Monday, January 27, 2014

Pacifist or Extremist?

               Peace should be the most important aspect of life that we strive for, right? We should want amity and love knitted between every single member of society, so no one will hurt physically. However, keeping peace is presented as an argument against justice – against change – in both Kolvenbach’s The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice and in King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.
Kolvenbach tells readers that, “The liberation of Palestine was the most important social issue. The Christian churches had committed themselves to many works of charity, but involvement in the promotion of justice would have tainted them by association with leftist movements and political turmoil” (Kolvebach, 2). He notes how political tension harmonizes with strife, and how such actions would seem extreme for the likes of a religious institution. Later on, he argues against these ideas; he chooses to criticize this old system of “authentic” Jesuit work, and instead explains how Jesuits working in very poor villages, refugee camps, and what-have-yous are as vital to the promotion of true peace. He says  that “The way to faith and the way to justice are inseparable ways” and requests for "the dignity of human life, the promotion of justice for all…the search for peace and political stability…and a new economic and political order that will better serve the human community” (Kolvenbach, 12). In this, he recognizes that whatever “peace” being maintained on a basis of injustice is imperfect and not worth protecting. We must risk conflict for the integrity of humanity.
Similarly, King criticizes the “moderate white”(King, 4). He criticizes the religious persons writing to him, telling him to wait – to end his extremist, nonviolent demonstrations.  He responds with simply stating that Jesus was an extremist – that Amos, St. Paul, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson were extremists. It is not a matter of being an extremist, but “what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?” (King, 4).

Both of these readings struck me across the face like a right hook from a prize-fighting boxer. They redefined the word extremist, which had always come to mean something synonymous with corruption. I realized that I could be considered an extremist if we went based off their definitions.
I do not identify as “queer” – my heterosexuality complies with what is the societal norm. However in high school, myself and another friend, Ann, made friends with a girl (let’s call her Sarah) who identified with the LGBTQ community. Both Ann and I came from immigrant households with a lot of “Old Country” views, but neither of us had a problem when we learned of Sarah’s sexuality. My family is quite leftist, so I knew that my parents would have no objections to my friendship with a member of the LGBTQ community. Ann’s mother and father, though, were completely horrified.
I knew the routine with them. Something is so terrifyingly NOT-Greek/Greek-Orthodox that they insult it, berate it, and somehow end up insulting me or my mother in the process of their rant (they told me that tattoos were signs of the devil after they learned my mom got a butterfly inked on her ankle, and that my nose piercing was reminiscent of savage tribal traditions). They often disguised their insults as good-intentioned suggestions. I would respond politely, holding my tongue and writing off their misunderstandings as something they couldn't help. They weren't really doing me harm. I disagreed with their choices. They disagreed with mine. It was nothing too serious.
But then Sarah was mentioned. They found out about our friend’s sexuality through Ann’s younger brother. We were on our way to their summer house, and I was trapped in the car, forced to listen to the really horrible things they said.
Some of it scared me. Ann’s father joked about how a boy should just force Sarah to have intercourse with him and “turn her straight.” He outright promoted rape as a means for “fixing the gay” but disguised it as a joke – something so lighthearted I should just laugh it off.
How could I do that? His harmless “joke” shot off two bullets: one against the LGBTQ community and another against my feminist beliefs.
I felt sick. I was only 16, an hour and a half from home with no way of getting there, and about to be a guest in this man’s house. If I said anything, I would be causing tension.
I spoke up, though. I couldn't keep silent. I said that his “joke” would mean rape. I said that he was promoting violence against Sarah’s lifestyle (which was still rooted in the love of another human being!). He promoted hate, and she promoted love.
“I don’t believe in that.” I said.
He shrugged his shoulders. Ann looked at me, terrified that I spoke out against her father. Her mother’s good-natured smile had turned into a thin line of disapproval.
“So you think those sort of freaks should get married?”
“They’re not freaks, and yes. I think if two people love each other, they should be allowed to marry.”
I wasn't invited back to their summer house for a year and a half after that.
They told my parents that I said something Father Paul, our parish priest, would disapprove of, and that I encouraged a Liberal government founded in the social ideals of the Democratic Party.
Ann was angry with me for a while, not because she disagreed with me, but because our friendship was now tense since I spoke up.
To this day, I don’t regret a thing. I guess King would say I’m an extremist too.

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