I was recently given a necklace with the word “Ally” stamped on it. “Ally” in the sense of allied, allying, being an ally. I thought the title was perfect. This is who I am, and also what I do.
But, what does this word actually mean?
Ally is a verb: to unite, to join, and to connect through a mutual relationship. Ally is also a noun: a person who associates with another for a common purpose, someone who supports or cooperates. In biology, an ally is a plant, animal or organism that bears an evolutionary relationship to another –often as member of the same family.
I am not a gay Christian. I am simply a Christian. I represent a Christian who has walked alongside my LGBTQ brothers and sisters for well over a decade. This journey has changed me. This journey has opened my heart in ways I could never have imagined. I found that the biological definition of ally fits me well: an organism that bears an evolutionary relationship to another –often as member of the same family.
It pains me deeply that often other people of faith start with difference instead of the beautiful alignment that happens when we share a profound love of God.
We are from the same family, the family of God. We belong to each other. We need each other. We have a tremendous amount to learn from one another.
This question was recently presented to me: I have found that most Christian allies are affirming to the LGBT+ because they, at some point in their life, were treated as less than by the greater church. It doesn't mean that allies understand what it's like to be gay, but they can at least understand the struggle. Have you found this to be true in your life?
I was raised in a series of conservative, Evangelical, non-denominational churches; every one of these was led by a straight, white, man. In my high school youth group, the youth pastor’s wife told me that it was right and Biblical for women to subservient to men. I attended a Christian college where all of the spiritual leaders on campus were men. As a young woman with strategic and leadership gifts, I was overtly and subtly told that I could attend church and be a Christian, but there was a limit to how I could participate in a community of faith. My full self was not welcome. This is a horrible feeling and one that I am slowly reconciling.
Being an ally helps.
I think many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters feel this same way. They are often (but not always) welcome to be in churches or Christian groups, but only if they do not insist on being their true and full selves.
I fully believe that God created us, loves us, and deeply desires us to show up. Show up with our full selves. All of us. Every part.
I also fully believe that gay Christians are special. Gay Christians have helped me heal in my own pain of rejection and the questioning my gifts, and they have also shown me great courage in pursuing faith with God regardless of the horrible things said and done in the name of God. I am inspired by my LGBTQ family.
Today, this inspiration has moved me into other areas of ally-ness.
As an ally I have traveled into a war zone in Eastern Congo, I have held the babies of dying mothers in AIDS clinics, I have provided platforms for women to share their voices when they have been labeled “voiceless.” I have become a vocal proponent of things like needle exchange and overdose prevention, global orphan care overhaul, and the ethics of diversity in leadership. I have found new courage each time to reach across the barriers that divide us to say “me too” and “we are in this together.”
Aligning myself with people often found on the margins has altered my life in more ways than I can count. Jesus constantly chastised the self-righteous religious leaders and chose to associate with those on the margins.
Perhaps becoming an ally is a window into what it means to be more like Jesus.
Ruth Bell Olsson is an activist and ally who lives in Grand Rapids with her partner Jeff and three children: Zinnia, Oskar and Kagiso.
Ruth holds degrees from Wheaton College and Fuller Theological Seminary. Her background includes work with churches and their outreach efforts, board positions with several local non-profits (including many years with the Grand Rapids Red Project), and global consulting with Bethany Global. Ruth currently writes and speaks on a variety of topics, her ally-ness being a favorite.