Up until a couple of weeks ago, few people had ever heard of the Christian PeaceMakers Team unless they were themselves in a theatre of conflict. Nobody had heard of James Loney one of the four men captured by “Iraqi insurgents,” and one of whom was subsequently killed.
When he, along with Canadian Harmeet Sooden, Briton Norm Kember, and American Tom Fox were captured, the world’s attention turned once again to the chaos of the Middle East. News agencies reported on the negotiations’ progress, editorials were written about the plight of the three remaining workers, but what was not mentioned was Loney’s homosexuality or that he had a partner, Dan Hunt, waiting for him back home in the States.
Both Loney’s family and the organizers within CPT made a decision to keep his gayness a secret for fear of jeopardizing his life.
Iraq is one of the most anti-homosexual nations on earth. Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and a few other heavily traditional Islamic countries kill those convicted of homosexuality by beheading, shooting, strangulation, or hanging.
If during his incarceration his captors had realized Loney was gay, he would not have returned home alive. They would have “executed” him immediately.
Here in Canada we have recently come through a long and exhaustive struggle to have equal marriage made into law. I supported that, I worked hard on that campaign, and am proud we were successful. However, when one looks around at the situation of our gay/bi brothers, to a lesser but still significant degree our lesbian/bi sisters, to say nothing of our trans cousins, not only in Third World countries but in much of the US, queer Canadians really need to more fully realize just how damn good we have it.
This is not to minimize some of the real social and political issues many within our GLBTQ communities face – alienation, marginalization, depression, familial abandonment, substance abuse problems, homo-lesbo-bi-trans-phobia, anti-queer violence - the whole gamut of dysfunctional social networks most members of minorities have imposed on them by dominant culture. These are real issues facing our communities in North America and need attention.
However, every once in awhile the James Loney’s of the world remind us just how lucky we are here, for all the problems we face.
Mainstream media, to its credit, hasn’t gone all sensational on this – although it might yet happen. Loney’s return to the US was major news, of course. He was met at the airport by family, friends…and Dan. Press reports dropped references to “Loney’s partner, Dan Hunt” into the copy as casually as they dropped the names of parents and other family members. For those of us who have been around a while, this sort of media treatment is nothing short of amazing.
It really isn’t that many years ago when any reference to Loney’s partner, if any, would be self-consciously couched in terms of “long time friend,” or “companion.” In more recent years, the media would have been all over this…headlines would scream “He’s Gay!” when referring to Loney. To feature Hunt simply as his partner, just as the media would portray the husband of a straight woman returning from that situation, or the wife of a straight man returning, is major.
One of the big questions arising on various GLBTQ and activist discussion lists is the question of Loney’s religious affiliation, and how is an openly gay man able to work within a Christian activist environment?
Most “Christian activist organizations” tend to be of the Focus on the Family, Concerned Christians, and Lifesite variety - pro-family, pro-life/anti-choice, traditional values, anti-GLBTQ rights (or outright just plain anti-GLBTQ), and in favour of the traditional definition of marriage…in other words, against equal marriage. That being the case, how could an openly gay man in a 14-year relationship with another man self-define as a “Christian activist,” let alone be involved with a Christian activist network?
At first blush, it would appear there would be a conflict. We all know what “Christian activism” is about, don’t we?
The organization styles itself as “committed to reducing violence by…getting in the way” and its modus operandi is to peacefully interfere in military operations by acting as human shields. CPT also “provides organizational support to persons committed to faith-based non-violent alternatives in situations where lethal conflict is an immediate reality or is supported by public policy.”
The organization is sponsored by the Mennonite Churches of the USA and Canada, Church of The Brethren, The Quakers, The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, The Basilians, and The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. All in all, a fairly conservative crowd.
Loney’s own religious background is rooted in Roman Catholicism. How did a nice activist-minded gay boy get himself involved with this bunch?
The Mennonite Church, while heavily involved in social justice issues and the peace movement, is still a theologically conservative church. As Anabaptists, Mennonites are part of the same tradition as Amish, Hutterite, The Brethren, and the Dukabours.
In the 1987 “A Call to Affirmation, Confession and Covenant Regarding Human Sexuality,” the Mennonite Church (USA) stated; “We confess our fear and repent of our absence of love toward those with a different sexual orientation and of our lack of understanding for their struggle to find a place in society and in the church.” Okay, that’s not too bad.
However, in the section immediately following this, is; “We understand the Bible to teach that genital intercourse is reserved for a man and a woman united in a marriage covenant and that violation even within the relationship, i.e., wife battering, is a sin. It is our understanding that this teaching also precludes premarital, extramarital, and homosexual genital activity. We further understand the Bible to teach the sanctity of the marriage covenant and that any violation of this covenant is sin.” Classic “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
The Mennonite Church USA acknowledges a “lack of understanding” for the struggles GLBTQ people face, both in society and within the Mennonite Church itself, but equates homosexuality as being on the same level of sin as wife battering and adultery. Homosexuality is wrong – doesn’t matter if it’s all about back alley sex or living and loving in a committed relationship – the church makes a blanket statement, devoid of understanding or subtleties: Homosexuality is a sin, all of it is a sin…no exceptions.
Of course, the position of the Roman Catholic Church regarding homosexuality is well known (they’re against it…) and equally as dogmatic.
Turns out CPT, while strongly Mennonite in its roots, is actually highly queer-affirmative. Both Loney and his partner were instrumental in building the Toronto chapter of the Catholic Worker movement, an organization that tilts toward socialism, and is queer-positive, during the early 1990s. At the time, he and his co-founders were described as young Christians in their 20s who had “seriously considered studying for the priesthood,” according to a recent Globe and Mail story.
Dorothy Day, a journalist-turned-activist in the 1930s, founded Catholic Worker. She espoused pacifism and opened hospitality houses for the indigent in New York City. In Canada, the Catholic Workers run a network of six houses in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood, offering free dinners and up to 10 beds in each house. They make a particular point of being gay-friendly and offering sanctuary to military deserters from the United States.
According to the Globe and Mail story Catholic Worker has been involved in protests with “far-left groups” such as the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and the Homes not Bombs campaign. Loney’s pacifist leanings are what apparently led him to the Christian Peacemaker Teams. The CPT is also gay-friendly, aligning itself with other left-leaning Christian groups.
Such activity does not make the group popular amongst some interests. CPT has been accused of taking a one-sided approach to international conflicts. Critics maintain the group is anti-Israeli and too pro-Palestinian and its own website, while talking about the Christian edict to “love thine enemies,” also tends to cast Western interests as that enemy.
The evolution of a socially-conscious, pacifist, leftist gay man, who clearly possesses strong Christian roots, into an openly gay peace activist working within a leftist Christian organization with strong ties to the Mennonite Church is a story waiting to be told. I smell a Movie of the Week in the works….
Stephen Lock is a long-time glbtq activist, Vice-President and Regional Co-Director for Egale Canada and also the producer and host of a semi-monthly glbtq radio show, Speak Sebastian, airing at 9pm on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month on CJSW FM 90.9 (www.cjsw.com).