What gay rights leaders can learn from the Canaanite woman

There is great faith among members of Utah’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community: Faith that municipal non-discrimination ordinances will lead to full equality. Faith that mutual commitment registries like those in Salt Lake City, and now Salt Lake County, will lead to full equality.


One could argue that this faith has something in common with a woman from Canaan who was spurned by Jesus and his followers but yet whose daughter was healed.

And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

However, as Pride Weekend begins and we celebrate the many victories of the gay revolution, I think it is possible to go deeper into this story as we look for ways to understand how full equality might be possible even in Utah.

I understand this sort of scriptural exegesis seems odd on a blog like this, but I hope my conclusions will give us pause to consider alternative possibilities in our struggle for full equality.

In returning to the story of the Canaanite woman, I’d like to offer an alternative interpretation: the woman of Canaan’s faith was manifested not in her willingness to settle for crumbs (even when those were being denied her) but in her temerity to demand more.

In other words, the woman had the radical idea that if she (a woman, a Canaanite, the mother of a sinner) was eligible for crumbs, that she, intuiting perhaps the transitive property of equality between the bread and its crumbs, was thereby eligible for the bread itself, and, by being eligible for bread, eligible for a place at the masters’ table.

Many leaders within Utah’s LGBT community appear to have taken the Canaanite woman’s approach in their advocacy for incremental, gradual reform. First crumbs, then bread, then a seat at the table. But where the parallel to our story starts to break down is in relation to the issue of timing. Note that the woman of Canaan’s faith was not validated by her humility (her acceptance of crumbs), but in challenging who those crumbs are for. She pushed back and got what she wanted: “her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”

What remains to be seen in Utah’s LGBT community is this next step, this additional leap of faith. We’ve proven our faith in the crumbs (non-discrimination ordinances and mutual commitment registries), but what sort of faith will it take to understand that our demand should be for bread, not for crumbs?

If we take seriously the method of the Canaanite woman, gains should occur not incrementally, but instantaneously: they should occur at the hour of their request. A domestic partner registry is a win, a non-discrimination ordinance is a win, but if we don’t ask for full equality, that is where the wins will end.

As Pride approaches this weekend, it is time to demand the bread. From those organizations that offer only crumbs, demand the bread. From those legislators that offer only crumbs, demand the bread. To wait any longer is to wait too long.

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