Ally Is Action, Not an Identity

11/12/2015 04:32 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2016

You may think you are an ally, but you are wrong. You cannot be an ally. You can only act in allying ways, or you can avoid doing so. There is a big problem in progressive circles; often, you see people prioritize being seen as an ally more than acting like one. This is only possible when we misconstrue the word "ally" into an identity.

Being perceived as an ally is all about our public posture of who we are - it's about us. For example, if your allying with the LGBT community began and ended with a rainbow-infused Facebook profile picture, it was a posture. Acting as an ally, however, is rarely a comforting move. The irony should be apparent, because solidarity is about supporting those experiencing injustice and oppression, not the praise for doing so.

To act as an ally is essentially an act of kenosis. It involves acts of burning away some of our privilege by using our socially-derived status to speak, walk, or object to some oppressive practice or value. As such, you can't participate in only one instance of solidarity and leave it at that. That's not where our responsibility ends.

For example, I walked in a Gay Pride parade with a church where I was a minister several times as a straight man. I helped carry a banner and everything. That doesn't mean I'm allowed to wave that fact around as if it means I earned the title "ally-for-life."

You can't do these things expecting brownie points and a pat on the head. Allying is not necessarily fun; it is, however, faithful. If we affirm that God has a vision for a transformed world, we have to use our privileges to end our privileges. We have to recognize that we can be part of the problem, and earnestly seek to confront how we embody instances of oppression in our everyday lives. It means that I must lovingly reproach a friend who says he doesn't see color, but just the person, and remind him that ignoring race does nothing to stop institutional racism, while recognizing that I still benefit from white supremacy in our country every day.

We must also recognize that we will fail. Not just once, but many times. An ally-as-identity will not act for fear of making a mistake, of how we will be perceived. We will fail repeatedly as anyone learning a skill must fail in order to grow.

Being by nature a quieter person, and sometimes unsure of myself, I don't always speak up when I hear someone (especially if I don't know them well) speaking without compassion for another community. I can't write my silence off as, "Well, I know I'm an ally in my heart, and that's what matters."

There are no allies of the heart, just as there are no Christians of the heart. Being a Christian means doing justice, showing mercy, and walking humbly with God. Likewise, being an ally involves actions.

Acting as an ally means showing up when people ask you to be there. There is a big difference between being an ally and being a nice person. It means speaking up when people say ignorant things instead of waiting for someone from the community being spoken of to respond. Acting as an ally is a daily practice ground in the desire to participate in the liberating work God is doing in our world today.

You can't be a walker if you don't walk. You can't be gardener if you don't garden. You can act as an ally only if you act as an ally. So let's drop the "ally as identity" label. For those we say we are allying with, it doesn't do them any good.