By Bishoy Dawood
One of the paradoxes of the Christian faith is to see an instrument of torture used by the Romans to shamefully kill slaves as rather an instrument of salvation, peace, and victory over sin and death. When Jesus was accused of blasphemy for calling himself the Son of God and the long awaited Jewish Messiah, the authorities worried that he might cause an insurrection against Rome; and so he was crucified, died on the cross, and was buried. However, death was not the end for Jesus, for he rose on the third day and appeared to his disciples. While those who crucified Jesus thought they finally put an end to his life and message, the cross became the instrument through which Jesus, who is fully God and fully human, became victorious against the real enemies of exclusion, shame, sin, and death. The cross is a sign of the victory of Jesus over death, a sign that was made evident by his resurrection, and is for the Christian — who is baptized in the death of Christ and raised in the life of Christ — a sign of pride. It is with this pride in the victory of the cross that St. Paul was willing to exclaim: “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).
Just as Jesus was excluded and shamed by those who were threatened by his message of inclusion and peace, so lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in many communities throughout the world have been excluded and shamed as sinners. Lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and gay people may find comfort and endurance in the fact the Lord shared in the suffering of our human condition. But that is only one aspect of the cross: there is also the grace and victory that comes by carrying the cross with Christ. Carrying the cross is not a final death sentence, but one that is life-giving. If it is the case that Jesus’ cross is not a sign of the victory of suffering and death over Jesus’ own life, but instead the victory of Jesus over suffering and death, why couldn’t we think of the crosses carried by those with different sexual orientations and genders as signs of pride in the variety of identities united with Christ’s victory and life-giving grace on the cross?
Because of past shaming and exclusion of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, one of the responses in attempting to include and celebrate such identities in society was the creation of Pride events. Such events tend to attract backlash from more conservative voices, who would claim that people who celebrate Pride are sinning doubly in terms of sexual immorality and in terms of being proud of their moral depravity. It is then suggested that those who celebrate Pride ought to repent of their sin of pride by practicing humility.
Lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and gay people may find comfort and endurance in the fact the Lord shared in the suffering of our human condition. But that is only one aspect of the cross: there is also the grace and victory that comes by carrying the cross with Christ.
Humility, in return, becomes a negative value for the communities that celebrate Pride. It may be useful, however, to take a step back from the ideology of humility and remember that the primary example of humility for Christians comes from Jesus, the Son of God who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7, 8). The cross and the death of Jesus were the means of life-giving grace and victory over death, which means that the humility of the Son of God in his kenosis (self-emptying) is the means of raising human dignity through theosis (divinization). Christ took what is ours, and gave us what belongs to him. By uniting himself to our human nature and dying on the cross, the Son of God made it possible for all humanity to rise to the glory of being called children and friends of God. The humility of carrying a cross comes with the victory of living in Christ and being called children of God. That cross is our pride. If anything, the cross carried humbly by many lesbian, gay, bi and trans Christians is something to be proud of, something to celebrate, because it is a means of life-giving grace that is a gift to the Christian community and the wider society.
The words of Sister Nonna Verna Harrison, an expert in Eastern Christian literature, could help guide us in understanding what the virtue of humility means in today’s world. Her words can be applied in the context of our discussion here of sexual orientation and gender identity as gifts of grace to the Church and the wider society even in the crosses that lesbian, gay, trans and bi persons must sometimes carry:
“Unfortunately, humility has often been used falsely as a weapon to keep women, the disabled, and members of minority groups in ‘their place’ and to silence their righteous protests by labeling them as proud, supposedly in the name of Christ…. Real humility has nothing to do with creating in myself a low self-image or making myself feel guilty. It means recognizing that all my talents and virtues are gifts from God, gifts for which I am profoundly thankful. There gifts are entrusted to me so I can share them with people around me. I also share in their gifts, for which I am thankful to those people and to God. Real humility is also a recognition in practice that God loves each of my neighbors just as [God] loves me, so each one is invaluable.”
— Nonna Verna Harrison, God’s Many-Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2010), 80.
Christ is Risen!