February marks Pride Month in Cape Town, which offers an opportunity for organisations and churches across the world, to demonstrate allyship to LGBTIQ+ people. Allyship refers to the practice of being in solidarity with those that are marginalised, excluded, or discriminated against. Over the past 28 years IAM has learned some valuable lessons about LGBTIQ+ allyship in local faith communities. Here are three aspects to consider when working toward your church’s inclusivity and affirmation:

    1. Remain teachable [OPEN MIND]

Human sexuality, including sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIE SC), can be difficult to grasp. There are many ways to learn.  Familiarizing yourself with the language and terminology that LGBTIQ+ people use to describe themselves is a first step.

Another way is strengthening your relationships with LGBTIQ+ people to learn more about their journeys of faith and the difficulties that they may experience in faith communities. Every person has their own sacred story about discovering the connection between their body and their faith. Creating spaces to share these narratives can be truly transformative.

Learning about how different identity markers such as race, age, or ability intersect with gender and sexuality will help to connect the journey towards LGBTIQ+ inclusion to other struggles for diversity in the history of the church, such as racial exclusion (apartheid), colonialism, and others.   

    1. Centre People [OPEN HEART]

Being an ally is not just about being right, or about being on the ‘right side’ of history. It is not just an issue of legislation or policy or a ‘standpoint’ one has to adopt; it is about people’s lives. Therefore, LGBTIQ+ people and the issues that they face need to remain at the centre of any act of solidarity and allyship. Real inclusion is tested in the small and seemingly insignificant ways that people feel they belong in a space.

People who have open hearts are committed to creating spaces that are enabling for LGBTIQ+ people, and for those that need to learn and grow in their inclusion. In working for others’ freedom, we often discover liberation ourselves.

    1. Identify the next step [OPEN DOORS]

IAM has developed a way for you to reflect on how inclusive your church really is. By completing this questionnaire on inclusivity and affirmation, you can not only assess how you are currently aligned with LGBTIQ+ inclusion, but you can also identify how you can do more. There are many ways to become increasingly inclusive, whether through policy changes, bible studies, living into your values, creating facilitated spaces for dialogue, or by offering care and support.

Real change agents are allies that have opened doors in faith communities where LGBTIQ+ people can fully participate in community life, be affirmed in their relationships and join in leadership and decisions made by the faith community.

Embedding the inclusion of those marginalised because of gender or sexuality within the existing ethos and values of your local faith community is vital. LGBTIQ+ allyship does not necessarily require that you label yourself an activist, it merely asks that you follow Jesus in opposing injustice on behalf of the destitute, the poor and the wronged.

It will, however, take some risk. Matters of justice require bold choices, and the courage to act against the existing norms and practices that have traditionally discriminated against and disregarded the human dignity of LGBTIQ+ people. It asks allies to recognize their own position and power within the church, and to use it.

In doing this, allies will have to remain aware of their own position in joining LGBTIQ+ people. There are times that allies have to walk in front, making the way for LGBTIQ+ people to follow into spaces that still exclude bodies that are different. At other times allies walk alongside LGBTIQ+ people, holding spaces accountable, so that their voices can be heard. And then there are moments when allies have to follow from behind and join LGBTIQ+ people as they speak from their own place.

In practicing and living out allyship, the Word of God can truly come alive and become embodied in our places of worship.

Contact Louis (louis@iam.org.za) for a discussion on how IAM can partner with you in deepening your allyship.

Read the testimonies of some of the allies that IAM has partnered with:  

Reclaiming humanity through acceptance: Meet Bonga Mbenenge

Reclaiming Humanity Through Acceptance: Rev Jacques Jacobs, URCSA

IAM at 25: Faith partners reflect on their work with IAM (Bishop Raphael Hess)

Leading with Love: Rev Johan van Niekerk and the Omgeegemeente

Jayson Gribble, a student in the Masters in Divinity Programme (2021), talks about the intersection of a ministry of presence, power and masculinity in changing the hearts and minds of faith communities