The month of June is commonly known as Pride Month in the LGBTQ community. A few years ago, I wrote about “A reason for Pride Parades” where I talked about why the LGBTQ community feels it is essential to have city wide pride parades and festivals across the U.S (and the world). This current piece was written to provide more insight for the Christian community so that, instead of looking at these events with disgust, frustration, or mockery, we could instead feel a deep sense of empathy for a group of people that Jesus is crazy in love with.
As a licensed minister and a heterosexually married man who has had a same-sex sexual orientation since he was 12, I have marched in pride parades, prayer walked pride festivals, engaged the infamous pride protesters, and danced with, loved on, and hugged the neck of many pride attendees. The “why” behind my going to these festivals has changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent – I meet the Holy Spirit there every.single.time. This shouldn’t surprise us – Jesus, on repeat, was found to be in places with people who society had long rejected and spit upon. He did this much to the frustration of religious leaders that told him he was breaking the rules. Listen, I’m not telling you to go. I’m saying I went. And every time I go, I learn something new about LGBTQ people, myself, and the God that is furiously FOR people’s good.
The first thing you should know about Pride, is that it is a holiday that is celebrated in connection with a historical event – The Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York City. The brief version is that these riots were a result of LGBTQ people who had had enough of being imprisoned & physically beaten by law enforcement for being openly gay or sometimes assumed/rumored to be so. They took steps out of the shadows, closets, and ghettos and finally decided they had value in the face of an entire society saying they did not. They started the modern gay rights movement and if they had not done that, my personal coming out experience in a small town in 2003 would have been much more traumatic than it already was. In some ways I'm thankful because I “only” had to fear community wide rejection rather than additional imprisonment and physical assault.
This event is important because if you don’t know this historical connection, you might continue to assume that their “pride” is connected to the unbiblical, sinful sort of pride that haughtily thinks one’s self better than their fellow human being or the pride that shakes its fist in defiance of their Creator. When you hear “Pride Parade” in the month of June, I think you could substitute, “I-will-no-longer-live-in-shame Parade”. It’s not nearly as catchy and seriously lacks any sort of alliteration, but it more accurately reflects the heart of many LGBTQ people on this day.
And it’s because of this one fact that my heart is filled with empathy and not indignation at a pride festival knowing that I'm among a group of people that is simply trying to live life in honesty about their internal reality while likely carrying wounds they’ve gathered from a lifetime of rejection, shame, and hatred from others regarding something they did not choose.
The only sadness I feel on this day is the fact that people had to go to a pride parade to experience the undoing of their shame rather than being able to come to our churches and receiving it perfectly from our Christ.
It’s because Christ did this for me that I no longer feel the intense need to take pride in my sexuality, but can rather allow it to just be. I don’t need to hide it, diminish it, fear it, change it or hate it. It’s allowed to be what it is – in perfect process with Jesus.
The Christian community’s refusal to understand the true meaning & purpose of the pride parade is evidence of a bigger problem; we have been pretty miserable missionaries to this group of image-bearing people and have failed to be learners of their culture. To quote my friend Bill Henson, “Good missionaries learn the language & culture of the people they are wanting to reach”. And by missionary, I don’t mean a one-sided, condescending, “I have all the right answers and you have nothing to offer me” type of relational dynamic. I’m talking about someone who sees someone’s value to God so clearly that they willingly and joyfully enter into their world and culture with the express purpose of giving and receiving love that is absent of an agenda, full of empathy, and has no trace of manipulation or heavy-handed religious coercion – much like that of our Heavenly Missionary.
With this revelation and subsequent posturing, the message from the church to the LGBTQ community doesn’t need to look like “taking a stand against LGBTQ pride parades” or ignorantly stating one should have a “straight pride parade” in response. It can instead sound something like: “Listen, I know that you might feel a little lighter and a lot freer as you march in that pride parade, but it is honestly nothing compared to standing completely seen and known in the presence of the One who loves you most and feeling the tangled cords of shame fall at your feet for good.”