Easter Article Day 17:
Why I am an Ally
By Jim Barton*
I am a person of privilege. Not so much based on my finances—although, there too if I allow myself any perspective—but I am a white, male, cisgendered, middle-aged, straight, married, Christian father of two kids with a house in the suburbs. The question: Why would someone like me be an active ally of those in the LGBTIQ community? The answer: Jesus offers salvation, even to the privileged.
If you peruse the Beatitudes, you do not find much love for people like me. Blessed are the poor, those that hunger, those that are hated for Jesus’ sake, and those that mourn. The social-justice activist author of Luke even takes it a step farther and provides curses for the rich, the full, those who are laughing and those who are spoken well of. Luke 6. Thankfully, if you look elsewhere Jesus provides an out for us. In Matthew 25, we learn that we can be saved simply by helping the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick and the imprisoned. In Mark 10, Jesus teaches the privileged young man that all he has to do to inherit eternal life is to give up his privilege and follow Jesus. It is surely a rational choice to surrender privilege in order to participate in the life eternal, right?
Of course, the thing about surrendering privilege—or put another way, promoting justice—is that once it is gone, it is gone. That was the rich man’s problem in Mark. He had so much that surrendering it was not an easy thing to do. Kindness or charity is much easier. I could be the straight guy who is actually pretty nice to the gays. The man who actually lets the woman at work get credit for something once in a while. The cisgendered man who, you know, uses the proper pronoun without commentary when referring to a transgendered woman. Of course there is a problem with the kindness over justice plan; seems like you risk missing out on the eternal life promise.
Even with such a great prize at stake, it would have been difficult for me to advocate for a permanent end to my privilege, but for the powerful examples in my life of people who chose justice, and therefore participation in the eternal life. My parents were children of the sixties who fought for justice. My mom is the teacher who stands up for the rambunctious little boy, or the girl whose clothes don’t get washed as often as they should, or the little guy who can get this math problem but not as fast as the others. My dad established open membership and women elders at every church he pastored, and preached against racism and in favor of Dr. King’s ministry—even when it was suggested that he tread lightly around such topics. And truthfully, that is why I am an ally. I believe the Scripture supports being a champion for social justice, but without the example of what living the eternal life really means, how truly, deeply, joy-filled it can be, I would never have been able to reach for it by letting go of the privilege.
I asked my mom why she and my dad cared so much about justice. She said, “Well, I think it is because of the church.” She talked about the unconditional love they had both experienced at Meadlawn Christian Church in Indianapolis and how that unconditional love had as its precursor the notion that everyone, everyone, was a child of God. Presumably the folks at Meadlawn who loved Mom and Dad as youngsters would have told a similar story. Who knows how far back this chain of love goes. Maybe in a very concrete way, I pursue justice today because Jesus not only offers salvation to the privileged, but because Jesus started a chain of love that made it possible for me to accept that salvation.
* Jim Barton is a former Arizona Assistant Attorney General, currently in private practice focusing on political and municipal law. Jim's most significant case to date has been serving as counsel of record before the United States Supreme Court in Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett, a case considering the constitutionality of Arizona's system for publicly funding elections. Jim currently serves on the GLAD Alliance Council. He can be reached at email@example.com