Pride Month: Am I An Ally?
The United Methodist Church, in which I’m ordained, is rooted in Wesleyan theology, a grace-infused understanding of how God works. We believe that God just…loves us. We aren’t entitled to God’s love. We can’t do anything to earn it. That’s grace.
As a recovering Type A overachiever, I am both confounded and comforted by that kind of love.
John Wesley believed that our reception of grace is a journey of being transformed in partnership with God, and he used the metaphor of a house to describe different ways that God acts in our lives through grace.
There’s the porch – the thing we come up onto as we head toward the house. That represents prevenient grace, the love of God that goes before us, wooing and prompting us forward.
Then there’s the door, which represents justifying grace, the love that forgives us. Many faith systems emphasize this above all else, and often they speak of it as a singular event when we are pardoned from all wrongdoing.
What I love about Wesleyan theology is that the pardon part is only one way that God works. There’s the house itself – sanctifying grace. This is where God is continually transforming us through God’s love to live more like Christ.
When you think about a porch, door, and house, where do you spend the most time? The house. We don’t stand in the doorway all day. If we did, some parent would be yelling “Were you raised in a barn??” We spend most of our discipleship steeped in this sanctifying love from God that helps us grow to be more like Jesus. We live in the house.
Going on to “perfection”
Wesley believed so strongly in the power of God’s sanctifying grace that he asserted that we could reach “Christian perfection.”
Wait wait. Don’t stop reading yet.
Christian perfection often gets misinterpreted. It doesn’t mean that humans can become so sanctified that we are flawless. Christian perfection is being habitually filled with love of God and neighbor and walking as Christ walked.
As far as Wesley was concerned, the “way of wholeness” (he called it the via salutis) is not linear. We don’t walk up onto the porch, cross the threshold and live in the house forever, never to leave again. God’s grace is dynamic; our lives are fluid. We’re going in and out of the house all the time, experiencing God’s grace in so many different ways. Put simply, we mess up, return to God, and try again. Lather, rinse, repeat, thank God.
The Ally Spectrum
A few years back I was introduced to the Straight for Equality Ally Spectrum. The Spectrum asserts that being an ally isn’t one thing, and it isn’t a thing we ultimately achieve perfectly; it’s a journey that we are on. (You really should read about it, and the rest of the content, in The Guide to Being a Straight Ally, a publication by PFLAG.)
There are several iterations of this concept. One is the Action Continuum for Allies which associates concrete actions with certain points of allyship along a spectrum.
For so many years I wrestled with the guilt of not being a good enough ally – being affirming but not outspoken.
Learning about allyship as a spectrum along which we are moving was as comforting as knowing that I can’t do anything to earn God’s grace. It relieved me of the impossible goal of worldly perfection, and it actually prompted me to be a better, bolder ally.
But is the Ally Spectrum harmful?
I’m not 100% sold on the points of progress on the Ally Spectrum, because it runs the risk of sanctifying complacency.
As the United Methodist Church continues to drag out its process of making the “will-they-or-won’t-they” decision about recognizing the God-given equality of LGBTQ+ people by marrying and ordaining queer folx, I am becoming increasingly aware of the “allies” who are affirming but won’t speak up about their love for and support of queer folx. I’m frustrated with, and upset with, them. If they’d speak up, we’d have a much better shot at change.
When “allies” choose silence and safety over the consequences they face by speaking out, they are perpetuating harm on our queer siblings. They are letting LGBTQ+ folx continue to take the brunt of the ways the world and the Church conspire against and dehumanize them.
United Methodism has distilled some of Wesley’s teaching to the Three Simple Rules: “Do no harm, do good, stay in love with God.” The very first rule is “Do no harm.”
Silent “allies” really aren’t allies. They are doing harm.
The Ally Spectrum is characterized by willingness, which is a laudable virtue, but willingness does not an ally make. Allies take action. The first point on the spectrum should be speaking up in interpersonal conversations when a homophobic comment is made. That’s the bare minimum of allyship.
Wesley and the Ally Spectrum
While the Ally Spectrum depicts allyship as a process of growth, much like a process of participating in sanctifying grace, I think it could take a couple more notes from the porch-door-house metaphor.
The willingness to learn about queer oppression is receiving prevenient grace. Coming up on that porch we receive the love God has for us that prompts us toward a path of growth. But it is not allyship.
The recognition that we haven’t spoken up when we should have, and the subsequent commitment to change, is receiving justifying grace. (If you’re getting hung up on the word “justification,” think justifying your margins in a document…bringing yourself into alignment with God. God forgives us and pulls us back to God.) To recognize our shortcomings and to know that God forgives us is to walk through the door. But it is not allyship.
Once we have been prompted and pardoned, then we move into action. And that’s allyship – the process of actively partnering with God’s sanctifying grace.
Allyship is living in the house.
Growth in allyship isn’t linear. We allies screw it up sometimes. Even when we are moving along the spectrum, we regress sometimes. We let risk and fear dominate courage and compassion. We’re in and out of the house, so to speak.
We need to remember that the “way of wholeness” includes repenting of where we’ve failed. We have to face our failures, name them, commit to doing better and then actively do better.
Lest you think I’m pointing a finger at the silently affirming folx out there but not seeing the log in my own eye, know that I look back at my own mute days and confess my cowardice and my preference for self over neighbor. I was affirming of queer folx then, but I wasn’t an ally.
Partnered with God, we move forward together along the spectrum.
Rev. Jenny Williams (she/her) is an ordained United Methodist pastor who believes the Church needs to reclaim her prophetic witness by speaking into issues of injustice and walking with people marginalized by Empire. Her current attempt to follow Jesus has her focusing on solidarity, not charity, particularly with queer folx and BIPOC. Read more of Jenny’s work here.