Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Love the sinner, hate the sin.
I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, especially if you’re gay. It’s the thing “good” Christians have used to defend a position of intolerance or even hatred towards LGBT people. For some, it’s the halfway point between disgust and acceptance, and it’s historically been one I’ve been prepared to accept from others on the road to blessed community.
Still, it stings like hell. Who are you to hate something about me that you clearly don’t understand? Who are you to judge me as disordered or afflicted or morally corrupt? How are you capable of loving me, with so much hatred in your heart?
It’s Pride month, and some religious leaders have decided that it is also sin month. They’ve warned us from attending Pride events and especially from taking our children to these immoral events. One Catholic leader in particular made this statement yesterday, subjecting himself to a slew of uncharitable denouncements that the Catholic church is hardly in a position to decide what is right or wrong for our children. This post isn’t a place to unpack that, but let me just say that the wounds are real and valid and that forgiveness feels far off to some Catholics.
But, is Pride in fact a sinful place for Christians?
In my opinion, no. To cast such a wide net would be false. Pride is a celebration, born out of protest and injustice. It’s a corner we’ve turned as a community and it is one we commemorate yearly for good reason. It is visibility and community and even accountability. For Christians, Pride events are not the sin here.
Pride though, the kind of pride that we all experience when we demonstrate extreme arrogance, that feels sinful to me. I might only be speaking to the LGBT Christians right now, but pride feels sinful to me when it comes out in celebration of my ability to love another human being. When I allow myself to feel better than others or more enlightened or more 21st century or a better lover or human or even a better representation of God or spirit, then I have committed great sin. Friends, I’ve at times believed these things in my development as a queer person. Forgive me, my pride was a great sin. And for my straight brothers and sisters, it’s worth exploring your own pride and attachments with your sexuality. Pride rarely leads us to greater connection with God or each other.
The sin of pride around my sexuality has lead to more sin in my life. How many times have I been exoticized or hypersexualized, and condoned it, even participated in it, out of a prideful desire to be better than my fellow humans? How many times have I chosen cheap connection and lied to myself that it was sacred? How many times have I taken something sacred, and made it cheap to boost my ego? In my younger days, it was a prideful boast of all the straight women who loved me more than the boyfriend they just left. I was better than him, the ugly voice in the back of my head would say. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. This can’t be why the elders of our movement threw bricks at cops at Stonewall.
My pride will always be a sin. My love is not.
I just finished a nine-month version of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises (the 19th Annotation), which is meant to be “a retreat in everyday life” for those that can’t take 30 days off to pray like the men and women called to religious orders. In it, the retreatant is lead through four “weeks” of prayer that revolve around conversion from personal sin, contemplation of Jesus in the Gospel, the passion of Christ, and a desire to live in the joy of God. These weeks aren’t like normal weeks, meaning that they typically last for several weeks - they’re more like phases. In the first week, I had a profound moment in prayer as it related to my sexuality.
During the first week, the retreatant learns about sin and all the ways that they have sinned. In this week, you come away with the belief that you are a sinner loved by God, or at least that’s the hope. For me, contemplating myself as a sinner was easy. I’m used to interrogating myself - call it an athlete thing. I’m always searching myself. The loved by God part, well, that was a lot harder. After calling to mind all the ways I sin against myself, God, and others, it was hard to say “yep, I’m worthy of unconditional love.” It was a big jump for me. At least, it was a big jump until I gave God the one thing I thought I could never give him.
I was praying one night in front of my makeshift alter, and I had a deep sense that there was something in me that I was holding back from God. There was something I was too afraid to put before him. As I searched myself, I could hear the spirit leading me to my sexuality. “No way,” I said at first, “I’m not giving him that.” My instant revulsion made it clear that this was it. This was the thing I was supposed to bring to God.
“But it’s NOT a sin!” I could hear myself saying. Who was I even arguing with? God? Myself? The people who say “love the sinner hate the sin?”
It became pretty clear to me that I was screaming my defensiveness to something other than the one who met me in prayer. I was terrified though, to let this one go. What if I bring it to him and he says it’s not ok? Then what?! Or, what if he says it IS ok? Then what?! What do I do with that message? I’ve seen so many people proclaim the acceptance of LGBT people in a way that makes us superior or more Holy than others. Sometimes it’s no wonder to me why we are so hated in some Christian circles. There’s such a difference between being inclusive and welcoming to those that have been marginalized, and turning the marginalized into Gods. Yes, Jesus taught us to live and love in the margins and to see God in all things (as the Jesuits would say), but he never told us to worship individual groups of people. He would call out the faith of those in the margins as exemplars of faith, not exemplars of what it means to be God.
So what would I do then, if I heard God condoning this thing that so many called a sin? Would I live a humble life as a sinner loved by God, knowing that my sexuality was not a sin? Or would I let the spirit of history and this moment rule over me and let it go to my head that God spoke to me directly about my sexuality? To me, any answer was terrifying - and my self-sacrificing personality would have actually been more comfortable with an answer that it was not ok. At least there I might find a quiet life of good works and repentance.
There I was, at my makeshift alter, fighting this internal battle, afraid to give this thing to God. If there were ever a moment that I experienced myself as fully human and fully loved by God, it was that moment. In prayer, I gave him my fear. “Lord, I’m so scared to give this to you. You know all the reasons why. I’m so afraid of your answer that I won’t even give you this thing.” In that moment, I felt held. I felt held in a way that felt better than any answer he could give. I felt loved, and for the first time understood what it meant to be a sinner loved by God.
To me, that was the first time I felt the great equality we’re offered as Christians. No matter who we are, no matter what it is we do in our present historical moment that labels us as righteous people or sinners, we are his. We are held. We are loved. We don’t need evidence of our worthiness. We don’t need evidence that we’ve been forgiven - it came a long time before we even entered this world. We just are. When he says “I am” I always imagine the response “we are,” because that’s all we can be and that’s enough for him. Our “beingness” is enough.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t work for justice and inclusion and understanding in this historical era. This is not to say that I shouldn’t live openly and love openly as a queer person or that you aren’t supposed to find ways to be more inclusive, loving, and welcoming to queer people if you are straight. What it does say though, is that there is nothing we should do in this life as Christians without a profound awareness that we are sinners loved by God.
Whether my sexuality is a sin or not, I’m not sure, to be honest. I’m not sure I believe that God makes such blanket judgments about groups of people we’ve only recently come to classify in our current social order. I’ve come to understand sin as anything that takes me further from connection with God. Have I participated in my sexuality in ways that have taken me further from God? Absolutely. Even when I’ve been celibate and maybe especially when I’ve been celibate, because denying myself love in the name of God feels so against everything else I know about him. You probably have participated in your sexuality in a way that disconnects you from God, too, even if you’re heterosexual and/or married. To me, I’ve come to understand my sexuality as a sacred way to encounter another like I’d hope to encounter God. It’s the place where we are offered oneness with another human being and get to experience the oneness he desires for us as Christians. I can confess those moments of disconnection to God. I can ask for forgiveness there. I can pray for the kind of faith that leads me only into sacred encounters with another. For me, that’s what it means to be Christian.
This pride month, I have a prayer for Christians, LGBT and otherwise: (Spoiler: It’s not that we don’t go to Pride events or take our children there.)
Loving God, help us to be mindful and honest of the sin of pride in our lives.
Help us to be especially mindful of the ways that sin plays out when we encounter others in community, our workplaces, our churches, and yes, our bedrooms.
Help us resist the temptation to judge the ways that others encounter their communities, workplaces, churches, and lovers.
When we attend Pride events, give us eyes to see the bravery of those living out loud and put gratitude in our hearts for the journeys of so many that have lead to such openness.
Keep us solemnly aware of those who cannot live out loud and point us to our roles in creating a more just world.
Allow us Lord to experience wonder for the ways that sexuality is displayed during Pride month that is similar or different from our own.
Give us awe for the messy journeys of desire that we all experience and keep our hearts open when desire made public makes us uncomfortable.
When we don’t understand, help us find the right people to ask, and keep close to us in our asking.
Help us to not look for sin in others, but to always search our own hearts and bring our sins to you, even when we are afraid.
You, Lord, give us this great equality as sinners loved by God. Help us to celebrate the ways equality has come to our world this month.
We thank you always Lord, for these gifts.
In your loving name we pray,
**I’m fundraising for my training as a spiritual director through the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. Your donations will help me to write more pieces like this while I support others in 1-to-1 and group direction. Donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/support-my-public-ministry