Happy Coincidences

This past week Al and I have been glued to a drama streamed on Prime pay to view set at the height of the Cold War and concerns Russia’s return in 1956 of the Porkkala Peninsula to Finland – a peninsular that Finland had been forced to lease to Russia along with ceding the province of Karelia as part of the peace treaty that ended what the Finns refer to as the Continuation War – the second Finno-Russian war from 1941-44 – actually a sub-theatre of the larger conflict between Nazi Germany and Russia after 1940.

With the Russia-Ukraine war very much in our minds today – Shadow Lines offers a glimpse into the perpetual struggle of Russia’s European neighbors against its neo-colonialist and imperialist designs. Shadow Lines give us a glimpse not only into Finnish-Russian relations at the height of the Cold War but also into the tensions between pro-Western and pro-Soviet factions within the Finnish political establishment – playing out against the background of Moscow’s own internal tensions with the rise of Khrushchev and the defeat of the Stalinist faction led by Molotov.

In Shadow Lines there is depicted a brief homosexual affair between an American CIA agent and the nephew of the head of the Finnish Security Service. It’s a very short interlude – yet it captures the spark of hope that comes in a moment when perhaps for the first time it’s possible for these men to imagine liberation from the crippling isolation resulting from the oppression and persecution that characterized societal attitudes towards the love that dare not speak its name. This is 1956, and of course the affair is doomed. It no sooner sparks then it’s over. To provide more detail would simply be to spoil your viewing experience.

On June 19, 1865, the Black dockworkers in Galveston, Texas, first heard the news of Lincoln’s Emancipation order. Chris Manjapra writing in the Tahlequah Daily Press notes: The arrival of Union troops in Galveston brought the promise of freedom for the enslaved. There were speeches, sermons, and shared meals, mostly at Black churches, the safest places to have such celebrations. The perils of unjust laws and racist social customs were still great in Texas for the 250,000 enslaved Black people there, but the celebrations known as Juneteenth were said to have gone on for seven straight days.

By a quirk of the local calendar, in Providence this year, Gay Pride and Juneteenth celebrations fall on the same weekend. Two themes link the gay interlude in Shadow Lines and Juneteenth. The first is the theme of hope that is sparked in the oppressed in a moment of epiphany when the dark clouds of persecution part to allow a glimpse of rainbow of liberation to seep through. The second is the illusory nature of the first flush of promise. Like all epiphanies it’s no sooner here than it’s gone. The persecution of gay men not only continued but increased in ferocity as the 1950’s progressed.  The shocking white collusion against black liberty known as the era of Reconstruction maintained the literal if not the legal enslavement of African Americans until the challenge of the black led Civil Rights movement in the middle of the 20th-century.

The era of agitation for change beginning in the late 1960’s gave birth to two great emancipation movements – Gay Liberation and the black led Civil Rights. Looking back over 50 years we can see the huge inroads these protest movements made into institutional and societal oppression and persecution of LGBTQ  and African Americans. Yet, we are living in a period when the forces of reaction are once again rallying to roll back the gains of the civil rights era not only for the African American and LGBTQ communities, but also for women, for the movement for Women’s Rights was also a fruit of the larger civil rights struggle.

Pride is the official term that came to identify the movement for what was then known as gay liberation. Although not an officially adopted title for the black and women’s liberation movements, pride – the experience of claiming the full stature of one’s God given human dignity – is the underlying motivation in all three liberation movements. Although the gaining of civil and legal rights is paramount in making inroads into societal attitudes of discrimination and oppression – at the heart of the liberation struggle lies the experience of pride, as in, the experience of a profound reordering of an internal sense of self.

LGBTQ persons, African Americans, and women are emblematic communities of representation for all communities of race, ethnicity, and religious affiliation who once again find themselves in the cross hairs -literally as well as metaphorically – of domestic terrorism – both individual and organization led.

The convergence of Pride Weekend and Juneteenth celebrations in Providence this weekend is a coincidental reminder that at the heart of this weekend’s celebrations of gay and black pride there has never been a more vital need to continue to demonstrate and to protest the forces of reaction whose trademark is domination implemented through violence.

At the end of the N.T. reading for Pentecost 2, we find prophetic words from the Apostle Paul. Paul was not always prophetic. Paul was a man who understood well the societal and political limitations of preaching a message of liberation for all in a world violently conditioned by male patriarchy and economically dependent on a culture of slavery. More often than not – his social message is veiled as a result. But every so often the power of the Holy Spirit overwhelms him as it does in chapter 3 of his letter to the Galatians where he proclaims that within the community of the baptised there is no longer the oppression rooted in gender inequality, racial superiority, and the economic subordination of one human being to another. For all are made one in Christ. To: no longer male and female, no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, had Paul been writing today he might have been inspired to proclaim the abolition of a fourth category of sexual identity discrimination – neither gay or straight, neither gender fixed or trans-gender.

Paul begins his abolition of discriminations supporting oppression with: For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves in Christ. Today we baptize two young boys, Giovanni and Masiah into the family of Christ in the world – incorporating them through baptism into the community that strives to seek to be more fit in this world for the purpose God calls it to.

As a preparation to witness Giovanni and Masiah’s baptism, we will be asked to renew our own baptismal promises. In the Baptismal Covenant we will promise to – with God’s help – seek Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, striving continually for justice and peace among all people by respecting the dignity of every human being.

As the church, we are the community bearing witness to God’s love for the world. That love is not a sentimental or hippy-dippy kind of feeling. Christian love is always a verb – as in to love – as the living out of love through lives lived striving for the betterment of our world.

On the weekend of Gay Pride and Juneteenth fall together, it is good to be reminded that love as Jesus modeled it – is a social movement with a finely tuned radical agenda – and justice is its name.

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