The suffering of martyrs as testament to truth, and Mathew Shepard.

I have, at many points in my life, questioned the stories of the Gospels. On many levels, I still do, but I have finally come to a place where I am comfortable with the actual recorded teachings of Jesus, and I pick from the rest of the New Testament as it seems to fit with the words of the presumed founder.

One argument that often arises to support the validity of the gospel stories is the suffering of the martyrs. “Why,” I am asked, “would they have allowed themselves to be subjected to ridicule, torture, and painful and humiliating deaths if they didn’t know, in their hearts, that they were right?”

So, how can those who follow the Bible ever call homosexuality a choice? How can they look at the bullying, the discrimination, and the occasional violent and painful death and not see that these are people suffering for what they know to be true: they are gay, and likely have been all their lives.

How can anyone look at the suffering of Mathew Shepard, and the humiliation that certain “Christian” groups still heap on his name, and not see that no one else would choose to follow in his footsteps if they weren’t fighting for truth? Why would people ever risk that kind of persecution for a simple choice unless they know that what they are standing up for is the truth.

If the suffering of martyrs is evidence that something has value and power to a group of people, then you have to accept that homosexuality as a real a life-changing, life affirming realization as an encounter with the risen Jesus, because the suffering of gay men and women has been no less powerful or gruesome than that of early Christians. Beatings, stabbings, and terroristic attacks on “gay bars” have been part of LGBT cultural awareness for decades. No one would lie in order to become a target for this kind of abuse. Being homosexual must be an essential part of their identity, as sure as a meeting with the risen Jesus must have been life-altering for early Christians.

To continue to say that the suffering of martyrs is only a valid testament to the events 2000 years past is not only dishonest, it is hypocritical. We can fully document the deaths of Harvey Milk, Rebecca Wight, or Nireah Johnson, and in many cases, the motivations are stated openly in court by the perpetrators, some feeling as though they had done something righteous. If these tales aren’t enough to frighten others away from the homosexual “lifestyle”, then you have to admit that they have been martyred for a cause that is worthy of more consideration: human dignity and equal rights.

I am not trying to belittle any death; St Peter’s death or Mr Milk. They were both senseless acts of violence based on politics and the idea that some people’s ideas on love are dangerous. But if anyone accepts the deaths of martyrs at the hands of people defending the status quo as proof of the validity of the message of those brave souls, then  you have to carefully examine every such case to see what truth lies behind the conviction. Few people choose to spurn society without good cause. Almost no one wants to be a target, but there are those who would risk death for love, happiness, and self-actualization, but even they shouldn’t have to live in fear.

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