Disclaimer: I identify as an ally in this piece only because friends in the LGBTQIA community have graciously called me one and because “ally” makes a more succinct tweet than this explanation. But I don’t actually get to decide that I’m an ally. I don’t get to decide if what I say and do is helpful or hurtful to them. They do.
“If she turns the power on, maybe she saves the world. Or maybe she sets it on fire.” Revolution, The Dark Tower (Season 1 Finale)
This post was more difficult to write than I thought it would be.
It is not difficult for me to identify as an LGBT ally.
It is not difficult for me to challenge my residents and students who say or do careless things to consider the effect their behavior might have on others, and it is not difficult for me to reprimand students who, in the name of God and in their passion to serve him, say hurtful things to further what they believe to be God’s agenda.
It is difficult for me to admit that I used to be one of them.
I grew up in a Southern Baptist church. I was the in-church-every-time-the-door-was-open girl. I earned all my badges in GAs, and I completed all the levels in Acteens. I sang in all the choirs. I played handbells. I performed the Special Music. I saw you at the pole. I played piano for the children’s choir. I taught Vacation Bible School. I went to Glorieta for summer camp and jumped up and down at Michael W. Smith concerts and had a holy crush on DC Talk (although I can’t really remember which member – probably all of them).
And I came to college and sought out people just like me. I sought out my comfort zone. The Baptist Student Union took me in. They fed me and provided a safe place to air out all my grievances about this new, fast-track-to-hell world into which I had been dropped. They understood, and they agreed with me when no one else did.
I also met people who were very different from me. The Ones I Had Been Warned About.
You know the ones. You’ve probably met them, too. They’re loud and they’re proud. Get used to it.
I was warned that they were the ones who would change me to live the way they do, if they could, because that was their Agenda.
That’s okay, I thought. Let them try. I also had an agenda, and I knew that it was sure to prevail, because it was clearly God’s agenda, and my God is so big, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do (clap, clap).
Uppity – when I prayed for a friend I knew from church choir at home when, on the way to dinner and Bible study, he stopped at Mable Peabody’s to fill the condom dispenser as part of his work with AIDS Denton. I would not deign to walk through the door, but I assured myself that I already knew everything that I needed to know about what was going on in there to know it was not a place a believer had any business entering.
Snide – when I asked my friend if he was gay because he was afraid of women. He responded much more kindly than I deserved, but I took his uncharacteristically soft-spoken response as a sign that God had convicted him through my words.
Afraid – if this one thing I’d always been taught wasn’t exactly true – if they weren’t godless, reckless heathens – then what was to stop the whole house from burning down?
Knowing them did change me, but not in the way I had been told that it would.
I changed because none of the people I met fit my preconceived notions. A few of them acted like they did, but once I had a conversation with them, the act crumbled. The walls came down.
I changed because they were loyal to each other. They argued and got angry, but when it was over, they were on each other’s side. I changed because they reminded me of my family and of what I wanted in a church.
I changed because in the bathroom at Mable’s, about two years later from that night when I was so convinced that I had finally reached him, I had this conversation with my friend:
“I’m sorry about that thing I said when we met. That you were gay because you were afraid of women.”
He rolled his eyes, “That is so past. What made you even think of that?”
“I just want you to know that I don’t think that anymore.”
He clicked his tongue and waved his hand at me, shooing away my concern. “Girl, I know you love me.”
And that was it. It was that easy.
It wasn’t the serious, intense conversations that I’d had before, conversations designed not just to restore but to make sure that I Learned My Lesson and was Fully Convicted of My Sin and All The Other Ominous Capitals, where the other person made a point to look me in the eyes, prayerfully and tearfully, as they murmured a slow, reverent, heavy “I forgive you,” like an aspiring Kirk Cameron. It also wasn’t a begrudging “It’s okay,” forced through clenched teeth, offered only because we were Christians and refusal to forgive was not an option.
It was the easy forgiveness of a secure friendship.
It was the grace of a forgiveness offered and given before it was even requested.
I am an ally because I learned what forgiveness looks like at a gay bar.
I am an ally because my LGBT community is not ashamed to call me one, despite my uppity, snide, fearful fumblings.
I am an ally because they are my friends.
I am proud to call them my friends.
I am an ally because being one did not burn the whole house down (although some of it could still use some remodeling). There’s nothing our God cannot do. And our God is a God who gets what God wants. God will heal the brokenhearted and break the chains of the oppressed. God will even save their oppressors.
God changes my self-righteous heart. Every day, God changes me.
Addie Zierman’s book When We Were On Fire (which has to be one of my top ten favorite book titles of all time) comes out today, and she’s invited us to tell our stories, too. Hop over to her synchroblog and read some others. More importantly, buy the book!