It’s been almost 30 months since James Loney was abducted at gunpoint in Baghdad, Iraq.
Months in captivity gives you a unique perspective on human freedom, said Loney, while standing on the Beringia Centre’s stage in a pair of faded jeans and collared plaid shirt on Thursday.
In November 2005, Loney and three other members of his Christian Peacemaker Team, part of a group committed to non-violent intervention in worldwide conflict zones, were seized outside a mosque.
After being given a small notebook by his captors, Loney compiled a list of things he’d taken for granted before his abduction.
“Opening curtains, reading the newspaper, answering the phone, being late for an appointment, clean underwear,” he said, referring to the list.
“Freedom is, next to life, the most precious gift God has given us. It should never, ever be taken from any human being.”
Freedom “is when we become what we were created to be and do in right relationship with others,” he added, citing his personal definition to the audience.
Any disruption to that “right relationship with others” restricts the inner freedom of the individual, he said.
“(Our captors) took four men at gunpoint, took away our freedom, locked us up, threatened our lives, threw our families into terrible fear — that’s not really living in right relationship with your neighbour.
“As time went on, they each independently said, ‘When you are free, we will be free, we are handcuffed just like you.’ … They had the guns, they had the keys, they had the power but they weren’t free.”
“They broke that relationship with others and they lost their freedom.”
Today, his commitment to nonviolence is stronger than ever.
Violence is like an ascending escalator, he said.
“Once you get onto the escalator, it doesn’t matter whether you walk or stand, it’s just going to keep taking you up.”
When people don’t step on the escalator, it leaves them open to other possibilities, he said.
There’s a paradox in Loney’s saga: the advocate for nonviolence was saved by soldiers.
Loney had praise and respect for the soldiers who freed him, but expressed sadness that he had to be rescued by force.
“Some guys with guns took us, and some bigger guys with bigger guns took them. The problem is the gun, the problem is the whole institution of war.”
While in captivity, were you ever angry? asked someone in the audience.
“Rage, boiling rage,” he said.
“Sometimes I felt like I could just snap my handcuffs in half.”
We must work together to avoid extinction, he said, motioning to the prehistoric fossils lining the Beringia Centre theatre walls.
“A UN study says that there’s been five major extinctions on the planet, and the sixth major extinction is underway.
“If we’re going to have any chance, we have to put away the guns and the bombs and the trillions of dollars of waste.”
Afterwards, spectators gathered around Loney in the lobby to offer their praise and join in intimate discussion.
The topic quickly turned to gay rights.
When Loney was released in early 2006, it came to light that, during his captivity, his family and partner had fiercely guarded the fact that he was gay.
They feared his captors would kill him.
When the news was released, Loney instantly attracted the scorn of the Catholic Church.
A Catholic youth camp Loney was involved with in Orillia, Ontario, shut down soon after the announcement.
It was done because they found out I was gay, said Loney.
In another incident, an insane man visited Loney’s Toronto home brandishing a broken bottle.
He shouted, “Die, fucking faggots!” said Loney.
“That act of hatred is directly related to a priest coming out and saying that homosexuality is an immoral and impure lifestyle — it provided justification,” he told the assembled group.
“The church is obsessing about genital orthodoxy when the sixth major extinction is underway.
“There are young people killing themselves over this. We can’t ignore it.”