PRIDE WEEK 2019

Rev. Robert Dunham, Interim Pastor, First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York

From an article he wrote for the congregation. The church sits on the PRIDE parade route.

In recent weeks we have been thinking and hearing a lot about Pride, as the world comes to New York City to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. I’ve done a good bit of reading about Stonewall of late – about the anger, frustration, and determination of those overheated days and nights. Though it was harder to discern at the time, the anger that erupted along Christopher Street fifty years ago tonight – June 28, 1969 – was a particularly important catalyst in the crusade for rights and recognition. The anger wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t polite. The principal players were not always the most sympathetic. But their anger was certainly understandable. In re-reading the reports, I found myself once again turning to the words of the poet David Whyte:

Anger is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for a body, for a family and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all, possibly about to be hurt. Stripped of physical imprisonment and violent reaction, anger is the purest form of care; the internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect, and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for.

We have all witnessed anger masquerading as mindless venting, but I prefer to envision it at its best, as Whyte describes it – a channeled form of compassion and care. We could use more of that kind of passion in these days so full of news reports of resurgent racism and family separations and ever prolific gun violence, of governance in which, as the poet James Russell Lowell once said, we find “truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne.” We need the kind of indignation that reminds us to what and to whom be belong, what values we believe are worthy of protection, and that for which we are willing to risk our own comforts.

Of course, as rights have been extended and recognition and acceptance for LGBTQ sisters and brothers have taken hold, the Pride marches in this city and elsewhere have grown less defiant and more celebratory over the years. And certainly, there is much to celebrate, both in the culture-at-large and within the church. But progress, as the late preacher William Sloane Coffin said, more often follows the path of a pendulum than an arrow. There are warning signs of retrenchment and resistance and threats of harm. This fiftieth anniversary comes during such a period, and so I weigh the anger that I find rising within me, praying that it is, indeed, a deep form of compassion – a righteous anger that perhaps may fuel a holy determination, especially in our quest to be what God calls us to be – sisters and brothers one to another.

We at First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York will be gathering and worshiping and serving around the edges of the Pride march this Sunday, and I hope you will be with us to bear witness