Parallels of Persecution and Community Growth
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
27 Mar 2017
When reading the descriptions of persecution and martyrdom, I am struck by the parallel with struggle for rights in today’s LGBT and another group of people on the fringes.
There are several parallels between struggles of LGBT and the early church. The type of persecution holds interesting parallel. When Gonzalez talks about the persecution by the Romans being declared but not outright delivered (a kind of uneasy détente at times), I am reminded of the persecution experienced against LGBT. In the LGBT community, I see evidence of this type of persecution where sometimes invoked as a state policy, but its invocation has been nonetheless convenient for some people as an excuse to deliver a perverse sense of righteous violence upon people.
Of these, a parallel is the level of commitment and the ability of members of the group to hide or to declare their involvement. It is to be noted how people could hide their real-self and faith while playing lip-service to live another day. LGBT could/can hide their respective orientations or give lip-service to those that espouse to terminate these ideas. This is not dissimilar to the early Christians that would yield against Jews or the Roman “pagan” authorities.
For my own, I remember not wanting to disclose orientation and attempted to hide via following the expected norms. I admit that I was scared for my own safety-- from more bullying, HIV, and a prevailing idea encompassing religion about sexual orientation. During high school, I did not really understand why I felt so different, and I was not willing to be a confessor or a martyr. The only information I had about the LGBT community was viewing the awful film “the Gay Agenda”, and I also observed how people would easily ridicule the slightest prospect of being gay.
I was kind of alone in high school until I went to college. I saw and met people while observing the reality of persecution, along with art, education, and music that became part and distinct of the community. We had a shared bond of not only our orientations but that we were consistently under threat of exposure, violence or worse. We did not have “communion”, but often, our groups would meet over meals, potlucks or some safe-home get-together. We organized to provide services to each other when no one else would, such as for youth, HIV-related illness or a family outcast someone.
Even then, I remember and continue to see the scourge that would ensue from people that would hide their sexuality and then use their relationship to the community apparently to either in vain attempt to rid themselves of their feelings or to exact revenge upon those that continued to carry the torch of being LGBT. Pride festivals and being out in public offended these because we disregarded the social punishment for a brief moment. On the other hand, these hypocrites-in-hiding, by helping to torture and to hurt people of the LGBT community, these people could somehow feel better about themselves using labels of ex-gay, born-again or some other loose label through the violence and threatening towards the LGBT community.
An interesting outcome, I remember discussions using different vocabulary about how “pure” a person’s sacrifice was (physical injury, loss of job, property damage, loss of family, or police that just looked away). Was a person’s inexperience with these sacrifices enough to justify whether they truly could carry the banner for equality or LGBT recognition. Given the issue of confessors in the early Church, the similarity is absolutely remarkable. Especially as LGBT gained more mainstream recognition, the threats kind of subsided and the ability to “come out” was less dangerous. Yet, those that chose to “convert” as straight looked even more hollow to people in the community.
The experience of being in and growing with the community in the 90s shaped me and pushed me into a position of fighting for rights. Early into the 2000s, I would visit the Iowa legislature and find legislators who would not even look at me without trying to look elsewhere. They would blame us for things like AIDS, Hurricane Andrew and 9/11, and they would use logic (Logos) that had difficulty standing up to scrutiny. What is evident mostly is that Despite all the success of the recent decade, there is still much work to be done, and the current political winds have shifted to resume some of those old fears and persecutions.
There is another part of this early church that I find compelling as in the “underground” aspect of the Church and the subsequent changes as it became mainstream. This underground reminds me of the earlier days of heavy metal music. Well into the 1980s, bands were playing and recording a style of music labeled as “heavy metal” music, and the faithful fans of these bands (early Metallica, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath) made up a genre with a distinct style of clothing, hair and art. The style would invoke strong “thrashing” power chords, rapid rhythms along with Gothic and its own black arts, torn clothing (ripped jeans) and darker themes of isolation, broken homes, satirical, anti-establishment—including anti-religion—rhetoric. Fans of the genre were often the butt of jokes and the fringes of the crowd. I remember that for a bunch of us – it became kind of rite of passage to finally see one of these bands in live concert and then brandish their concert shirt to our friends the following day at school. (Some shirts were too offensive for school authorities). Yet together we had kinship and community.
That dark music genre found itself thrust into popularity as part of the 90s progresses while the once niche and anti-establishment bands became more mainstream—they were becoming the establishment. The dark styles evolved and incorporated less “thrash” and the genre themes seemed to mellow as more people with “less-dark” less anti-anything embraced this heavy metal style of music. For the community that embraced the original style watched their music and bands turn into corporate playhouses and inviting people in so many words, who were not pure “metalheads.” (It is interesting how purity finds its way into describing people). The shining example of this was Metallica’s court case against Napster and how scores of fans would not listen to Metallica thereafter, despite growing up with their music. Napster itself representing a rebellion of sorts against the larger music industry as well as a way for people to discover music without having to fork over the cost of albums.
The Church was “underground” in the early times shows the parallel of this with early Christian churches growing from obscurity and hiding in dark places and Christian family homes as well as somewhat anti-Roman, anti-established religion into an “Imperial Church.”
To me, the early church experience showcases the evolution of a community from obscurity into more acceptance and how people both within and around the community impact that growth. There is the additional lesson of how social groups evolve over time, developed niche communities, especially the fringe, and then maybe find more popular acceptance when given a chance. Yet these developed organically both for the Church, LGBT, and music fanatics. These also show that people both in and out of the fringe want badly to be part of a community to share experiences, tales and relationships.