Today’s post was written by guest blogger Alfred Pang is a PhD student in Theology and Education at Boston College.
This was my first year attending the Pride Parade in Boston, where I go to graduate school. Partly because of my reserved personality, I’ve often struggled to immerse myself in the spirit of Pride. The extravagance of the celebration overwhelmed me. More significantly, as an international student, I do not share in the history of Pride in the U.S., so I’ve often felt detached. As I watched the parade, I felt I was a foreigner wishing to see a familiar face of a friend, a stranger longing to be home with family.
My first Pride Parade wasn’t magical. The only point of connection I had was with the Pride Festival exhibit booth for three welcoming Catholic parishes organized under the name Greater Boston Rainbow Catholics. Their banner, which people were invited to sign, read, “I am a proud LGBTQ Catholic and I pray the church would love me more.” I wrote on the banner, “I came out as gay because I’m Catholic and not in spite of it.” I was proud to be part of this tradition and identity. When it comes to pride, history and community matters.
On the day after Pride, news broke about the tragic shooting in Pulse, an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, where 49 were gunned down during Latin Night. As an Asian gay man and a foreigner in this country, the horrific violence inflicted on LGBT persons of color hit too close to home. In my shock and grief, however, I was lifted up by the show of solidarity witnessed at vigils in Boston, from around the U.S., and around the globe, including Singapore, my home country. In light of this worldwide solidarity against fear, I’ve been awakened to a deeper significance of pride.
Pride is not arrogance, as many would typically understand it. For someone who identifies with the LGBT community, pride means to be fiercely unashamed that love is love. As gay and Catholic, pride is to dance with conviction that God’s love liberates us from the shame that diminishes our life as God’s beloved community. It is to “boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31) whose radical commitment to God’s mercy and justice led this Son of God to be in solidarity with the outcast and marginalized, even to the point of death on a cross.
Pride means to be amazed at the wild creativity of the Spirit of Christ who lives within and breathes among us, beckoning us toward newness in life as a beloved community in the here and now. Jesus’s injunction to us not to be afraid is a call to stand without shame as living witnesses of God’s unconditional love for all. There is no place that God will not go, and it is precisely this widening outreach and radical inclusivity of God’s love that the gospel challenges us to embrace with pride – unashamed.
Yet, in the wake of the Orlando tragedy, the Catholic hierarchy fell short in its witnessing to God’s far-reaching inclusive love. With a few exceptions, bishops, while condemning the violence, have largely been reticent, if not silent, about the gender and sexual identities of the victims. In doing so, an opportunity was missed to lift up the Church’s official teaching that explicitly opposes any form of violence and discrimination against LGBT persons.
More critically, such reticence once again pushes the suffering of the LGBT community into invisibility and furthers their systemic marginalization. Equally problematic is the tendency for church leaders to speak around the victims’ particular identities and conveniently snug them under ‘children of God’ as a blanket phrase. How can LGBT persons be properly regarded as God’s beloved children when church leaders are embarrassed to acknowledge their particular sexualities, even in the face of a tragedy?
My insistence in giving due attention to the gendered and sexual bodies of the victims at Orlando is not to remain mired in identity politics that can become exclusivist. Rather, what is at stake is how we regard the humanity of each other, with all the complexity of gender and sexuality intersecting with race, culture, class, and religion. The shooting at Orlando is symptomatic of a deeper tragic cycle of how we as human beings are actually capable of betraying one another.
Yet, the gospel provokes us to hope against all hopes that love wins because in and through Christ, death has lost its sting (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:55). We as church must allow ourselves to be haunted by this hope to recognize and repent from our complicity in social structures that feed this tragic cycle of dehumanization. I am grateful for the courage of Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, who, in his statement on Orlando, wrote:
“… [S]adly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that. Without yet knowing who perpetrated the PULSE mass murders, when I saw the Imam come forward at a press conference yesterday morning, I knew that somewhere in the story there would be a search to find religious roots. While deranged people do senseless things, all of us observe, judge and act from some kind of religious background. Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also.”
Unfortunately, not every bishop shares Bishop Lynch’s sentiments, and herein lies the cause for real lament: that we as church (and the hierarchy, in particular) cannot be unified in at least acknowledging our complicity in the complexities of structural violence, especially that inflicted on LGBT communities. My disappointment is not simply over the dread of sexuality that hovers in the Catholic Church, or the humility lacking in some of our church leaders. Rather, my frustration is in our lack of pride in the gospel that celebrates the radical inclusivity of God’s embracing love for all. Are we that ashamed of the scandalous death of Jesus Christ on the cross that is the cost of God’s unreserved compassion for all and unwavering commitment to justice for the vulnerable at the margins?
If this year’s celebration of Pride in the midst of the pain at Orlando has any influence on the Church, I hope it will be the disruption of the Church’s dominant tendency to domesticate the gospel. Pride invites us to reclaim our identity as God’s beloved children, but in all our particularities and peculiarities that God takes delight in. More profoundly, God’s love must agitate us to be proud of the gospel, to take our encounter with Christ in the gospel onto the streets as ambassadors of reconciliation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20). Taking pride in ourselves as children of God obliges us to be peacemakers (cf. Matthew 5:9). As Blessed Oscar Romero put it:
“Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous,
tranquil contribution of all
to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.”
As a church, we must find ways to come out with pride and not cower in shame (and disbelief) over God’s scandalous love for all. We must continually be more open to the inclusivity of Christ’s love in the gospel and be moved by the creativity of the Spirit to walk the way of peace with those different from us. We must be fearless and unashamed. We must have pride.