by Alicia Johnston | 14 June 2022 |
A lot of Christians chafe at the idea of anyone describing themselves with the word “pride” as if it were a virtue. Pride has been the problem all along. Pride led to the fall of Lucifer, the first movement of sin in the universe. Pride is behind our selfishness and self-seeking. It’s spiritual acid, eating through the hard surface of any virtue we’ve managed to construct in ourselves. Pride is the enemy of the soul.
So, many find it distasteful that a group of people would refer to a celebration of their community as “Pride.”
Happy Pride Month, everyone. This is something we need to talk about. Maybe you agree with the institutional church’s opposition to same-sex marriage and transgender identity; that only makes it more important that you understand and don’t inadvertently speak ill of people you disagree with. The LGBTQ community (my community) is gaining more and more visibility in our world. Pride Month has meaning in the lives of many Adventists, particularly young Adventists. So let’s talk about why this word, the word “pride,” of all things, has come to describe our community.
Lucifer’s pride tainted paradise. He had so much, but he wanted more. He was one rung from the top, and thought he deserved the top spot. His pride was rooted in arrogance. It was selfish. It was about having so much and wanting it all. What did he need? Humility. The antidote to pride like this is humility.
Hiding in plain sight
Not long ago, I used to try and appear straight. I wore skirts I hated. I curled my hair. I tried to change my walk to be more feminine, stepping with my feet closer together so my hips would sway, because apparently this is how women communicate that they are good, straight girls who are interested in dating men.
All this was a lot, but it wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part was the hiding.
The few people I shared with about my attraction to women had one piece of advice in common: “No one can know.” If they know, they won’t hire you to be a pastor. If they know, no good Adventist man will be interested in you. If they know, it will become the only thing they know about you; the rest of you will disappear. So lest the rest of me disappear in the knowledge of my queerness, I tried to make my queerness disappear so I could keep the rest of my life. I hated it. I hated the part of me that made me LGBTQ. I didn’t want it to be part of me. I wanted the life of my own choosing. But of course my attraction to women, my bisexual/pansexual orientation never disappeared; the best I could do was clumsily hide it.
This hiding did not fill me with humility; it filled me with shame. It narrowed my Christianity, my walk with God, and my calling to ministry. In the background of everything I did was this desire to diminish, extinguish, and hide my queerness. Above all, I must not be seen for who I am. My struggles must not be known.
My experience is not unique. It’s not even remarkable. It’s a very normal story for LGBTQ people raised in non-affirming Christian households. Many, many people have been through much worse than I have, and are still going through worse today. Our families and churches teach us to be ashamed from the beginning. From the dawn of our awareness as relational beings, we are feared, misunderstood, and shamed.
Humility may be an antidote to pride, but it was no antidote for the shame I was living. Humility can only grow from the soil of love, and pride in the worst sense is discontent with the equality one already has. It’s a desire for superiority. Equality is not enough.
A balm to shame
When you see LGBTQ people celebrating Pride, it’s not this kind of pride. It’s not a pride that finds equality distasteful, but a pride that serves as a balm to shame. We’ve known the pressure to hide, to accept our place as unacceptable, and we’ve rejected it. We’re proud of who we are. This pride is an antidote to shame, just as humility is an antidote to sinful pride.
The first Pride parades were called Gay Pride parades. They were not a celebration of the feeling of pride, but of taking pride in ourselves when others shame us. As awareness grew that there were also lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, and other people who experienced life outside the gendered expectations of society, they decided to simply drop the word “gay” and call it Pride. At the time, the movement was also often called the Gay Liberation Movement, but it could just as easily have been called Liberation Month as Pride Month.
It’s not a celebration of pride, but of taking pride when others want us to hide. It’s liberation, a claiming of the equality we know we deserve.
Yet there is another sense in which I’m proud. I’m proud of being queer as I’m proud of being Christian, American, and a lover of coffee. This is a common way of experiencing pride. I’m also proud in this common way, in which all of us are proud of who we are. It’s not because we think we are better than other people, but because we know we are both equal and unique.
Maybe you believe that being LGBTQ is a burden to bear. Maybe you believe that at a minimum it is a desire for sin and that usually it’s a celebration of sin. But what do we mean when we say that we should be able to disagree if not that we should be willing to understand the perspective of others? The perspective of the LGBTQ community this Pride Month is about being done with hiding, shame, and disgrace. We’re proud of who we are. We aren’t celebrating sin. We’re celebrating that we no longer need to be ashamed.
Pride Month is not the opposite of humility; it’s the opposite of shame.
Please don’t be the person who makes Christianity look bad by shaming people all over again. In the spirit of humility, Christians often acknowledge in general terms that they have harmed the LGBTQ community. Allow that humility to impact your attitude and recognize this Pride Month that Christians have not only been part of the problem but have been the biggest part of the problem for a long time. Christianity is often the source of shame for which Pride is the antidote. Don’t associate the LGBTQ community with the sinful type of pride we should all be concerned about. In other words, don’t let your own pride make you continue the cycle of shame.
Even today there are groups of Christians at Pride parades yelling shameful messages in the name of God. Don’t align yourself with those Christians in even the smallest of ways. Don’t allow your pride of superiority to show by rejecting the pride of equality the LGBTQ community is celebrating this month. Don’t think you are better than LGBTQ people. Don’t criticize people who are taking pride in being just as good as everyone else. There is nothing sinful about believing you are equal, and it’s that equality that is being celebrated this month.
Alicia holds an MDiv from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, as well as an MA in Clinical Psychology. In 2017 she came out as LGBTQ-affirming and as bisexual, which ended her ministry in the church. In addition to a podcast and blogging on affirming theology, she has an upcoming book explaining affirming theology for Seventh-day Adventists called The Bible and LGBTQ Adventists. Her passion is helping Christians see why they can affirm same-sex marriage and support gender transition. See her work at www.aliciajohnston.com.