Photograph by Brian Kyed via Unsplash

Pride is an expression of radical humility

June 6, 2024

Pride is a dangerous thing, the theologians tell us. It is a sin, even—one of seven deadly sins that contrast against the seven theological virtues. Since their enumeration in the sixth century by Pope Gregory I and their deeper explanation in the 13th century by Saint Thomas Aquinas, the seven deadly sins have always been led by pride.

Many have argued it is, in fact, the supreme sin, the one that controls and leads to all others. At least to hear Milton tell it, Satan’s pride is what led to the Fall.

Pride is therefore the root of all sin, or so this account will tell us.

Given this theological history, it has been deceptively easy for conservative and traditionalist commentators to engage in a kind of reasonable-seeming argument against the celebration of Pride in the queer community. They point to queer people dancing and proclaiming their value and self-worth and say they see a dangerous denial of God’s will; a dangerous centering of human vices instead of theological virtues.

But such arguments are the worst kind of polemics: lazy ones. In their rush to deny, denigrate, and degrade the value of queer lives, those who pursue this approach are only obscuring the actual theological meaning of sinful pride. This deception ultimately degrades the ability of Christians to understand the reason why the sin is so dangerous in the first place and makes us all vulnerable to committing sin. For those in the dominant culture—straight and cis people—this vulnerability is especially potent.

A way out of this trap is by understanding the “antidote” to these seven sins. Each sin has a corresponding virtue whose practice moves the soul of a person attempting to be aligned with God away from that sin. By looking carefully at its corresponding virtue, Christians can understand the sin better, and understand its cure.

For pride, that virtue is humility.

Humility encompasses an understanding that nothing you can accomplish is anything but a gift of God. Were you able to do great things with your singing voice, or your intelligence? Are you an athlete doing mighty feats of strength or endurance? Humility reminds you that your singing, your smarts, or your physical prowess are not entirely of your own making, but the freely given inclinations of a loving God.

Now, you might argue that you had latent talents, but it was you, after all, who trained your voice, or invested in classes and made good grades, or practiced your track and field skills every day until you could hit the world record.

And this would be pride talking.

According to humility, even the inclination in your heart to strive, to persevere, to work, to seek, to grow, to learn, to overcome: these are gifts of spiritual and internal grace as well.

Everything you accomplish is to God’s glory. Everything.

Pride isn’t an expression of the arrogance of queer people. It’s an expression of our humility. Being who we are is not a rebellion against God; it’s an end to rebellion, and an expression of who we were made to be.

The result of humility, then, is overwhelming gratitude: a posture of humble awe at the gifts God has given you, the glory that God has accomplished through you. Your talents were gifts, your use of them was a gift, and your use of them was an opportunity to let the image of God borne upon your heart shine where all could see.

And this is exactly what LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations are celebrating, too.

No queer person is queer through their own will. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide, through my own sheer power and sense of personal accomplishment, that I was going to be a trans woman today. I just was.

No gay person wakes up and decides that today, they are going to Accomplish Being Homosexual.

Instead, queer people wake up into the bodies we are given. We wake up into bodies that were made by God. I tremble with gratitude every morning that God has given me enough grace to be who I am, that God has placed me at a time in human history when enough people are around to love and support me that I’m able to be brave enough to transition—and I know that even that bravery is a gift of strength from none other than the supreme ruler of Heaven.

Ironically, by celebrating Pride, queer people may have much to teach straight people about the value of humility. Few cis or straight people appreciate the gift from God their gender and their sexuality are. Few cis or straight people take the time, every morning, to realize what an awesome gift it is to have a body or an inclination that aligns with what society expects of them, or to kneel before God in staggered appreciation for letting them live as themselves without fear. And many folks like this also assume that their “accomplishment” of heterosexuality or cisgender makes them better than others—entitled to more respect, more acclaim, the freedom to walk down the street without harassment, or even the freedom to harass by putting “sexual deviants” “in their place.”

In short: many straight people, in criticizing Pride, are exercising the sin of pride in its worst, most naked form.

For Pride this year, then, I am asking queer people to remember this truth: everything you are is an opportunity for joy and deep gratitude to the Author of All Things. Your gender identity, your euphoria when your hair sits just right, your sense of calm and comfort when you lie in a lover’s arms, is an act of God’s grace. God is accomplishing a magnificent thing in your life, by showing the world that God’s aim for us all was always bigger, deeper, and more diverse and wonderful than we had ever imagined.

And I’m asking straight people to remember: pride isn’t an expression of the arrogance of queer people. It’s an expression of our humility. Being who we are is not a rebellion against God; it’s an end to rebellion, and an expression of who we were made to be.

We are asking you to join us, and recognize that what we are is not accomplishment, or achievement, or arrogance.

What we are is a gift.

Madison McClendon obtained her M.Div. from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 2012. She is the Moderator of North Shore Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois, and serves on the board of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America/Bautistas por la Paz, in addition to previous service on the board of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and BJC. She lives in Chicago with her queer family, most especially Todd, and a sweet pit bull terrier, Moira.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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