Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about Pride all month, even though it is the liturgical time so to do, but I do just want to respond to this Facebook post:
I hesitated to post about pride month. Then I sat with an ex-gay camp survivor.
Yesterday a closeted Presbyterian pastor told me about his time at Love in Action, a residential pray-the-gay-away program in Memphis.He shared a particularly painful story of a 15-year-old boy forced to attend by his parents.Because he was a minor, he wasn’t allowed to stay on-site. His parents rented an extended stay hotel room and drove him to the daily 12-step meetings aimed at “curing the addiction of homosexuality.”He tried to run away multiple times, but his parents caught him. When they dragged him back to the meetings, he wept.As the Presbyterian pastor shared this story with me, we both fought to hold back tears. He pondered out loud whether the kid was okay.It was clearly a euphemism. He was asking whether the 15-year-old-boy made it out alive.This is why pride month matters. It’s not about haughtiness or flaunting sexual promiscuity. It’s an opposition to shame and hate. It’s a declaration: “We exist and we won’t hide again.”It’s a promise that what was done to that kid will never be tolerated again.That 15-year-old-boy didn’t have anyone to fight for him then.
He does now.
The post is accompanied by two pictures of the poster wearing a t-shirt that says “Coca Cola the real thing.” As I said, I just want to briefly respond, hopefully without too much heat, though hopefully some light.
Observe first of all that emotion is the first and most important ingredient. The guilt of the pastor, the weeping of the child, the hard-heartedness of the parents–all these are the most important part of what is being said and they are all essentially about how everyone feels. The pastor feels bad. The child feels bad. The FB poster feels bad.
Observe also the binary way this incident is presented. We have life or death. We have pride or shame. We have love or hate. We have the will of the child or the will of the parents. You, the reader of the post, must choose. You can either be on the side of love, or on the side of hate. Those are your two options.
And finally, observe the not at all subtle use of tribal victimology to demonize the bad people–the parents, and you if you agree with those parents, or sympathize with them at all–and valorize the good. The best person in this tale is the poster himself, followed by the child, and then the pastor who came to a repentant “hope” through the confession of his transgression.
I would like to paint a little bit of a different picture. The other picture is also binary, in some sense, and not very subtle. It also has an emotional appeal, and it deals in hate and shame and love and acceptance. Here’s how this other story/picture might go.
Once upon a time, there was a young man who didn’t want any of the things that had been given to him by his parents. He went to his parents and said, “give me what is mine and I will leave and go somewhere else.” His parents were deeply grieved because they loved their son. They didn’t know what to do. They agonized for a long time, but finally gave him his inheritance, which should not have been his until their own deaths, and he went away from them.
This son spent everything. All that they had given him, he used up so that there was nothing left. Then he was sad and hungry and ended up in some wretched situation watching other people being happy, while he himself was unhappy. After a while, it dawned on him that his parents–though he had wished them dead–were not yet dead, and that though they had given him everything that would have been his had they died, they were not as destitute as he was. He climbed up out of the hole he was in and went back to them, crushed and humiliated, expecting that they would lecture him, because they were surely awful people. And yet–and yet they had more than he had. Maybe they would give him something.
They, as you might already know, had been standing at the door waiting, praying, hoping that their son would come back to them, anxious about his fate as they always had been–because they loved him, because he was their child. When they saw him they lept up and grabbed him and fed him and brought him back into their house. The son was given back to them, though the whole episode had been so painful.
I’m sure you’ve heard this story before. The parents are really only The Father–the Father who lets the son, that’s us, go away from him, even though he has given us everything that we could possibly need to be comfortable and happy. You might also see the binary state of things. We, all the people whom God has created, have rejected him. We are all in a pit. We have all chosen the wrong thing. All of us together, no matter what kind of orientation we have, or preferences, or desires. We are all wicked. We have all told the Father to leave us alone. And yet God, who is so great in mercy, and who does not want us to go down to the pit, sent his own Son into that pit to drag us out and restore us to himself. He didn’t wait for us to come to our senses, he came into the very pit himself to call us out and give us life.
In this other and better story, there is no valorization for the person who posts on social media that he is in the corner of someone who cannot and does not want to escape from his own ruinous desires. There is no demonization for parents who are desperately sad about their child and don’t know what to do, and perhaps even do the wrong thing, though if they tell the truth to that child–that if that child will not fling himself on the mercy of God, that child will never escape from the eternal pit of human sin and pride–however painfully and awkwardly and unhappily, it is not the wrong thing, but actually the loving thing.
For the Christian, there can be no pride. I am sorry to say it, but whatever you take pride in–whatever it is–you are being like that son who goes to his father and tells him he wishes he, the Father, were dead. You are rejecting the good things of God, and choosing yourself and your own desires. Only God is good. Only God can give you what you long for.
As I keep saying, for Pride Month, eschew all and every kind of pride. At another point, I will talk about the difference between shame and humility, and love and hate. Until then, may God have all the mercy on all our souls.