This is a reflection I wrote for a group of LGBT+ Christians as part of their summer reflection series looking at the book of acts. I chose Stephens Martyrdom because I wanted a weighty topic to get behind before the martyrdom of Fr. Jaques Hamal, so this passage took on a whole other level for me personally after that.
The passage is Acts 6.8-15 and 7.54-8.3
So Stephen became the first martyr of the faith, killed for standing up for his, then unpopular, faith in the forgiving God who loves all by those in religious authority who hated him and his new “modern” beliefs. Sound familiar?
The mainstream church hasn’t been properly persecuted in the West for about 1600 years and has actually found itself in the seat of the persecutors rather than as the persecuted. Of course our Christian sisters and brothers are still being persecuted in places like China and the Middle East but in the West Christians are very rarely persecuted for their faith alone.
Nowadays in the West we are the persecuted church – gay, bi, asexual and transgender Christians are baring the brunt of persecution. Not only are we persecuted as Christians, being told we can’t be LGBT+ and believe in God by atheists, but we are also persecuted BY Christians who claim that God can not love us.
All around the world the Church is at the forefront of LGBT persecution, like Stephen our brothers and sisters are being confronted, seized and brought out before councils and made examples of. In certain parts of the world this example is a public execution.
Whilst our experiences in this country are very rarely as extreme as Stephen’s they are still equally as important. Through our bravery and willingness to stand up and testify to the truth, putting ourselves on the line, we are magnifying and glorifying and Love of God as a witness to the entire world.
I don’t believe you necessarily have to be a Christian to be a martyr for the rights of LGBT folk. So many people have been murdered for standing up against injustices around the world, or simply for living out their God given lives, often by people claiming religious motivation.
The 49 of Pulse Nightclub
The 2000+ Transgender people murdered in the past 8 years
The countless number of victims of ISIS
But these deaths are no reason for us to be afraid. Like Stephen and Fr. Jacques Hamel of France these deaths in the face of hatred and persecution stand as a light in the darkness, a light against oppression, a light that magnifies and glorifies the love of God. A love that can not be overcome through violence and hatred and oppression. Through their suffering our LGBT Brothers and Sisters share in the suffering of Christ and so therefore also share in the Victory of Christ.
Through our persecution we share in the victory of Christ.
Be brave, be strong for the Lord our God is with us and knows our suffering and weeps at every exclusion, every expulsion, every excommunication, every slammed door, every denial, every rejection, every withheld sacrament, every spat on face, every pulled beard, every voice stifled.
Like Stephen God welcomes us into Her Eternal Kingdom with open healing arms where She will wipe away every tear and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.
You must stand firm in the face of opposition, for like Stephen, your God stands with you.
But there is an inverse message to this passage though. At the end we are introduced to Saul who takes an active part in the martyrdom and later persecution. Of course we know that through God working in his life, Saul later turns away form his hatred and persecution of Christianity and becomes Paul. Many in the persecuted Church would never have dreamed in a million years that Saul would turn, and probably saw no hope of their persecution being lifted.
However we do not know how God is acting in our persecutors lives and whilst it is easy to blanket them all as faceless queer bashers and homophobes we need to remember that they too are children of God who are often frightened and confused and just like Paul, believe that what they are doing is right.
Just look at figures like Jayne Osman, God does work in people’s lives and brings them round. People can and do change and when they do we must welcome them in with open arms.
Even if they do not change though we must not repay their hatred with hatred but like Stephen must forgive and pray for them.
God will change their hearts and minds and will forgive them their sin, we must therefore not hold that sin against them.
And so my prayer for you all today is that you will be proud of who you are, what you like and who you love, that you will not be frightened to proclaim the Gospel wherever you may find yourself. that God will give you the bravery to stand against those in power for all oppressed people and finally that God will grant you the grace to forgive those who persecute you for His name’s sake. Amen