Post Author: Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy
We all have That Relative. You know, the one who makes us cringe every time they open their mouth. There’s Granny, who makes racist comments as easily as breathing; Uncle, who can sexualize any discussion; Cousin Norbert, who takes any and every opportunity to talk about 15th century construction methods in Andorra.
We all have That Relative. At least, I did… until That Relative became me.
Now, I’m not the one to bore the table with inane knowledge, although I HAVE been known to make eyes glaze over. And I am not the one who spouts casual racism or sexism.
I’m the one who calls it out.
It wasn’t always this way. I used to be a “pick your battles” person, one who knew that the relative who made us all uncomfortable was unlikely to be changed by my arguments. I was firmly in the “that’s just Granny* being Granny” camp, and I was practiced in the art of changing the subject quickly.
Then I became a pastor.
It turns out that there is some expectation that pastors will be… well, pastoral. Non-anxious, affirming, gentle, soft-spoken – all of the attributes that we so often deem Christ-like. There is a sense that when the someone makes inappropriate comments, we should look disapproving for a moment, but then immediately extend grace and recall that they, too, are God’s beloved.
What people don’t expect is that when you are a pastor, you might recognize that the people being disparaged in racist and sexist comments are also God’s beloved…folks who receive far less grace, often, than their oppressors. Because when you are a pastor, you are privy to the stories that no one else hears; you know the faces of every -ism, and the damage that dinner table conversation can do. You know that silence, in the face of prejudice, feels a lot like complicity. And so the question arises, in the hearts of those who hear our silence: if they won’t speak up for others, will they ever speak up for me?
What people forget, when you are a pastor, is that you’ve been called to follow in the ways of One who spoke up in defense of the marginalized, the One who spoke uncomfortable truths, the One who sided with the silenced, even though it cost him his life. Jesus was many things, but in the face of oppression, I’m not sure he’d meet our meek definition of “Christ-like.” He knew there was too much at stake. And now, so do I.
So when Granny calls Colin Kaepernick a disrespectful “thug” and says she wants to see a “White History Month” because “All Lives Matter,” I cannot remain silent. The table cringes, waiting for the argument as I lay out again the uncomfortable truths of white privilege and systemic racism. But someone at our table is not entirely sure why Granny is wrong, even when what she says makes them uncomfortable. Someone is looking for a way to be a good ally to their friend, their neighbor, their coworker who was detained by police because they “looked suspicious.” Someone has just started dating a person of color, and isn’t sure their family is a safe space for that relationship.
When Uncle inserts comments on an actress’ cleavage into an otherwise thoughtful discussion about a movie, when he puts down men by questioning their sexuality, I cannot be silent. No one makes eye contact as I speak the truth that a woman is not worthy only as an object of men’s desire, that femininity – in men or women – is not subordinate. Because someone at our table is queer or trans, and struggling with internalized homo- or transphobia. Someone at our table has been sexually harassed or assaulted, and is too ashamed to say anything. Someone at our table is trying to figure out what to say to the inappropriate “jokes” he hears too often.
It makes everyone uncomfortable when the racism and sexism that usually gets a pass in our culture is called out. But the discomfort around the table is far less devastating than the complicit silence that allows such spiritual violence to continue unquestioned. The discomfort around my dining table is far less painful than the brutal realities of racism and sexism as they play out in real life.
As a pastor, I am aware of Jesus’ frequent reminder that the Kin-dom is at hand… but also of the constant implication that it is up to us to ensure it becomes a reality in this world. It is our responsibility to sow the seeds of justice and compassion for the marginalized. Even when doing so is uncomfortable.
Even at the risk of becoming That Relative.
*for the record: my grandmother was neither racist nor sexist. Nor did I call her Granny.
Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy is the Pastor and Teacher of First Church Congregational, United Church of Christ, in Rochester, NH, since 2012. Despite trying hard to become an academic, with a focus on politics, law, and social justice, Eliza finally gave in to God's sense of humor in the form of a call to ministry. She now combines her earlier passions with a love of the Gospel, and strives to move herself and her congregation out of the realm of the theoretical and into the practical, hands-on work of discipleship. She strives as well to get her mostly-white, New England congregation to move to the beat, clapping on one and three. So far the Holy Spirit has given more success with the former than the latter, but she holds out hope. Eliza and her wife have two sons, ages 6 and 4. Follow Eliza on twitter @elizaflemingbt.
Image by: Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy
Used with permission