Being An Ally Means Taking Risks

November 24, 2015

 

Being An Ally Means Taking Risks
Michael Cobb
Do You MIND?? Newsletter
Methodists In New Directions (MIND)


A Reconciling Ministry in the New York Annual Conference
www.mindny.org

 

November 2015

 

If you are reading this, there is a good chance you might see yourself as an ally. But what kind of ally are you?

 

That word is packed with meaning, and what one person considers ally behavior may be a far cry from how a different person sees things. Not long ago, I was at a conference when the subject of defining the term “ally” came up. One gay panelist noted that if you are in a room with people making homophobic comments and you don’t challenge them, then “you are not my ally.”

 

So that is a pretty compelling answer: If queer people don’t recognize your behaviors as those of an ally, then I don’t think you can claim to be one.

Certainly there are many people who would never do or say anything harmful to a gay person—and thank God for that!—but that is only a first step. It doesn’t end there. There is a difference between being a passive ally, who would never say anything homophobic—and being willing to stick one’s neck out. Being an ally involves laying down one’s privilege. It involves taking risks. As Elie Wiesel observed, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

 

United Methodists are seen as having taken a stance against LGBTQ people due to our denomination’s discrimination, and so it is up to those who dissent to counter this as publicly as possible if it is going to change. We are proud of the many people who have taken a public stand for marriage equality, and of the many clergy who have risked much to minister to LGBTQ people despite institutional prejudice.

 

Being an ally means countering hate speech, no matter the source. It involves amplifying queer voices that too often disappear from institutional narratives. Working to end our denomination’s doctrinal prejudice and institutional discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is not something that happens without risk.

 

Change is hard, and institutional change can be even harder. It requires speaking up and taking the risk that some people won’t like what one has to say. If you consider yourself an ally, we are happy to have you as part of this movement—but please don’t be satisfied with being a silent friend! The stakes are too high, and queer voices have been muted and ignored for far too long.

 

A Pause to Give Thanks

While many of us have much for which to be thankful, we ought be careful that it is not gained at the expense of others. As we consider the many injustices committed against LGBTQ people, we cannot divorce ourselves from the movement for social and economic justice for so many others. At the intersections of oppression (race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, political persuasion, ethnicity, religious identity, gender identity) are human beings who are yearning to breathe free. Until such a time, MIND’s work continues and we do so with any and all who join us and with any and all who are oppressed.

 

This Thursday, many of us will gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. In recent years, the American myth that this celebration was in grateful recognition of the Pilgrim’s survival in the “new” world, sharing an abundant harvest with Native Americans after a particularly tough winter, has come under scrutiny that has been long overdue. Indeed, what is “Thanksgiving Day” for many of us is known as “a Day of Mourning” by many American Indians. Theirs is a painful legacy of imposed exile from their land, enslavement, sickness and death from disease brought to them by European settlers, and terrible abuse by the US government.

 

MIND is thankful for the justice that has come with much hard work, but we recognize that the work is far from over. Let us join in the call for justice for Native Americans by first facing the truth about the history of America and this holiday we call “Thanksgiving.” By refusing to whitewash our history, and by joining our hearts and minds in the pursuit of “justice for all,” we will bring far greater social and political gains for everyone than would be possible going it alone.

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