by Ruth Bell Olsson

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.

Several years ago I was asked to speak on a panel for an event titled “Gay and Christian: Believers Speak.” My friend Matt had rented out a historic theater near my house and had personally paid the upfront money to secure the date. As the evening approached, only ten tickets had sold and he was getting nervous. All of us participating knew that the lack of sales had nothing to do with interest level. Every church I encounter these days is fielding questions about faith and sexuality. This does not mean every church respondsto such questions, but they are floating in the atmosphere like dust motes. Some communities of faith let them simply linger, some create hospital-sanitized conditions in which such questions can hardly survive a millisecond. And, of course, other communities’ welcome dust as part of the fabric of living in a world that is messy and not always as neat and tidy as we would like (but usually much more interesting).

A few days before the event, as Matt was getting more and more anxious, an article appeared in the local paper profiling one of the featured speakers. A flurry of social media ensued and by the next morning the theater had sold every ticket.

The evening was incredible. The spirit in the room was one of listening and understating—not one of judging and condemning. For this, all of us on stage were incredibly grateful.

When it was my turn to speak, I introduced myself as an ally. I am not a gay Christian. I am simply a Christian. At that event, I represented a Christian who has walked alongside my LBGTQ brothers and sisters for over a decade. This journey has changed me. This journey has opened my heart in ways I never could have imagined. I found that the biological definition for ally fits me well: anorganism that bears an evolutionary relationship to another –often as member of the same family.That night all of us presenting were 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.

Now, for me, being an ally has gone beyond LGBTQ into myriad other arenas of mutual relationships. 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.

Aligning myself with people often found on the margins has altered my life in more ways than I can count. This has also radically changed my faith.

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.

A portion of this has been posted on the GIFT blog.


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