The Liturgy of Pride
Professor Darel Paul examines the theo-political nature of the pride parades as liturgies of the American civil religion.
The famous twentieth century sociologist Edward Shils suggested that a belief or practice must be transmitted at least two times over three generations to be considered a tradition. If we take a generation to be approximately twenty-five years, fifty years seems a fair estimate for the minimum length of time some practice must be engaged in or belief held to be considered “traditional.”
By this rule of thumb, the Pride parade now qualifies as an American tradition. First held in four different American cities over the weekend of June 27–28, 1970, the Pride parade turned fifty-four this year. As do all traditions, it has evolved with the times. The Pride parade was initially countercultural, but by the 1990s it (like everything else) turned neoliberal and won for itself mainstream respectability. Now the largest corporations in the world, the most powerful politicians and state agencies, and all the institutions of civil society are eager celebrants. Since President Bill Clinton declared the first Pride Month in 1999, the Pride parade marches on as the culmination of an entire festival season recognized by the United States federal government. Today the Progress Pride flag hangs alongside the Stars and Stripes at the White House, above state capitols, at foreign embassies, and along the main streets of American small towns. Pride is among America’s most significant exports and a hallmark of our national culture.
But why has Pride become a ubiquitous American phenomenon? What is it about the Pride parade in particular that has made it anAmerican tradition embraced by tens of millions? The answer lies in an appreciation for the religious and even theological commitments of Pride and how they manifest in liturgical acts, above all the Pride parade.
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