It is doubtful that there is anyone in the United States who is unaware that June is Pride month. Saturday morning saw the self-indulgent antics of Pride marchers, and if you are on the email list of almost any corporate entity, you will have had the triumphant celebration of the LGBTQ+ community trumpeted in your inbox. Corporate America isn’t the only institution selling out. Once again, the P.C.U.S.A. is here to remind us that the perennially superannuated pieties of liberal Protestantism are incapable of discerning the commercialization of the counter-culture and the trivialization of political protest. China may be engaging in genocide, have a network of gulags holding three million people, and be actively reinstating the playbook described so graphically by Solzhentisyn—imprisonment for thought crimes, state-sanctioned gang rapes of prisoners, etc.—but the P.C.U.S.A. knows where the real human rights issues are: the use of pronouns, inclusive bathroom policies, and dismantling women’s sports.
When you want to find out what is really going on, follow the money. A rainbow flag on your business webpage can possibly raise sales. Doing something that might upset the Chinese government will harm profit margins. Righteousness that can be sold at a profit is always so much more attractive than righteousness that must be purchased by self-sacrifice.
Pride month, and its commercial sponsors, is an appropriate key to understanding the priorities of the modern West. It celebrates hedonistic self-assertion. It mocks the values of the past. It uses the language of inclusion to exclude anybody who will not wholeheartedly affirm its ambitions. It strikes a posture of iconoclastic rebellion and liberation while actually being an imperious assertion of conformity to the social elite’s moral order. It has domesticated transgression by turning it into a marketable commodity. And it epitomizes a world where virtue is obtained by deploying nothing more than a hashtag, only to be lost by refusing to follow the herd. Whether a rainbow flag will stem the numerical collapse of the P.C.U.S.A. remains to be seen. What is certain is that Presbyterians courageously bragging about queering the American family will no doubt have a whole lot more fun in the U.S.A. than those simply trying to be faithful pastors in China.
By contrast with the self-indulgent antics of the various Pride marchers, I spent Saturday morning watching the livestream of the ordination of a former student to the Presbyterian ministry of Word and Sacrament. The young man served his country in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Now he has chosen to serve God’s people in a small church of no earthly significance whatsoever. As he stepped forward to officiate at his first communion, he recited the words of the Prayer of Humble Access from the Book of Common Prayer, perhaps the most eloquent liturgical statement of human unworthiness and the need for divine grace in the English language. In contrast to the Pride Marches happening across the country at the same time, there was no self-glorification at the Table, no demand for rights and recognition, no childish display of hedonism. There was simply a humble acknowledgement of human failure and divine grace.
Compared to the partying and pyrotechnics of the Pride Marches around the country, holy communion is outwardly unimpressive fare—bread and wine set forth in the context of a declaration of the divine promise in Christ. Yet it is the very heart of the Christian faith. Its sacramental significance lies partly in that it is a reminder to those participating of who God is, what he has done, and who they are in light of this. First it calls forth shame as the communicants recall their unworthiness; then it provokes joy as it presses upon their hearts God’s grace to them in Christ. Its simplicity and outward humility is, in a sense, part of its genius, precisely because the simple signs point congregants beyond the Supper to the God whose actions give it significance. The new minister clearly understood this in a way that the P.C.U.S.A., with its passion for cultural conformity and commercialized causes, apparently doesn’t.
Pride and Christianity do, of course, share one sacrament—or at least one sacramental sign: the rainbow. For the LGBTQ+ community, it is ostensibly the symbol of inclusion, a multicolored banner that, as Lego now promotes to children, means that everyone belongs. More than that, it asserts that everyone can be whoever they want to be (serial killers and religious conservatives excepted). For Christians (as for Jews), the rainbow is quite the opposite: not an assertion of human autonomy but of human dependence. It is a sign of the gracious promise and forbearance of God in the face of human self-gratification and rebellion. The rainbow is a reminder of God's covenant with all living creatures. It points beyond itself to something magnificent: the graciousness of a holy God. In comparison the Pride rainbow of inclusion is trivial indeed and those churches that choose to display it have thereby trivialized their God.
Watching some of the news reports on various Pride marches with all of their infantile celebrations of sexuality, I could not help but recall the closing line of Algernon Swinburne’s “Hymn to Man”: “Glory to Man in the highest! For Man is the master of things!” And what glory has that mastery brought in its wake? The death of shame, Drag Queen Story Hour, and Presbyterian ministers who think involvement in commercialized gay carnivals is somehow courageous and edgy. If Saturday’s marches are anything by which to judge, it is rather pitiful what we in the West take pride in these days.
Carl R. Trueman is a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College.
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