As I attempt to listen and learn more about my neighbors who identify as LGBTQ, I must admit a particular stumbling block: Pride. I’m speaking specifically to the adoption and use of “Pride” as a banner, a unifying phrase and public proclamation of solidarity. I admit, my own gut reaction and bias come from my belief, understanding and definition of “pride” in the Christian, especially Orthodox Christian Tradition. Pride, we are taught by scripture and tradition, is not a virtue, but, on the contrary the root of quite grievous sin. Sin, okay, there’s another word that needs translation. Sin, in the Orthodox understanding does not simply mean, “breaking God’s rules” but it is rather the turning away from life towards death, from reality towards unreality. Pride takes us farther from who we actually are because it puffs up a false self. This then leads to tearing others down and being concerned only with self-preservation. It leads to judging and even harming oneself and others. You can see, I hope, how the idea of “Pride” being virtuous and life-giving, whether it is “Proud to be an American” or “Gay Pride” rings dissonant to me.
The more I listen, though, the more I wonder if maybe there is something lost in translation. As I looked into the root of the word “pride” as it is presented in scripture, I found that the Greek word “ὑπερηφανία (hyperphania)” as it appears in such verses as James 4:6 (“God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble”) and Jesus’ words in Mark 7:22, is translated literally as “over-shining.” It means esteeming oneself over and above others, over-esteeming one’s own talents and gifts at the expense of others, haughtiness, vainglory. Many of the verses that warn against pride speak of how the Christian should esteem him or herself in their own community. Jesus gives the clearest directive when he washes the disciples’ feet in the Upper Room. In an act of great humility He demonstrates what authority should look like: selfless service to others, not lording over others. It is the lording over that is at the heart of the pride we are warned against. Pride is also connected to how we are to esteem ourselves before God. God has shown that his way is not the way of “pride.” So we oppose ourselves to him when we think ourselves to be God. There is an ordering to things in respect to God that is based in a reality. God is God and we are not.
But here’s the thing about that relationship, the one between God and us: We are valued, seen, and loved by God. We are told to find our identity and worth in this fundamental reality. It is not prideful to want to be loved and acknowledged as persons with value, even infinite value!
I am still learning, and I could be wrong, but what if, at the heart of the “Pride” embraced by the LGBTQ community, while not perfect is really about being simply acknowledged as persons. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure, as with any group of human beings there are plenty of examples of the toxic kind of pride. The LGBTQ community should not be regarded as either exempt or exclusive in this tendency, neither lionized nor demonized. This different perspective on “pride”, however, got more traction for me when I stepped outside of my own experience, outside of the pride I am certainly guilty of and in need of turning from (by the way, mine being the only pride or sin I should be concerned with or have any control over changing) and turned towards an experience very different from mine. I also learned a new word when I did that.
A friend of mine introduced me to this word, a word that Queer folk talk about but is not as frequently broadcast as Pride: Erasure. She summed it up this way: “We’ve experienced a campaign of violence and erasure that is decades long.” Erasure. As I considered that word it gave me pause, and perhaps an insight into a clearer understanding of “Pride”. First, I don’t know at all what it is to have faced a campaign of violence and erasure just for being who I am. I do know that in communities who historically have there is a certain “pride” in who they are. It is as if to say “You have attempted to erase me, to erase us, but you haven’t. I have value. We have value.” If this is what “Pride” is, then I don’t think its the same thing as the toxic pride that destroys. Or course it can get twisted into that toxic pride, but at its heart it seems closer to an expression of the deep need of every human being, created in the image and likeness of God, a personal, relational God, to be recognized and valued for who they are as persons. Broken, wounded, yes, all of us, but still regarded with infinite value, beloved in the eyes of God.
I believe it is undeniable that gay and trans people have experienced a campaign of erasure. If I honestly look at my own city, one I have lived the majority of my life in, the evidence is there. There have always been unspoken rules, double-talk, and veiled (I’m sure sometimes not veiled) discrimination towards these neighbors of ours. Sure, some have been able to live, work, and even thrive. But there are rules in polite midwestern society that one doesn’t break. I can’t imagine living under that constant low hum. Not to mention the acts of real violence throughout our country towards LGBTQ people. Also, not to mention that in places like my home state of Indiana these persons can be legally discriminated against in areas of employment, housing, access to public places, federal funding, credit, education and jury service. If Pride means wanting to be able to live as full citizens of the United States without threat of discrimination or worse, then I don’t see anything wrong with it.
As a Christian, I do believe that Jesus Christ is the way of salvation. I believe he offers the healing of the human condition. I believe that Christ, the God-man, who demonstrated that the way of God is the way of service and humility serves the LGBTQ community in the same way He serves all. I believe He offers a way to life that is a call of repentance from the pride that leads to death, the pride that exalts oneself over another. I also believe that He sees and values every person. He does not demand groveling before Him, but rather calls us to raise our eyes to see our worth and life are in Him, not in ourselves only. And through Him our life is in our neighbor.
I’m still learning and working through all of this to find the best response and way forward. But for now I think a first response is to look at my own pride and ask: In what ways do I esteem myself above others, or even disdain or wish to quietly erase those who are different? Have I been guilty of wanting to erase others, complicit in it by my silence and apathy? As a Christian, have I knowingly or unknowingly tried to erase the idea that there are, among us, even many Christians who identify as LGBTQ. They do exist. When attitudes exist that seem to promote coercion, shaming, shunning, or silencing, have I been complicit in erasure, by means of my own pride?
I need to consider if I am willing to be afforded the basic rights as a citizen while others who are different from me don’t, and ask the question: Is this not esteeming myself as better or more valuable than another person? Is this not toxic pride?