Around the country, June is a time when LGBTQ festivals, parades, and events are held to commemorate the 1969 unrest at the Stonewall Inn, an LGBTQ bar in New York City.
It has evolved to be a whole month of celebrations, and I’ve noticed events being held across my own state of Montana in places such as Helena, Great Falls and Billings. Even my old church, First Congregational in Sheridan Wyoming, was active in Sheridan’s Pride events.
Some folks in the church may not be at ease with such a thing as “Pride.” The name itself raises concerns. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins. It indicates hubris, a focus on self — often at the expense of a neighbor. As a society, maybe we need a bit more humility and a bit less pride.
But I don’t believe that is how Pride is being used by LGBTQ folk. It’s rather an assertion of the value and worth of the individual. And this becomes important when parts of our society tell such folks that they are not worthy or valuable, and certainly not to be welcomed in the church.
The ability to trust in one’s own value and worth may be a Gospel issue. “For God so loved the world,” starts John 3:16 — that is the precondition of God’s saving work in Jesus, that love for each one of us.
In the work I do with college students, what I run into is not undue pride. It’s the opposite. Too many of my students do not believe they are worthy, that they are loved by God, that their lives are important to God, and that their contributions are meaningful to God’s world.
If I were to say what evangelism looks for at [Montana State University Billings], it is my effort to convince students that they are loved by God. We do this by saying as much. The theologian John Swinton writes that love says, “It’s good you exist. I am glad you are here.”
So we seek to demonstrate this by genuinely including them in discussions, in our group activities, in hearing their stories, in giving them a chance to show leadership. They are not a “them” that we seek to help. They are us; they make up United Campus Ministries.
This includes LGBTQ students who have not always been welcomed in the church. It includes our work with autistic students who need a chance to be heard and valued in community. It includes students who are struggling — with faith, with doubt, with life circumstances — who need a home.
In the end, it’s an attempt to ensure that everyone has a home, in the church; that no one should find themselves orphaned in this world.
That’s the plea we find in 2 Corinthians 6:8-13:
… in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see — we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return — I speak as to children — open wide your hearts also.
There’s a juxtaposition between rejection and self-worth in this passage.
We are treated as imposters but in fact we are true. We are treated as invisible and yet here we are, we are treated as those with ill repute, but we are in fact reputable before God. There is what many in the church say, versus what Paul knows to be true of himself and his ministry.
The self-knowledge that Paul has because of God in Christ gives him the confidence to assert his value and his contribution to the life of the church while acknowledging that others would reject him for it. That is, Paul is asserting his rightful pride, pride in his work and ministry, his approval before God.
What follows is the plea:
… our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return… open wide your hearts also.
That plea to the church in Corinth is the plea given to every church. We are to welcome in love those whom God loves and considers worthy. It’s a plea that the rejected can take to heart.
Rejection can take many forms based on sexuality, gender, race, age, ability and disability, economic background, one’s religious beliefs, one’s political beliefs, one’s social skills or lack of them. The result is that everyone in this room has experienced rejection by somebody.
Everybody is an outsider to some group, to some set of people — in school, in work, with other churches, with folks who disagree politically — or we’ve experienced rejection because we are too old or not old enough. In Miles City, Montana, we even had a divide between those who lived in town and those who lived in the country.
The key is in that in the midst of rejection, we experience ourselves as worthy. That was Paul’s basis for seeking welcome from the churches to which he wrote.
At UCM, we try to provide that experience. Churches can try to provide this experience, but given what I know of church members, many haven’t given that sense of self-worth that so many of my students lack.
It could have come from the church, from school, from friends and family. But I want to propose, as I did for Mother’s Day, that it might have come from your father. The confidence to seek one’s rightful place in the world and in our communities often starts with families.
For those who received it from our fathers, we’ve been given a gift that can stay with us over a lifetime and [are] able to negotiate the good and the struggles in life. Sometimes that is biological fathers; for others, some other man — a grandfather, an uncle, a pastor, a teacher, a coach — provided that.
But that sense of self-worth is what Reinhold Niebuhr calls “original security.” It’s the feeling of safety, security and worth in a father, in a mother, in anyone who recognizes God’s handiwork in you.
A study was done of schoolyards. When there is a fence, the kids can play right at the edge of the street. But without a fence, the kids are afraid and stay close to the school building. A father’s love, a family’s love is that fence, that gives us the freedom to make our way in the world.
It’s the original security, even pride, that allows us to take our place in the communities of which we are a part, including this church. It’s the kind of pride we should be nurturing in one another, the kind of pride that the secular calendar lifts up for us LGBTQ people in the month of June.
And to close with a prayer:
God, we give you thanks for fathers and mothers and all who have played that role in our lives. We give you thanks for the security and the knowledge that we are beloved of God, a security that we first experienced in others who affirmed that in our lives. We pray that in our lives and in the life of our church, we can pass on that gift to more and more people until everyone we know can truly believe that God so loved the world. Amen
An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, Rev. Dwight Welch is the campus minister at United Campus Ministry at Montana State University Billings, where he also serves as a part-time philosophy instructor. He is married to Jim Reindollar and is owned by two cats, Annie and Adler.