Today’s post is from Bondings 2.0’s managing editor, Robert Shine, whose bio can be found here.
Today’s liturgical readings for Pentecost (Vigil Mass) on which this reflection is based can be found here. Please note that the readings for Pentecost for Mass on Sunday are different.
“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” (Rom 8:24-25)
During this past week, I read about Target’s decision to remove Pride items from their shelves, or at least hide them in back recesses of stores. TikTok showed me the videos of anti-LGBTQ+ people dismantling Pride displays and harassing employees, actions that prompted the retail chain to pull back. I never believed rainbow capitalism would lead to queer liberation, so I feel ambivalent about this corporate dispute. Still, the news troubles me.
Pride Month begins in a few days, and the moment hardly feels celebratory. Because what troubles me right now is not really about Target or Bud Light or whichever corporation comes next. It is about the rising threat in the United States to not only our rights as LGBTQ+ people, but our lives—particularly people who are trans or nonbinary, and of these, particularly people of color. Overt violence is common, but, more common, is the “less obvious and less visible…slow motion violence of discrimination,” as the U.S. bishops wrote in a 1994 pastoral letter.
The hard-won gains of the LGBTQ+ movement in recent years are being eroded, and quickly. In their place are new laws prohibiting gender-affirming care, censoring school curricula, banning drag, and more. Today’s reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans speaks of hope. But for LGBTQ+ people and our loved ones in this historical moment, when so much is wrong, what does hope mean?
To look forward in hope, we need first to look back. For centuries, when homosexuality was pathologized and criminalized, many LGBTQ+ people existed much like Jesus’ disciples after the Resurrection—hidden away, the closet a modern version of the Upper Room. But the disciples began to preach the Good News, and Frank Kameny, one of the first LGBTQ+ advocates in the U.S., proclaimed “Gay is Good.” The respective movements began to be more visible and to grow.
Then the Holy Spirit burst forth—at Pentecost and at Pride. In Jerusalem, the disciples of Jesus spoke in tongues. At Stonewall, the friends of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera threw bricks. Common to both crowds was a divinely-inspired resistance to the oppressions that crush so many people—and a hope for a just world.
At this moment, LGBTQ+ people and allies in the U.S. find ourselves again in a time of uncertainty. Where just a few years ago the horizon of equality was coming into clearer view, that view is now much hazier and the horizon seems farther off.
St. Paul writes that we cannot hope for that which we see. Hope is about believing in the unseen. Today, far past the events of Jerusalem and Stonewall, we know what happened: Christianity flourished and the LGBTQ+ movement blossomed. But those early disciples and activists did not know what would come of their actions. They could not see what would happen. So they relied on hope.
To hope is a radical choice, not a warm feeling or fleeting emotion. To hope is to believe in God’s promise of liberation unseen, even when the evidence before us seems to prove otherwise. To hope is to join the disciples of Jesus and the rioters of Stonewall in saying “yes” to the Spirit of Justice’s movement among us.
Asked about our troubled world, a Catholic sister once said, “I’m hopeful, but not optimistic.” I, too, often lack optimism these days. But this Pentecost and Pride, I follow the disciples and activists before me in choosing to hope in the unseen. And to sustain me, I join their centuries-old call, “Come, Holy Spirit, come!”
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, May 28, 2023