php?sid=74
Glynn has contributed to Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow and published by Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia.