June is LGBTQ+ Pride month. That’s why you might have noticed rainbow flags flying, pride events starting (they’ll actually spread across the next few months), and even the logos of some famous companies adopting the rainbow colours. This year’s celebrations are particularly significant as June 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which many view as the starting point of the Pride movement. As I’ve spotted these rainbows over the last few weeks and reflected on how Christians should view Pride, I’ve been reminded of a conversation I had a few months ago.
A friend and I were talking about some topics around sexuality, and then he asked me, ‘How do you feel about LGBTQ+ Pride?’ It was a question I don’t think I’d ever really thought about before, but to my surprise I instantly had an answer, and the answer itself surprised me too. My response was simple. ‘Sad’, I said.
The reality is actually somewhat more complex. I have lots of mixed feelings about LGBTQ+ Pride. Pride is partly about remembering the terrible ways that LGBTQ+ people have been, and sometimes still are, treated. It is an opportunity to celebrate the positive changes that have come in the last 50 years and to campaign for further changes where they are still needed. No one should be made to feel ashamed or like a lesser person or receive abuse because of who they find themselves attracted to or because of their internal sense of gender. Every LGBTQ+ person is made in the image of God and is loved by God, and as Christians we should be at the front of the queue to affirm this and to campaign against any word or deed which denies it. This is perfectly compatible with, we could even say required by, the historic Christian sexual ethic.
But my overriding feeling as soon as my friend asked me that question was sadness. For many, Pride is also a public celebration of embracing internal desires and feelings as identity and seeking to find fullness of life by expressing them. But our desires and feelings are a terrible foundation for our identity and embracing and acting on sinful desires can never be the root to fullness of life.
I feel deep sorrow over the fact that so many men and women have been told lies about where true life can be found and about who they really are. While God has revealed to us the right and life-giving ways of living as sexual beings (either in an opposite-sex marriage or in celibate singleness) and has revealed that our true identity comes from him, the enemy has whispered the lie that our identity is found in our desires and feelings and that true life is found by acting on those desires. My heart breaks for those who are looking for fulfillment where it can never be found (as all who are looking for fulfillment in anything other than Jesus and in living his way are).
As I’ve mused on this, I’ve found Paul’s reflections in Romans 9-11 helpful. Paul expresses his deep anguish over the fact that so many of his Jewish contemporaries had not accepted Jesus as the Messiah. ‘I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit – that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart’ (Rom. 9:1-2). Why? Because of ‘my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh’ (Rom. 9:3).
I find Paul’s response to the situation here helpful. He is clear that one of the reasons why his kinsmen have not accepted Jesus as the Messiah is because of their own unbelief (Rom. 9:32-10:4). They have heard the gospel and yet they have rejected Jesus (Rom. 10:18-21). We could easily imagine Paul therefore becoming angry with them for their sinful rejection of the true Messiah. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t look down on them. He doesn’t get indignant. He weeps. He expresses deep pain, anguish and sorrow over their failure to see the truth, and he prays for their salvation (Rom. 10:1).
As I’ve thought about it more, I think this sort of sorrow is part of what Christians should feel about Pride. Some Christians respond to Pride with disgust, frustration or even anger. We feel the need to make it clear that we had the rainbow first and to bemoan the ‘celebration of sin’ (all the while overlooking the year-round celebration of many other sinful behaviours in our culture). We seem to forget that had it not been for the work of God in our hearts, we too could be believing those lies and looking for fulfillment in the wrong places. And we easily overlook the fact that we have often been part of the problem which led to the need for Pride. Our response should therefore not be to complain about what others are doing but to repent and apologise for what we have done. Historically, and still often today, we have not loved the LGBTQ+ community as Jesus has called us to love all people.
And so now, when I see the rainbow flags or the supermarket logos which have gone rainbow on Twitter, I’m choosing not to get on a moral high horse and express disdain or disapproval. I’m allowing my heart to be moved, and I’m praying, for ‘my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved’ (Rom. 10:1).