by Rev. Jeff Nelson, Lead Pastor & Rev. Caleb Williams, Minister of Worship & Arts
The first in our four-week series for Pride Month.
At Royal Oak First, we are committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in the community of faith. We lament and we seek to resist and reinvent all the ways that Christianity has too often been judgmental, exclusionary, and harmful to LGBTQ+ persons.
The heterosexual and cisgender members of our congregation are learning what it means to be a community of allies. We are learning to be in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ members, family, friends, and neighbors. This journey is still very new for us, and we are far from experts.
We are grateful for teachers like Deacon Angela Lippard, a local spiritual leader and member of the LGBTQ+ community. She lives out her call of presence and solidarity within her community. Here are some of the things she is teaching us about being an ally:
Ally is a Verb
Being allies is not something we are—it is something we do. It is not enough to just say we are welcoming and affirming. It is not enough to put All Are Welcome on our signs, literature, and persons, even if it’s in rainbow colors. Our ideas are only as good as our actions make them. Being an ally is not a one-and-done process. Deacon Lippard speaks of the difference between cultural competency and cultural humility. “The community is diverse. The language we use evolves and changes and we always need to self evaluate. The learning is continuous.”
Know Where to Show Up
Often, when a church seeks to be inclusive, we start by declaring “safe space” within the walls of their church, put a welcoming statement on the website, and then wait for LGBTQ+ persons to show up. Being an ally is about being present outside “our” safe spaces and being present at community events sponsored by and in support of the LGBTQ+ Community. Local Pride events, The Transgender Day of Visibility, fundraisers, speakers, and concerts are great places to show up. However, it is important to remember to not enter LGBTQ+ safe spaces without LGBTQ+ persons asking us to be there, or without making sure that allies are welcome.
Know When to Shut Up
When in LGBTQ + spaces, repeat: “This is not my space, I will not fill it.” Then, follow through and actually do so. Admittedly, this is hard for heterosexual, cisgender, white males like us. Because of our privilege, we’re used to our opinions being heard and valued. We’re not used to waiting to be asked to speak, and we’re very comfortable assuming leadership in a group. Being an ally is learning to be quiet. It is learning to listen. It is learning to wait to be asked to offer an opinion and being content when nobody asks at all. If called out for being offensive, it is learning to not argue or debate. Don’t take offense to feedback. Apologize but don’t make it about you. Take a moment to reflect. Realize the difference between intent and impact. While we may not intend to hurt others, we have to own the impact of our actions. Sometimes, it might be necessary to leave or give the space over to those we have offended or upset. Because, after all, “this is not my space.”
Know When to Speak Up
Where we need to use our voice is within our own communities of privilege. Straight, cisgender folks like us have power in social situations that our LGBTQ+ siblings may not. When we witness homophobia and transphobia in our daily lives, in any form, be they comments, insults, intimidation, or violence, it’s up to us to call it out. Allies are obligated to use our privilege and power to hold others to a different ethical standard. Even jokes among friends have the power to teach the idea that LGBTQ+ persons are other or “less than.” Homophobic and transphobic behavior is often about enforcing cultural norms. When an ally, someone with insider status, calls out this behavior, we can help redraw the lines of insider versus outsider. And, even if the bad behavior doesn’t stop, it tells the victim that they are not alone. Allys must also use their voice to engage in systems advocacy regarding laws that are damaging to the LGBTQ+ community. Ask where your elected representatives stand on LGBTQ+ issues and be ready to call, email, and write letters to advocate for justice and equality.
Do the Work
It is important to remember that it is not an LGBTQ+ persons’ responsibility to educate us. Being an ally means educating ourselves. It means reading books and articles, it means listening to podcasts. It means showing up for lectures or watching documentaries. Or, as my friend Brianna always says, “You can always Google that s@*#$!” Questions about intimacy, “coming out,” surgeries, hormones, etc. are never appropriate. Want to know what allies should ask their LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors? Ask folks about the last movie they saw, their favorite restaurant, what they are streaming on Netflix, their kids, their plans for the upcoming holiday.
Donate to Organizations Doing the Work
There are organizations that have been working for the safety, dignity, and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ persons for decades. Non-profit organizations like the Ruth Ellis Center (in Detroit), Affirmations (in Ferndale), and the Trevor Project (nationwide) offer specialized, experienced services like crisis intervention, support groups, and suicide prevention. Where other organizations often get funding from the government and religious organizations, these nonprofits rely more heavily on private donations. So, if you give mostly to a church, consider also giving to groups like these. Every donation to organizations like these helps make the world a little better for our LGBTQ+ siblings. It is a small way to address the harm our religious communities have caused.
Know Your Bible
Often at the center of religious exclusion is the Bible. Quoting specific scripture on matters of human sexuality, marriage, and same-gender attraction are often the quick and swift way to shut down dialogue and enforce exclusion. For centuries, this technique of “cherry-picking” the bible has been used to support oppression and injustice of all kinds, including slavery, Anti-Semitism, the genocide of indigenous peoples, and violence against women. The bible does say some hurtful and harmful things, so it essential that Christian allies develop a knowledge of scripture that can help protect our LGBTQ+ siblings. So, take that next bible study at your church. Read a book like Unclobber. Listen to TED Talks like Kristin Saylor or Rev. Dr. Cheri DiNovo, and look for more on this last topic next week when we look at 5 Things to Remember when the Bible Is Used Against the LGBTQ+ Community.
Whatever your perspective, we hope this starts a conversation. Feel free to reach out to us through Director of Communications, Sam Garrett, firstname.lastname@example.org, and thanks in advance for your help.