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July 3, 2013
This is the third statement by Baptist Archbishop Malkhaz Songhulashvili against phobias in Georgia since his return from the United Kingdom where he had completed his doctoral studies.
On May 17, 2013 approximately 40,000 anti-gay protesters, inspired and organised by the leadership of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate (by Corespiskopos – Deputy Patriarch Iakob and senior clergy of Tbilisi Diocese), attacked a group of LGBT activists attempting to hold a 30 minute-long silent protest. The couple of dozen peaceful activists had to be rescued by police and bussed out of the city centre for their safety. The mob descended on the bus with such ferocity and brutal anger that it was lucky they escaped with their lives. Dozens of people were injured, including journalists and police officers trying to escort people away from the trouble.
The Archbishop’s declaration was immediately published and widely circulated in Georgian. We are now able to offer an English translation of the text.
Translated from the Georgian by Dr William Eastwood and edited by Bishop Michael Cleaves.
While I am not surprised at what happened on May 17th, my heart is still broken and it pained me greatly. Tears came to my eyes because of my feelings of helplessness. A country priding itself on its culture and spirituality, and that considers itself superior to many because of its Christianity, became a witness to never-seen-before barbarianism.
“I’m not surprised,” I said, because it has been some time since we have seen similar instances of barbarianism without being bothered by them. As our well-known poet declared recently, “I am 61 years old, and now I must speak out.” All of us felt this same sentiment, and we want to continue living out this sentiment. We cannot continue behaving the way we used to.
|A young woman injured in the events that happened on May 17, 2013.|
We went down the road to barbarianism when we persecuted the ethnically non-Georgian population and belittled them; when with clubs and crosses we chased after the religious minorities in Tbilisi; when we burned the Bibles in a blazing bonfire; when we did not grant Muslims the right to pray; and when we separated them out to see if they made the sign of the cross, and if they didn’t we kicked them and berated them. We have slowly grown used to violence and adapted to it. Only once have we deviated from this path: we raged in protest, all of us together, when we saw those photos of the prison violence. A sea of students came out then against that encroachment on human values. But we soon forgot to trouble ourselves to think any more about the violence or how each of us might do our part to stop it.
On May 17th the Georgian state was turned upside down. It had promised those young people to defend and protect their freedom of speech, but it could not keep its promise. It prostrated itself in submission to brute force. Fortunately, the young people only incurred minor injuries from the events of that day; but who will measure the depth of the psychological and mental trauma that the attackers perpetrated on those they hated, or on any citizen of our country who was watching the inhuman vindictiveness that transpired in Tbilisi play out on their television screens?
Georgia is no longer a secure country, whether domestically or internationally. I don’t think any great intelligence is required to guess how large the loss we have caused ourselves could be to our country’s reputation or future.
The government will need to make an enormous effort to restore the trust that has been lost. At first the government must apologise to those young people and to all of our society. This will not harm the government’s dignity, but on the contrary it will increase it. It is no longer a time for excuses. The government must make a daring move and apologise if it is interested in restoring trust and not letting the country sink into a quagmire of lawlessness.
On May 17th I saw the education system in Georgia turned upside down. The majority of those fiercely-agitated people were young, a generation that has not lived under a totalitarian regime and has not been poisoned with its venom. In contrast to my generation, they have grown up in a post-Soviet world. They are ordinary young people, whom no one taught in grade school, or other places of learning, the ABC of civility. How did it happen that they have no concept of what makes a person, or what legislation is, or justice or sexuality? Why did no one teach them that some people are born white, some black, some heterosexual, some homosexual, some transgender, and not one of them chose to be that way. A person is born that way. If they did not learn in school what it means to be a human being based on scientific evidence, then where should they learn it?
On May 17th I saw Christianity turned upside down. We were confronted with a horrific reality: Christianity completely stripped, devoid of love; as if the whole of our Christianity, religion, and spirituality—whatever you want to call it—had been paper-thin. It was “Christianity” that in reality was hatred wrapped in a transparent coating. I am no one’s judge; everyone should consider for themselves what happened and come to their own conclusions. For my sake and for the sake of Christianity I want to ask forgiveness from those youth whom the whole nation attacked and intended to kill in Christ’s name. I understand that an apology is not enough. Right now they need healing for the emotional wounds that all of us gave them.
We need to be free from the irrational fear and hatred that distances us from God and does not bring us together. We need to create an environment in Georgia where every person feels protected no matter his or her nationality, gender, or sexual orientation. All religions must play their part in this matter. Using the authority of the Bible, the Koran, or the Torah to manipulate the issue is completely unacceptable.
Not a single scripture exists that justifies physical aggression, hatred, or violence. If it does exist, then it is no scripture! If a scripture tells me that I should beat someone with a chair, then I will deny that scripture this very day.
Jesus once said something amazing: “A person is not made for the Sabbath, but rather it is the Sabbath that is made for a person.” For clarity’s sake let me offer this paraphrase: “A person is not made for religion, but rather it is religion that is made for a person.” Every religion’s task is to teach about the relationship between God and a person. What value does religion have if it teaches me how to hate someone else?
Christianity is a religion of hope. Therefore I believe that everything is still not lost. It is still possible to think and come to a new consensus, whether in matters of state-building, in education, or in spirituality and religion. We need more than anything a frank and open discussion about restoring a state education system turned upside down, about our spirituality, and about serving our society’s pursuit of harmony, justice, and peace.
Here, with these sentences directed to my colleagues, the leaders of the various religious communities, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, I declare that in Georgia the 17th of every month starting in June will be a day of prayer for love and non-violence. Let us pray in our churches, mosques, and synagogues, in our own places of worship, that peace, justice, and truth will live in Georgia.