10 Tips for Being a Good Ally

“I Stand on the Right Side of History” — SF PRide 2011 — Photo: Reyes-Chow

This past weekend, I  had the privilege of spending a few days with the folks at the  2014 Christianity 21 Conference in Denver, CO. Along with some truly gifted thinkers and theologies, I was one of the 21 main speakers tasked with bringing a “big idea” to the event. The only requirement was that whatever idea I brought, it not be one that I had presented on before. Now, I have lots of ideas . . . mostly little ones that will never see the light of day, but I eventually settled on talking about the nature of being an Ally, more specifically, #AGoodAlly

This group tends to be White, liberal-ish, justice minded, educated and from a mix of Christian traditions.  I am friends with many of these folks and, while not always agreeing, appreciate the genuine nature with which faith, church and life are faced. Because this is a crowd that I feel comfortable being part of, I also wanted to push a bit on how I have seen them, us, myself behave when in the position of being an Ally.

Below is the the talk and you can see the slides on slideshareConfession — I originally wanted to title this #AllyOrAsshat, but, instead, I went with #AGoodAlly.

As I have shared before, I am a bit uncomfortable with the term Ally in the fight for justice in the world and the church when it comes to issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, etc. As we have seen time and time again, even the best seasoned allies can get into trouble. We overstep our bounds, we overestimate our rolls, we flat out have meltdowns that eviscerate years of good will and we inadvertently add to and exacerbate the marginalization and exclusion that has drawn us to the struggle in the first place. What often begins as a welcomed gesture of solidarity between allies and the oppressed, seems too often to end up with us “allies” and those we are trying to support battling one another.

To be clear, I am not dismissing or discounting the role that Allies play in fight against injustice, marginalization and oppression  for I firmly believe that all movements towards justice must be enacted across many lines of privilege and experience. People need to speak out within their communities, stand up against norms that they have been part of and step out of their places of comfort if they are truly committed to supporting marginalized communities.

Allies are crucial.

Allyhood is also as diverse as the communities to which we belong. In one case I may be the ally to a community (male to female)  and in another I may need allies to stand with the community to which I belong (White to Asian). There is no ONE way to be a good ally.

That said, I think there may be some things that we can all keep on mind as we find ourselves of the Ally side of a struggle. So from my own experience and observations of the best and worst of Ally action, I would like to offer 10 postures, approaches and tips that I believe #AGoodAlly embodies and enacts.

#AGoodAlly uses the ally label sparingly; it is better to earn the title from others than to claim it for yourself. [Tweet it!]

When someone calls him/herself an “ally” I cringe just a bit. I don’t cringe because I doubt the intention or motivation behind claiming the label, but because, when used too often, it can begin to sound like a “if you have to tell us how awesome you are, then you are probably not all that awesome” kind of thing. I generally err on the side of NOT using it unless some from the group I am supporting uses it.

#AGoodAlly doesn’t make the struggle about them or fetishize oppression to feel part of the struggle. [Tweet it!]

Yes, the journey to supporting a group has been difficult. We have had to confront lifelong beliefs and, if it has not already begun friends, family and community have begun to question our state of mind at best and have ostracized us at worst. And while I do not want to diminish what allies going through, we must be careful not to trumpet our own suffering too loudly. You see, for many folks who need our support, LGBTQ, women, people of color, our suffering, ostracization and struggle most often pales in comparison to what they face for a lifetime.

#AGoodAlly knows when and where their voice needs to be heard — or not heard. [Tweet it!]

There will always be times when an ally must speak to his/her own family or community; but we must be careful that the ally voice does not become the default voice for the struggle when the realities of any struggle are best shared by those who experience the struggle in the first place. Allies must both speak for those who cannot speak for themselves while simultaneously working to create space where those voices can be heard in person.

#AGoodAlly knows that one cannot fully know and understand the struggles of the othered. [Tweet it!]

The “honorary [insert marginalized group here]” title is thrown around a good deal both by those who come from particular communities as well as those of us who want to be connected to them. Allies must be careful not to overstep the bounds of understanding. In our yearning to be compassionate we try to place ourselves in the other’s shoes, which is good; but not to the point where we claim, “We know what it like to be . . .” because allies by their very nature and possessing the ability to choose to be allied to a struggle for justice, can move in and out of the realm of struggle.

#AGoodAlly does not see struggle as a game to win, but as a lifelong commitment to solidarity and justice. [Tweet it!]

There will be times when it will feel like we are in a “no-win” situation, being challenged by the community we are trying to support as well as communities that we are trying to challenge. This is to be expected and it will feel unfair and overwhelming. But . . .  if we fall into the idea that the main purpose of being an “ally” is to somehow attain a personal victory then we are only doing it to somehow elevate our own sense of self, which, if we believe that part of being an ally is confronting our own privilege, then ending up at the top of the medal stand should be the the last reason that we are allies in the first place.

#AGoodAlly doesn’t take everything personally and understands the insidious nature of institutional injustice. [Tweet it!]

If some of you have followed the twitter hashtags like #blackprivilege #notyourasiansidekick or #everydaysexism you would not be human if you didn’t feel the urge to respond with, “But not all X are like that” or “But I am not like that” or otherwise try to discount the idea and reality of institutional realities. While we may not always like or agree with what is being said, sometimes sweeping generalizations need to be expressed in order to understand the sweeping nature of institutional exclusion.

#AGoodAlly takes some things personally and knows that being an ally does not purge a lifetime of privilege. [Tweet it!]

Being an ally does not mean that all of a sudden we are devoid of any or all of the things that put us in the position of being able to choose to be an ally in the first place. Our positions of dominance be it gender, racism, ability, sexuality, etc., whether we want them to or not, continually play a role in perpetuating institutional injustices. With this in mind, we must able to name our own personal contributions to injustice and embrace the lifelong challenge to mitigate the negative effects of that privilege.

#AGoodAlly welcomes other allies and understands the power of diverse strategies and partners. [Tweet it!]

One of the dangers, especially for allies who have some public recognition, is that we acts as if we have been crowned THE designated and head ally for struggle X be it LGBTQ inclusion the church, race relations, sexism, etc.  This gets played out in “you’re either with us or you’re against us” rhetoric around particular campaigns (usually out own) or condescension towards people who are new to the struggle, are unknown  or are not deemed to hold any strategic value. Allies must be able to work together which includes welcoming new allies, supporting a variety of strategies and holding one another accountable so that we do not make this about us.

#AGoodAlly avoids saviorism and constantly reflects upon their role and place in the larger struggle.  [Tweet it!]

This might be the most important of them all. Sometimes in our vigor and passion to fight injustice, we fall into the trap of saviorhood. The male that fights for women’s rights, the straight/CIS person who advocates for LGBTQ people, the White person confronting racism. I have no doubt that most begin with great intentions, but as we have seen over and over again, when unchecked and unreflective, even the most passionate and well-meaning person can being to suppress  and oppress the very voices that we set out to support. Again, we must not buy into the idea that it is through our privilege that we will save an entire people, but it is through the deconstruction of that privilege that a people can be liberated from injustice.

#AGoodAlly expects no medals or accolades for doing that which should be done all along. Everyone wants to feel appreciated. [Tweet it!]

We all know that an occasional “thank you for for what you do” feels good. That said, one of the biggest dangers that allies face is to feel as though we somehow deserve recognition for standing with and speaking out on behalf of marginalized communities. This comes out most when we are critiqued and we and our defenders respond, with some version of , “…but look what Ally X has done for the struggle” or “look what I have done for the struggle” as if we not only get a “pass” on being criticized, but should be given an award for even being in the struggle in the first place. When we begin to demand respect and recognition for living in a way that ought to be the norm, we again, lift our own lives over and above those with whom we claim solidarity. So, while there must always be room for grace and forgiveness when we do get a little full of ourselves, allies must find affirmation in ways that don’t require us to be at the center of it all.

Now of course these are just a few tips and there are no doubt countless helpful ideas that may be influenced by personal contexts and the particularities of issue. To effectively stand in genuine solidarity with communities of struggle, we allies must always be self-reflective about our roles while simultaneously being sensitive the needs of the communities that we are trying to support. So in the end, no matter the struggles that we may face in choosing to ally with those impacted by the injustices of the world, if we are committed to a world that is just, reconciling and whole, we will always strive to be #AGoodAlly.

If you have more tips, please leave them here or use the #AGoodAlly hashtag on twitter. And again, if you would like to see, use and liberate the slides, feel free to grab them [10 Ways to be a Good Ally on Slideshare]. 

Originally posted on www.reyes-chow.com

Why This Christian Will Never Own a Gun

Sign the petition: Christians Standing Together Against Gun Violence.

Photo by twak on flickr

As a Christian and a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) I often struggle with Scripture and how God intends for me to live in the world. Jesus and our faith demands of us to make difficult decisions in life that often stand firmly against our own upbringing, our own wants and, at times, our friends and family.

I believe that, today, the question of gun ownership and fighting gun violence is one of those times.

Trust me, I do not wade into the topic of guns lightly. After posting on this topic here and here, I am fully aware of the passion with which people approach this issue and the subsequent conversations about it. While some would say it would be wiser and even safer to avoid such engagement, I disagree. For if I, as a Christian, cannot find a way to engage in healthy and helpful conversations with those  who disagree with me, Christian or not, then, I am abdicating my responsibility to live the kind of life that I believe God hopes for me to live in the world.

Still, I know that there will be some immediate reactions by many who might react to any opinion that seems anti-gun, so let me try to pre-empt some of the obvious pushback that is likely to be directed my way.  I have no delusions that commentors will, in fact, read this blog before commenting, but for those of you who do and are interested in fruitful conversation, know this . . .

  • When I say that I will never own a gun because of my Christian faith, that does not mean that I am saying that you are not a Christian if you do.
  • I do understand that there is a difference between owning a rifle for hunting and owning a handgun for self-defense. And while I would never own either, my Christian sensibilities are not as challenged by those who have grown up in a culture of hunting as by those who advocate widespread handgun availability.
  • This is not about the 2nd Amendment or gun control, but rather a public expression of how my faith informs the way I chose to live in the world.  There is a time and place for conversations about civil engagement and faith, but in this post, my primary authority is not the US Constitution, but my faith in Jesus Christ and God’s unfolding reality as told through the Bible.

Gun ownership, gun violence and gun control are obviously not new debates in our nation. At the same time, I do think that the ideological, philosophical and theological foundations that give structure to the arguments about guns in our culture are beginning to manifest themselves in ways that are tearing apart the social and cultural understandings that have brought this country together for a very long time. In the name of free speech, we are experiencing a rise of violent political rhetoric; in the defense of freedom, personal interactions are increasingly tinged with violent posturing; and  recent shootings – mass or otherwise – are creating a fatigue that further normalizes gun violence in our culture.

As a Christian, a pastor, a father, a citizen of the United States and member of the larger global community, this is not an acceptable reality, nor does this align with the many ways in which I believe Christ calls us to live. There is much in the teachings of Christ that offer me pause, but in the case of guns, any way I look at the questions of owning a gun and the risks involved to the larger community, it is abundantly clear to me why I will never own a gun.

I first begin with my place in the greater community. I choose not to own a gun and provide an opportunity for the violence that so often accompanies guns because this is how I would hope others would be in the world. Yes, many will label me a fool and accuse me of creating an atmosphere of inviting gun violence into my life, but when it comes to faith, my actions, while defying logic to many in the world, is an expression of my deep commitment to God.

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

– Matthew 22:36-40

Secondly, nowhere in Scripture does Jesus give us permission to solve our problems, respond to aggression or even defend ourselves with violence. In word and in deed, we are often called to fight injustice and violence with words and actions that are distinctly NOT violent, even in self-defense. Turning the other cheek, defending with a swordstoning of the prostitute, etc, Jesus reminds us of other powerful ways to respond to those who would chose to goad us into violent conflict. Yes, we do those things out of self-survival and self-defense, and justified by society or not, viewed through a lens of the Christian faith violence of any kind cannot be justified.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

– Romans 12:17-21

People may call this approach to faith and life absurd, weak or out of touch, but this is where my Christian faith leads me to stand and I consider this posture of non-violence in word and deed, to be one of power, transformation and graciousness. Again, because this is where my faith leads me, does not mean that I think any less of those who decide that gun ownership aligns with their faith, only that I have chosen differently.

I believe is that at some point, people of faith must stand side-by-side speaking together to let the world and one another know that there is a different way to live and respond to that which may threaten us . . . and it is one that does not involve guns, so if you would like to add your name to a “petition” is support of church leaders everywhere who are engaged in importnat work against gun violence, please sign sign and share This Petition:  Christians Standing Together Against Gun Violence.