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None of us are free until we are free
June brings us awareness of racial oppression as we celebrate Juneteenth, queer oppression as we celebrate Pride, and the pain of misogyny in the church – these issues are not separate.
In the various communities I’ve been a part of, I have noticed a troubling trend: when matters of racism come up, often white people will bring up other injustices, almost as a retort to antiracism. Inadvertently, racism and sexism are posed against one another. Rather than embracing these limitations, though, and working on intersecting them, we often defend ourselves, using our power, to not listen to the other. So, as it turns out, brown men like me can use their masculine power to ward off accusations of sexism, and white women can do the same with their whiteness.
But our oppression and liberation are all connected. If we lean on patriarchy or whiteness (or our able-bodiedness or our straightness), we won’t be undoing the powers that oppress us, but rather reinforcing them.
As I observed the results of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting banning Saddleback and other churches that ordained women, I felt disheartened. Not just because the historically racist and sexist denomination acted just like it has always acted, but because I noticed a lack of intersectionality. Even if the SBC affirmed women, they would still have to reckon with their sordid legacy on race and their continued hostility toward LGBTQIA folks. This is not to discount the progress that could be made, but rather, to show that much more must be made. Celebrations of the ordination of women that undercut matters of racism and LBGTQIA liberation fall short; that doesn’t mean that progress can’t be made, but we should hesitate to name the importance of that progress. I am grateful that there are voices even within my own denomination, MCUSA, that are working on that.
To me, it’s clear that there are limits to denominations and churches that affirm women’s ordination when they only consider cis-gendered women to be women. We aren’t fully inclusive of women in ministry unless also we affirm transwomen. In turn, then, we aren’t fully inclusive of women until we are LGBTQIA affirmation. So-called egalitarian pastors who are not affirming are only partially liberatory. And too often they defend their position and are interlocutory with complementarians, that is to say, people who do not affirm women. Often, in the name of unity, egalitarian, but non-affirming pastors, find solidarity with complementarian pastors, who are both hostile toward LGBTQIA people.
But that isn’t to say the only progress that needs to be made in terms of intersectionality should be with LGBTQIA affirmation, we also need to include the voices and experiences of people of color and disabled people. We aren’t truly advocates for the oppressed unless we do. That also means that racial justice must incorporate LBGTQIA inclusion and disability advocacy because our freedoms are locked into each other.
If Christians take Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 seriously, we must intersect our oneness in Christ by loving across difference because in Christ there are no Jews or Greek, slaves or free, men or women. We are trying to respect our differences and love across them, without ignoring them. Our liberation is tied up in one another, in the radical egalitarian community called the church.
Ibram X. Kendi, in How To Be An Antiracist, says, “To truly be antiracist is to be feminist. To truly be feminist is to be antiracist. [...] We cannot be antiracist if we are homophobic or transphobic. [...] All Black lives include those of poor transgender Black women, perhaps the most violated and oppressed of all the Black intersectional groups.”
Kendi understands the intersection of justice, and how feminism, anti-ableism, antiracism, and LGBTQIA inclusion are all connected. And he takes a risk when he says this because non-affirming allies consider the movement for Black lives to be one of LGBTQIA inclusion. They are appropriately isolated from the work if they are stuck in their viewpoints and don’t want to change or grow. Or if they expect to be accommodated.
So often, Christians who are not affirming, for example, but want to be inclusive of women and racial minorities feel politically homeless. In fact, it is this view point that I have most consistently encountered as one calling for a third way. It is exactly what Tim Keller meant when he said that Christians don’t fit into the two-party system, or what Tish Harrison Warren wrote this week about a “whole life ethic.” This political homelessness is found in those who want to advocate for certain kinds of oppression and not others, who want to elevate the voices of some of the marginalized, while ignoring the voices of other. The work we need to engage in involves listening to all voices, especially those voices that are at many intersections, like Black trans women. We also need to focus on systems of economics, violence, and policing that benefit from all of these oppressions, and we need to resist them. The capitalist political economy forms us according to these oppressions and we need another way altogether. We need to create societies where the most marginalized, and oppressed, feel free to be themselves and be welcome. That is our path to wellness.
And while we are all on a road toward fullness in Christ, where we mutually advocate for one another, we must challenge each other to grow where we are blind, and not submit to the fact that some of us are just rooted in our bigotry. We can’t tolerate intolerance, we must seek transformation. We can’t have a unity and an inclusion that burdens the most vulnerable. Our pursuit of racial justice, disability justice, queer justice, and feminist justice, all have to work together. We must divest of the powers that be, patriarchy, whiteness, straightness, and able-bodiedness in order to achieve that, and be filled with Jesus. If we trade sexism for racism, if we sacrifice queer folks for the sake of Christian unity, if we agree to disagree about matters of oppression, we’re still wielding the devil’s tools of oppression. We must commit ourselves to a personal and communal transformation that undoes all of these powers, and acknowledge that Jesus’ call to free the captives, meant captives of all kinds. We should commit ourselves to that mutual liberation, and continue to do the work where such a liberation can triumph, as we become more fully ourselves, and thus more fully like Jesus, empowered by the Spirit who dwells among us.