Today, two Canadians held hostage in Iraq came home. James Loney was kidnapped in November along with three others from a Christian humanitarian organization, in Iraq as peace activists. I remember when they were first abducted, because there was a long piece on the radio about James Loney. An ardant and activist Christian, he objected to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The hostages were meant to be killed on numerous occaisions if the Americans wouldn’t release Iraqi prisoners; time and time again they were not killed. Family and friends of James Loney expressed their certainty that he would convince his captors that he was on their side. If anyone could do it, they said, James could. They talked about what he was like, what pushed him to put his life on the line and travel to Iraq. They spoke about him as a friend, as a sibling. How kind he was, how gentle and intelligent and thoughtful. He appeared to be the personification of goodness. And here he was, off in Iraq, a critic of the American invasion and a defender of Iraqis, all because of his faith.
I was struck at the time at this show of Christian morality; it’s not one that we see very often in the news these days. It wasn’t about Christians turning up their noses at gays or demanding that schools teach intelligent design or abstinence. It was about peace. About, presumably, defending the defenseless. About laying down arms. About avoiding war at all costs. On Thursday, the member of provincial parliament for his riding said:
James Loney and others put their values of peace and goodwill ahead of their personal safety, and we commend them for their perseverance under such extreme circumstances. We thank those in foreign affairs who worked so hard for their release [via]
It was a military intervention that brought him home today; James Loney was quoted months earlier saying that if he were abducted in Iraq, he would not want the military involved. That was how deeply he objected to the military presence there.
While lately I’ve been left with a bad taste in my mouth because of the antics of some other self-described Christians, I found myself gaining more and more respect for this James Loney fellow. He had a sincere belief in what Jesus meant to tell his followers; he listened to the pledge of the peace-loving (blessed are the peacemakers, after all), and took it to a dangerous and impressive extreme. He risked his life to follow his beliefs. What also struck me at the time was that he’s Canadian. We don’t hear very much about activist Christians in Canada, barring the few who protested the government’s recent decision to legalize gay marriage. I couldn’t quite hear about James Loney without hearing those other Christian voices echoed around his. I felt a kind of dissonance. I went to Divinty school, I know lots of Christians that I respect beyond all things, but I’m not used to hearing about Christians doing such good things on the radio these days. I’ve grown so cynical.
“For 118 days, I disappeared into a black hole and somehow by God’s grace, I was spit out again,” Loney told reporters shortly after his arrival on Sunday afternoon. [via]
Today he came home, after months with his own death hanging over his head. It’s a miracle that he’s here. The American in his group didn’t make it.
I listened to the coverage more carefully because I remember how I felt hearing about his abduction. Today, they spoke about the joy of the members of his church felt that he was coming home. A church in his hometown held a mass of thanksgiving, even before he had flown back into the province. [via]. He has become a sort of idealized Christian figure, the sort of Christian others should emulate and praise.
The part of the story that’s new to me about James Loney is that he’s gay.
“It’s great to be alive!” Loney said.
Flanked by his teary brothers, partner, and sister-in-law, a thin-looking Loney said he was still having difficulty believing he was free after almost four months as a hostage, and just three days after his rescue.
“During my captivity, I sometimes entertained myself by imagining this day,” Loney told a crush of reporters and photographers at Pearson International Airport. “Sometimes, I despaired of ever seeing it; always I ached for it.”
One of the things he most wanted to do was “wash a sinkful of dirty dishes.”
While he said he wanted to tell the story of his captivity and rescue, he first wants to slip into “an abyss of love” and get reacquainted with his partner, Dan Hunt, his family and community. [via]
What does it say about the Canadian Christian community that their latest hero, the man so good his practically shined over the radio, is a gay man? Not a gay man struggling to be straight, either; an open, out gay man in a long-term relationship? What does it say about the Canadian press that this fact has passed by virtually unmentioned? I discovered it by noticing that the radio report talked about the other hostages returning to their wives, and Loney returning to his “partner”. Later in the report they mentioned his “partner, Dan”. So they didn’t ignore it, unlike the web version of the story, which simply says that he was met at the airport by “family and friends”. Had he been straight, they would have noted a wife or a girlfriend, surely. But even so, other reports do mention it, and don’t remark on it beyond that. I haven’t heard a thing from the Christian community about this, though perhaps it’s not in the best of taste to decry the gall of a homosexual to run around the world representing their values when he is being held hostage and threatened with death. But even so; the churches are celebrating his return like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
It’s certainly interesting to watch, even though I can’t draw any conclusions about it. At this point all I can say is: welcome home, Jim.