Privilege Demands Courage

By Brett Harris

I was hesitant to write today. I’ve celebrated Pride before and will again, and again, but I know I’m able to do so without any risks and few, if any, consequences. I’m a straight, white guy. I can walk in and out of any place or party or protest anytime I want. My identity and presence are never questioned, never challenged, and never used as pawns in ideological debates. I can celebrate Pride alongside my friends and family in the LGBTQIA+ community without a care in the world.

I just wish they could, too.

What we’ve heard, though, from Jana, Ezra, and Stephanie so far, and what we see around us every day is that they can’t. Maybe for a moment or a parade or a protest. But, not once the flags come down and businesses begin pandering to another marginalized community come July. As our nation turns toward its birthday party, my queer friends, family, and colleagues in ministry–beautiful, powerful, loving children of God–still live in a society that views them as a threat or a mistake or a mascot. 

It takes courage to continuously come out in a world that questions who you are, as Jana reminded us. It takes courage to answer the questions Ezra asked us

It takes courage I’ve never needed to muster. 

I hesitated to write because the world has never forced me to be courageous simply to make it through the day. And, who needs another straight white guy to say anything? Mostly, though, as I sat down to write I wasn’t sure who my audience was. So, I went back and read Esther again.

I saw that Esther and I share a lot in common. We don’t share demographics, but we do share access. I’m free to move as I please, and I can get the ear of those in power anytime I want. I can embody—as the t-shirts, coffee mugs, and memes remind us—the confidence of a mediocre white man and be whomever I want to be simply because of how I present.

Esther and I don’t have the same message to share either, but we do have the same responsibility not simply to speak out but to stand up. It’s one thing to find the words to share here or on social media that friends might see. It’s another to challenge the structures that make Pride a refreshing joy each June rather than a way of life, as Stephanie shared.

I was reminded most clearly, though, that Esther and I share a lot in common—not least of which is our audience. 

Esther’s audience was not the Jews held in bondage. Nor her Uncle Mordecai either. He shared her views. The person to whom she needed to speak was the King. He held the power and capacity to reorient the Jews’ position within society. He could free their movement, their worship, their lives. 

My queer friends don’t need me to speak to them today. They need me to go to the powers that be and demand their freedom. They need me to know that without their freedom, I’m not as free as I think I am either. 

Our audience may be the same, but how we gained it is not. Unlike Esther, I did not enter a contest to gain such access and responsibility. I just came out of the womb white, straight, and male into a family shaped by Christianity in America. I won a lottery, and the prize was the privilege to move in and through the world without concern or consequence.

But not without courage.

Pride may take courage, but my privilege demands it.

I won a lottery and the prize was the privilege to move in and through the world without concern or consequence.

But not without courage.

So, while I hesitated to share my voice here at the end of June, six days shy of 54 years since Stonewall, I realized I can’t. If I hesitate to speak up, what more harm might be caused to my brothers and sisters? What more discrimination might they face? What more courage might they have to muster just to live?

No, my privilege demands courage not simply to write and publish (I am the web guy on the Alliance staff after all…) but to use the access my identity offers to open the door for others and then to get out of the way. It demands that I courageously use my position as one moved by the experiences of my queer friends and family to petition those who remain unmoved, to speak boldly, demanding freedom for them to live and move and be proud without hesitation.

These words aren’t for Jana or Ezra or Stephanie or anyone else who has called the Alliance home because others preferred for them to remain in the shadows. Maybe there are power brokers who read this blog who have the keys or the power of the pen to grant freedom to folx. If so, I ask that you do it. Open the doors. Make the declarations. Fund the work of freedom. Veto and vote against legislation that violates the freedom and safety of our queer brothers and sisters. 

While no doubt there are folx in the LGBTQIA+ community who are reading this blog today and there are others who have the resources to free those held in bondage, the Alliance of Baptists is overwhelmingly made up of people like me—well-meaning, well-educated, straight, white, progressive people and pastors positioned between fear and freedom with the privilege to force those in power to change their minds.

That privilege demands our courage.

We are the Esthers and Moredcais. All that privilege we won in the contest of life, we won it for a time such as this. 

Our queer friends and family can find the freedom they so desperately seek and unequivocally deserve if we can find the courage our privilege demands of us. 

We can’t hesitate.

Brett Harris is the visual communications coordinator for the Alliance. He is an ordained pastor and creator of the podcast God Knows Where, a search for God beyond the beaten paths of our tradition. From 2018-2022, he served Alliance partner congregation University Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He’s also worked in K12 and Higher Education in Mississippi. A graduate of Wake Forest University (BA) and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University (MDiv), Brett lives in Laurel, Mississippi, with his wife, Biz, and their two sons.

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