June is Pride Month for millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people across the country, when thousands of people commemorate the police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village sparking the modern gay pride movement.
The Rev. Dr. Patrick Cheng says pride runs two ways. It is a sin when we build ourselves into an obstacle to our relationship to God through puffery and exaggeration. Pride, he reminds us, works the other way when it becomes self-hatred and toxic shame. The festivities this month can function as a useful corrective.
Even those mainline Christians who are not overtly hostile to LGBT people often fail to understand the spiritual significance of Pride Month. "Why do they need to wear their sexualities on their sleeves?" many of them ask. Many churches that line the routes of pride marches keep their doors conspicuously shut and their parishioners far away, as if somehow all the joyous celebration outside would contaminate the holy spaces inside.
This resistance to Pride Month is not surprising from a theological perspective. Traditionally, pride has been understood by Christians as the first, and thus most serious, of the seven deadly sins. Indeed, pride -- defined as the inordinate love of oneself -- was the sin that brought down Satan and the other rebellious angels. Pride was also responsible for the fall of humanity, which resulted from Adam and Eve's wanting to be like God and thus eating from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden.
Given the long-standing historical condemnation of pride as the root of all sin in the Christian tradition, how can we understand LGBT pride to be a blessing and not a sin? As an openly-gay theologian, teacher of theology, and ordained minister, I believe that sin is not just limited to pride or inordinate self-love. Rather, sin -- defined as the way in which, despite our best intentions, we inevitably turn our backs on who God has created us to be -- can also take the opposite form of inordinate self-hate or shame, something that many LGBT people experience from a very early age.
In other words, sin is not just a matter of lifting oneself up too high (as in the case of Satan, the rebellious angels, or Adam and Eve), but it is also a matter of failing to lift oneself up high enough. Many LGBT people have been taught to hide in the shadows as a result of being taunted and tormented by our peers from an early age. We are constantly told that what we do is unnatural and that God hates us. Is it any wonder, then, that so many LGBT people suffer from a toxic degree of self-hate and shame?