Claiming Pride

When a child returns home after facing a challenge, we might say, “I’m proud of you.” We foster a child’s sense of pride in who they are and affirm their sense of power in the world. At this service Rev. Sue Browning will explore the ways we learn to take pride in our full identities and how we are a blessing to one another when we encourage each other to do the same.


Sermon by Rev. Sue Browning

Claiming Pride

In his 20s my husband spent a year teaching conversational English to college students in Taiwan. These students had had 5 or 6 years of English classes and could read and conjugate English verbs galore, and yet they arrived in class afraid to speak. Learning a language is hard, particularly picking up on the nuances and figures of speech.

It’s hard for native speakers too! Last week were driving in traffic near Baltimore, on a road unfamiliar to us. An entrance ramp sign said (hold up sign) —  ‘A-L-T-E-R-N-A-T-E”…Bill was driving and said, “We need to take an alternate route.” I said no (loudly), ‘that’s Alternate’ and let that car in!  His comment: “That would be tough to teach as to a 2nd language learner.”

Language comes in layers. Words have multiple meanings. And humans, already prone to misunderstanding one another, have confusion, and conflict stirred when in one conversation words are heard differently. Words convey concepts. Making it even harder, the concepts underlying the meaning of words can shift.

Take the word ‘Pride.’

My family didn’t talk of sin much, and the seven ‘deadly’ sins were not something I’d learned in Sunday School, yet somewhere in daily conversation I learned that some sins were ‘deadly’ and I learned there were seven deadly sins.Can anyone here name all?   [Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride.]

Centuries ago these were declared ‘the cardinal sins.’ Not as bad as mortal sins, but foundational ethical breaches. These weak spots led down the path to other sins; gateway sins if you will.

As a sin, ‘pride’ is understood as being self-focused, and self-aggrandizing. One definition I found noted pride as being too self-satisfied. Bragging here is in contrast to being humble or modest…tooting one’s own horn is not a desirable action…comparing one’s self favorably ‘over’ another could be seen as cocky.

At a recent church service I attended at a Presbyterian church, early in the service was the ‘Prayer of Confession’ … “God of mercy…We confess we have strayed from you and turned aside from your way. We are misled by pride…” The prayer was an invitation to make a humble connection with God as hearts were opened for worship. Turn from pride. This pride of arrogance gets in the way of honest communication. It’s the pride of not admitting when we are wrong; it’s the pride of not seeing multiple views; it’s the pride that interrupts opportunities for connection.

Yet, language comes with many meanings.

At times we say, “Take pride in your work or effort.” Here pride is an attribute. One takes pride in effort and achievement. There is an Inference ‘pride’ is tied to the value of taking time to do things well.  In validating ‘pride’ we signal to respect your own work. This is a pride tied to reputation and trustworthiness.

Pride can go to something deeper than achievements. In the assertion, “You should take pride in who you are … you are worthy of your own self-love…you are valued as you are,” we hear a pride encouraging self-confidence. It’s a sense of ‘pride’ heard as a call for respect of self. Pride is self is a call not to hide who you are.

Consider this quote from Marrianne Williams, “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.” (I’ve quoted her for years. Who knew she would step into this message by being one of the 20 plus candidates hoping to the Democratic Presidential nominee.) I hear in her words a value to lift your strengths, even when (especially when) cultural norms are saying ‘stand down.’

A critical factor in healthy human development is a positive self-image. Our UU values ask us to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all, and ‘all’ includes our own sense of self.

When we take pride in who we are, at times having to elbow in to stand proud. Room for all is not the norm. Many have been pressed to the sides, or not even let in the door. And for some – who have taken up the most room, and had the most power, the balancing act is to make room for another’s price by being humble.

A colleague named ‘Always making room’ as core to her theology. “Always making room” is core to an active sense of faith.

Claiming this type of ‘pride in self’ is critical, in particular for those in groups historically marginalized. It matters to those whose worth has been and continues to be questioned by society time and again; for those whose humanity and ability to contribute have been dismissed.

I didn’t just bump into the word ‘pride’ and decide to preach on it this month. Part of my scan of the local landscape was the awareness that on May 2-5 (from press release) “the Maryland Mid-Shore chapter of PFLAG — originally Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — is set to host a Pride celebration on the Eastern shore.

This is a first on the Eastern shore. It’s a festival of pride organized by our local PFLAG chapter – a group which meets each month in this building. As a congregation you have helped incubate the group – creating space and opening our readiness. You have lifted the value of unqualified inclusion. You have offered Our Whole Lives education to our teens. Take pride in these initiatives.

By no means however are we the organizers of MidShore Pride. The energy is coming boldly from those celebrating their identities and allies who have stepped up in partnership. There is interest, and excitement. And there has been controversy. And in turn teachable moments and learning. There has been reaching out to learn by some in opposition.

Yesterday we co-sponsored (UUFE, PFLAG and Midshore Pride) an education workshop, By offering LGBTQ 101 and 102 we keep learning as a community. It’s the way we transform societies.  (Opportunity was coverage in Star Dem.)

The facilitator asked a question when he opened. ‘On a scale of 1-10, how familiar are you with the LGBTQ+ community?’ It’s a good question.

We learned together…Questions on terminology – among the terms – asexual, pansexual, and non-binary gender identities…We talked about where the LGBTQ community faced discrimination…and considered employment, housing and travel…We considered experiences of youth, homelessness, and suicide. While the legal right to marry and for some to serve opening in the military changed parts of the landscape, many still only claim their full identity in parts of their lives…We talked to of generational differences in use of language, and comfort with fluidity in sexual orientation and gender identity.

I’d given myself a 6 – generally informed, and yet so much to learn about the experiences of others.

Pride parades and celebrations started after the Stonewall Riots. We should all know the story of the Stonewall Riots. The background is not just LGBTQ history – it is American history. Stories we should be able to tell – to know the roots of why gay identity needed to be celebrated in that time.

Fifty years ago (in June 1969) a gay club in NYC, the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, was raided. Employees and patrons were hauled out of the bar. In response there were protests and clashes with police. There had been gay rights groups and support for the rights of ‘homosexuals’ for decades before. The Stonewall Riots magnified the efforts. The challenges faced by gays were no longer quiet – a least not as quiet. It was 1969. Something had started to shift.

At the one-year anniversary of Stonewall, the idea of a march came to reality. The march was not without controversy. At least one gay rights group thought it too risky – too showy. Others seemed to say we need to show who we are. And under the leadership of Brenda Howard, known as the “Mother of Pride” the parade came to be. No one had a clue how many would turn out. As they marched with banners and signs from Greenwich Village to Central Park, the group grew. Crowds have been estimated as high at ten thousand. Pride marches in 1970 were also held in Chicago, LA and San Francisco.

Of note, a survey of UUs in 1967 indicated 80% wanted homosexuality discouraged by education, not law. In time this changed, and Unitarian Universalists were early supporters (relative to others) of ending laws which made homosexuality illegal. The evolution of change in our denomination from there was rapid. Committees and funds set out to press for change. The membership needed to learn.

The first ‘out’ gay man was called to serve a UU church in Maine in 1979. In the 1980s and 90s, when the word “welcoming” became a code word for being open to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. The Unitarian Universalist Association launched a Welcoming Congregation Program to help us learn how to dismantle homophobia—and later, transphobia (prejudice against transgender people). Welcoming meant changes to heart and minds in our congregations and our communities. Welcoming Congregation materials to help congregations learn enough to be truly welcoming were released in 1990 – 29 years ago. (Note our sign in the foyer.)

Another milestone was a resolution was passed by the UUA Trustees (national level) supporting same gender marriage in 1996.

On history of pride celebrations, the UUA website notes: “In the 1980s Pride celebrations expanded beyond the march format and started to become weekend-long festivals in many cities. “gay pride,” “LGBT pride,” or just “pride,” celebrations offer a space to affirm, celebrate, and be proud of sexual diversity and gender variance. In the 1990s, more and more Pride celebrations began making transgender inclusion a priority. In 2000 President Bill Clinton made history when he declared June “Gay & Lesbian Pride Month.” President Barack Obama has declared June “LGBT Pride Month” each year he has been in office.”

A record was set last year in Brazil of 5 million participated. In 2017 NYC had 2.5 million, and Columbus, Ohio had 1 million – and of note at their first parade in 1981 only 200 attended and some wore bags over their head to conceal their identity.

I hope many here will join the Midshore festivities May 2-5. Not listed on the poster, the Multicultural Festival in Easton will include pride activities. (May was chosen to fit with the local college schedules on the eastern shore.)

The need to claim ‘pride’ in who you are is not limited to those with LGBTQ identities.

Several here attended Michael Eric Dyson’s talk on racial justice at Chesapeake College this fall. Dyson is a noted scholar and preacher, who has written on the concept of ‘pride’ is his book by that name: “Pride.” He described the tie between pride and identity during an NPR interview in 2006 (Talk of the Nation, February 13, 2006)  “… in an American society where race has been a marker of degradation or seen, especially blackness, as a floating signifier for that which is not excellence, racial pride is a very hard, fought-for virtue. And sometimes, of course, to be sure it can become a vice, but a virtue that is the manifestation of a determination to identify with the things that are healthy and uplifting.”

A lesson as we witness the claiming of pride.

Yesterday we hung the large rainbow flag on our property here at UUFE on Rt 50. We plan to fly it through the end of next weekend. It’s a symbol of what we value – equity, and inclusion. And it’s a message that all identities are values. It’s a declaration that everyone should take pride in who they are.

I’m grateful that the term ‘pride’ has evolved. It’s a reminder

…of the need to be noticed; to be seen; to be appreciated

…of the claiming of space in this world, when none had been made

…of the courage it takes to respect oneself

…of the solidarity it will take to move in our humanity together – the full range of sexual orientations and gender identities, racial and ethnic identities, and physical and mental abilities


May It Be So



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