How Do I Learn The Language?

Non-LGBTQ+ people may get anxious hearing – let alone being expected to use – language they don’t understand or simply aren’t used to. At this point, you might be flipping back to the LGBTQ+ glossary or additional recommended resources. And while that wouldn’t be the worse thing to do (definitely learn your terms), there are many other steps you can take right now to grow in your understanding and use of language.

  • Listen to the words a young person uses to describe themselves.
  • Remember that avoiding harmful and inappropriate language is not the same thing as using affirming language. 
  • Don’t roll your eyes at the growing LGBTQ+ list.
  • Acknowledge that an individual’s language – identifying markers, names, and pronouns – might change.
  • This is true for every teenager.
  • Avoid binaries about gender (boy/girl) and sexuality (straight/gay) whenever possible, and not just with queer youth.
  • Start to take note of how often you use binary gendered language, and make an effort to reduce or eliminate it from your work with youth.

From “Welcoming and Affirming: A Guide to Supporting and Working with LGBTQ+ Christian Youth” by Leigh Finke – Broadleaf Books

The Birth of the White Empire

Most of us – especially those of us who like to think of ourselves as good – sort of cringe at the idea of a white empire. It reeks of neo-Nazi imagery and white-hooded jerks carrying torches, and thankfully, most normal people find these images repulsive. But a white empire absolutely exists, and you and I – we’re integral players in its game. So where did it come from? How did it start?

Empire happens when imperialist ideals and colonizing entities make babies. Imperialism is the ideological policy of a country that stakes a claim in dominating and ruling other nations; colonialism is the acting out of that ideal and those policies. Imperialism may be defined as ruling other countries through power, while colonizing specifically speaks to sending citizens of the imperial nation to the foreign land as “colonizers.” (This is how the United States was born.) Regardless of what you call it, these ideals have at their core a very specific goal: to subjugate people and acquire land. 

Empire is very much about land and resource ownership –  specifically, ownership by a select few. 

Like a lot of evil things that happen in the world, it all started with religion. To be fair, I don’t think God had anything to do with it. Quite the opposite – it had to do with hubris and the human thirst for power. As the ruling religious body at the time, the church issued a number of documents that essentially gave “divine permission” to national leaders to go out and conquer the world. The Doctrine of Discovery was expounded in a series of official documents released by the church, starting with a papal bull from Pope Alexander VI in 1493 that specifically and intentionally gave divine right to Europeans to subdue, enslave, capture, steal from, and if necessary, murder the inhabitants of any land not currently dominated by Christians. Those documents included inherently racist language that allowed leaders to dominate and oppress whole populations – most of whom were Black or Brown – and they called it the Lord’s work.

Because obviously.

It is important to understand that these actions were believed to be divinely justified. The doctrine of dominion – a theological idea that claims the Genesis story gave dominion of the earth to human beings (male human beings, to be exact) – has been used to justify everything from male headship of the family to the desecration of forests in the Amazon. They (white European men) were the one to whom God gave dominion, and in their minds, that came with certain rights and responsibilities.

The European elites believed in their own proximity to God so much that they held that it was not just their right to conquer lands for Christ, but their responsibility.  These Europeans thought they were good.

And the pope said, “God bless you, assholes, Go forth and prosper” (my translation).

From “Good White Racist? Confronting Your Role in Racial Injustice” by Kerry Connelly – Westminster John Knox Press



Although I was living in the twentieth century, I still held on to the nineteenth-century fanciful idea of Arabia. There were Caliphs and strong sexless eunuchs and harems where beautiful women lay on chaise lounges looking at themselves in gilded mirrors.

On the first morning in Morocco, I went walking to soak up a little more romance to fit with my fantasies.

Some women in the street wore Western clothes, while others kept themselves chaste behind heavy black veils. All the men looked jaunty and handsome in their red fezzes. I approached a junkyard and decided to cross the street before I was forced to look at real life. Someone yelled and I turned. There were three tents in the yard and a few black men were waving at me. For the first time, I realized that the Moroccans I had met earlier and expected to meet resembled Spaniards or Mexicans rather than Africans. 

The men were shouting and beckoning to me. I saw they were all very old. My upbringing told me that I had to go to them. At that moment I became aware that I was wearing a short skirt and high-heel shoes, appropriate for a twenty-five-year-old American woman, totally unacceptable for a female in the company of old African men.

I threaded my way over cans, broken bottles, and discarded furniture. When I reached the men, they sat down suddenly. There were no stools beneath them so they did not really sit, they simply squatted on their haunches. I was raised by a southern grandmother who taught me it was rude for a young person to stand or even sit taller than an older person.

When the men stooped, I stooped, I was a young dancer and my body followed my orders.

They smiled and spoke to me in a language that I could not understand. I responded in English, French, and Spanish, which they did not understand. We smiled at each other and one man spoke loudly to a group of women who were standing nearby, looking at me with interest.

I smiled at the women who returned my smile. Young trained muscles or not, stooping so long was becoming uncomfortable.

Just as I prepared to stand and bow, a woman appeared with a miniature coffee cup in her hand. She offered it to me. As I took it, I noticed two things, bugs crawling on the ground, and the men approving of me by snapping their fingers. I bowed and took a sip of the coffee and almost fainted. I had a cockroach on my tongue. I looked at the people’s faces and I could not spit it out. My grandmother would have pushed away the grave’s dirt and traveled by willpower to show me her face of abject disappointment. I could not bear that. I opened my throat and drank the cup dry. I counted four cockroaches.

Standing, I bowed to everyone and walked out of the yard. I held the revulsion until I cleared the lot, then grabbed the first wall and let the nausea have its way. I did not tell the story to anyone; I was simply sick for one month.

When we performed in Marseilles I stayed in a cheap pensione. One morning I picked up a well-worn Reader’s Digest and turned to an article called “African Tribes Traveling from the Sahel to North Africa.”

I learned that many tribes who follow the old routes from Mali, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and other Black African countries crossing the Sahara en route to Mecca or Algeria or Morocco and the Sudan, carry little cash but live by the barter system. They swap goods for goods, but they will spend their scarce money to buy raisins. In order to honor and show respect to visitors, they will put three to five raisins into a small cup of coffee.

For a few minutes I felt that I wanted to stoop below the old men in Morocco and beg their pardon.

There, they had chosen to honor me with those expensive raisins.

I thanked God that my grandmother would have been pleased with my behavior.

I began this lifelong lesson. If human beings eat a thing, and if I am not so violently repelled by my own upbringing that I cannot speak, and if it is visually clean within reason, and if I am not allergic to the offering, I will sit at the table and with all the gusto I can manufacture I will join in the feast. 

P.S. I call this a lifelong lesson for I have not fully learned it and I am often put to the test and although I am no more or less squeamish than the next person, I have sometimes earned a flat “F” at the test, failing miserably. But I get a passing grade more often than not. I just have to remember my grandmother and those four innocent raisins, which made me violently sick for one month.

From “Letter to My Daughter” by Maya Angelou

For them, the conceptual side of faith simply isn’t that important

Some people don’t think much about their faith. For them, it’s primarily a matter of belonging (I enjoy being part of a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or dharma group) or of survival (I don’t want to go to hell; I want to maintain God’s blessings of health and wealth for my continued well-being in this life.) They haven’t had an intellectual question or doubt about their faith for years, or maybe ever, because for them, the conceptual side of faith simply isn’t that important, especially in comparison to its social and survival dimensions. 

From “Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What To Do About It” by Brian McLaren

Both the church and the state, when it came to racism, were weak from the start. 

As slavery continued to thrive in the United States, slave traders, many of whom called themselves Christian, participated in the business of selling human beings. As the economy of the South was growing, more and more labor was needed, and so many enslaved Africans who lived north of the deep South were sought as laborers whose work would create the economy which grew as the country grew. Human beings were captured in Maryland and made to walk the nearly five hundred miles to South Carolina and beyond, chained together with metal collars around their necks and chains around their hands and feet. They were made to walk anywhere from ten to twenty miles a day. They were not allowed to bathe while they made the journey, so they were filthy, their bodies infested with lice and other pesky and dangerous insects. One route sometimes used in the trek to the Deep South took them past the US Capital, that bastion which was supposed to represent the ideals and values of America. It was embarrassing to lawmakers who saw them pass. Though they believed in and supported slavery, they did not like to see the raw evidence of their hypocrisy. It bothered them, as it did some religious leaders, but neither group was willing to eliminate the institution of slavery.

From our beginning as a nation, we were not one, and the church, as opposed to being a harbinger of justice and morality, showed itself to be incapable of preaching that God’s love was inclusive of everyone. Both the church and the state, when it came to racism, were weak from the start. 

From “With Liberty and Justice for Some: The Bible, the Constitution, and Racism in America” by Susan K. Williams Smith