Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cleansed by the Fires of Bigotry (1 Peter 1:6-8)

There is cause for rejoicing here. You may, for a time, have to suffer the distress of many trials. But this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ appears.                               
                   1 Peter 1:6-8

Bigotry's Blood by Emmanuel Dada
The christian community was on the ropes. A suspect group within a larger social matrix, the majority of which thought of christians as “those people.” Here is a parallel with the queer experience as marginalized, suspect, and outside the mainstream. In a ironic twist of history (or is it the hand of God at play?) contemporary queers know better the experience of the early church then do the many christians who raise their voice against us. At what point did the persecuted become the persecutors? The answer is always when power corrupts.

The thought and attitude expressed in this text has caused me much frustration. For a number of years I understood the metaphor of refining gold and suffering persecution as a poor excuse for submitting to torment and affliction. I tended to resonate with Dada's understanding as portrayed above - bigotry contorts and mangles the lives of good people. The present suicide rate among queer teens is a tenacious witness to the crushing effects of bigotry.

Over the years though I've come to find this metaphor strangely wise. It really isn’t offered up as an excuse or even an explanation. The sacred texts are much to mature to offer clich├ęd hope in the face of anger and hate. Instead the text seeks to help us understand what end affects of such afflictions are – mainly soulful formation. We who are smeared and cursed are shaped by these experiences. We can easily name the negative twisting and bending of the soul that takes place, a bit harder to claim, as 1 Peter does, is the positive affects of the twisting and bending.

Heteronormativity gives power and privileges to straight people due solely to their sexual orientation. It reacts negatively to notions of being inclusive to a diversity of sexual expression. Since this attitude can see no good in those who are non-heterosexual it fosters an understanding of queer people as defective, or to use a churchy word as “sinners.” Little wonder souls have been broken under this task master.

1 Peter gives us an insight into resisting and claiming our identity in the face of “normative” behavior set by a dominate heterosexists society. By suggesting that oppression can refine the soul, the text is saying that the gold deep within us shall be manifested, that our lives, while marginalized are not marginal.

The text moves on to describe, in biblical terms, what the refined gold is: the love of a society structured by justice, balance, harmony, and other such community building dynamics. As 1 Peter hints, if any such society is to emerge it will do so on the hard work and compassion of those who are now being cleansed in the fires of bigotry.

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