Ally Henny is a guest on ‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’
September 14, 2023
Ally Henny, a speaker and the author of the recently published “I Won’t Shut Up: Finding Your Voice When the World Tries to Silence You,” speaks her mind during a recent episode of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast,” which can be heard here.
Henny, a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary who blogs at The Armchair Commentary and is vice president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, began the conversation with hosts the Rev. Lee Catoe and Simon Doong by answering a question about spiritual abuse and its manifestations. Those guilty of spiritual abuse “are exercising undue authority,” she said, and throwing that abuse into a mix that can include church membership and “certain spiritual beliefs and practices.”
Some faith communities abuse congregants financially, Henny said. “There’s pressure for you to give an offering to the church or take the leader out to lunch,” she said, adding clergy sexual abuse and physical, psychological and emotional abuse to the list.
The intersection with race and racism comes “when people’s religious identity and their individual cultural or ethnic identity is weaponized against them to allow leadership to exercise undue authority,” such as the “Curse of Ham,” a narrative white people of faith used to justify enslaving African people. “People still use it as a justification for why American chattel slavery happened,” she said. “That’s spiritual abuse — using the Bible and spiritual beliefs and exercising undue authority over people.”
Doong said that in progressive denominations including the PC(USA), people of color are among those asked to serve on committees. “I hope I am being asked because of my gifts, talents and abilities,” Doong said. “But there’s always this element that I also bring some sort of diversity to the table. What if I say no? Sometimes the depth chart of other people of color isn’t deep, but as a person of color, you don’t want to be tokenized.”
“That’s something we need to ask ourselves as leaders,” Henny said. “If we ask somebody [in a faith community] to set up chairs or run the livestream or be an usher, there is a push-pull tension … When we start to get into issues is when giving is treated as compulsory, and not an act of worship or piety or faith. It’s about giving your time, talent and treasure. Some have the ability and capacity to do all three things. Some can do two, and others can do only one or may have zero capacity to do any of those things.”
“I think we need to be very careful and very aware of the pressures we’re putting on people,” Henny said. “As people of color, as Black folks, we can have that guilt of, well, if you don’t take the opportunity, then they think, well, you don’t really want to work for racial reconciliation. Or we wonder if we don’t take the opportunity, will the opportunity come again — not just for us, but for anybody else? That can be a form of harm, of spiritual abuse and spiritual gaslighting, where the people of the dominant culture wave these opportunities, these moments we can have, in front of us. … We have to make decisions based not only on ourselves, but we are representing our entire race or ethnicity or cultural group.”
“There’s not always specific intent behind this, but I think the way whiteness operates is with a scarcity mindset,” Henny said. “If Simon doesn’t take this position, I guess we can’t offer it to anybody else. I guess you’re representing this whole group. They’re saying, ‘I guess they’re not interested in doing these types of things within the church, so never mind.’ I think it’s important for them to recognize the impact of their tokenization, their invitation or lack of invitation and what pressures that might place upon us. It becomes reason and rationale to not include, when sometimes we turn things down because we’re already part of 500 committees.”
A new edition of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast” drops each Thursday. Listen to previous editions here.
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Thursday, September 14, 2023, the Festival of the Holy Cross (Year A)
Today’s Focus: ‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray
God, you call each of us to unique ministries that extend your grace, mercy and love to the world. Your faithful make extraordinary choices to follow out that call. Help us understand that we can create stumbling blocks. Help us understand how to eliminate those stumbling blocks and instead seek ways to encourage positive investment in community. May your justice reign. Amen.