Peaches and Coconuts: Allyship and the Church

written on 20 January 2021 by Hadeel McCall

Art by Nat Iwata

When I was getting my undergrad in business in the US, I needed to take a class on International Business. One of the students in the group was an exchange student from Germany. I don’t remember a lot from that class, but I remember she had a vivid description of Americans versus Germans.

Americans are like peaches and Germans are like coconuts, she said confidently.

Confused with likening Germans to this tropical joy, we pressed for more.

Americans are friendly and really warm. It’s really easy and quick to feel like you are in, but you get to a certain point and you hit the pit of the peach and you cannot get any further. Germans are like coconuts because they are much harder to get to know. It takes a while before you are really in their inner circle but once you get through the tough exterior, you are really enveloped and in the sweet center of true friendship.

We all laughed as Americans in the room at the time because there is a lot of truth to that. Especially in the sunny, southwest, we are known as warm and friendly: but not necessarily truly genuine. At least, not for a long time. That peachy flesh soon turns to a pit that is almost impossible to get into.

When I was asked if I would consider writing about the topic of allyship, I hesitated. I don’t know that I truly know the meaning of the word well enough to convey a word study to convince anyone that they should adopt and wave the flag of allyship. Did I even understand it well enough, let alone convince anyone else of the importance of adopting it?

When I hear the word “Ally” or “Allyship” tossed around, my mind immediately goes to “Axis and Allies.” One of my dad’s favorite WWII board games, it was prominently perched at the top of his coat closet game collection.

Allyship feels really militant, and for many the term is turbo-charged with sentimental and political implications. How many times have you said you are a Christian, or a Feminist, and the conversation ends. Ears turn off, and anything said, regardless of how Biblically sound or trodden from walking with Jesus, doesn’t matter anymore. You cannot get through the coconut shell anymore.

For many who have heard church people say they are allies, they are cautious. Is this a peach or am I truly accepted? Loved in the slosh of the coconut interior? Or will I be blindsided by a military advance just when I feel comfortable?

So what is the current definition of an Ally or Allyship?

Ally: someone who is willing to take action in support of another person. 'Ally' is not a noun, but a verb.

“Being an ally doesn’t necessarily mean you fully understand what it feels like to be oppressed. It means you’re taking on the struggle as your own.” (Guide to Allyship)

Smells a lot like Jesus.

Each person on this earth is made and crafted in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; James 3:9). Anytime the image or dignity of that person is demeaned, they are dishonoring in Whose name they mirror.

Every single human being, no matter how much the image of God is marred by sin, or illness, or weakness, or age, or any other disability, still has the status of being in God’s image and therefore must be treated with the dignity and respect that is due to God’s image-bearer. (Systematic Theology, p. 450)

What if allyship is truly defending the sanctity and walking in the truth that all people are made in the image of God? Choosing to honor God in the way we advocate for and care for that human dignity is therefore, not a trend, but a practice, and exercise that we are called to do and grow in.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

I’m asking myself: do I make sure others feel the love that God has for them?

And as sinful humans, we use that muscle and it gets fatigued. Or we stop examining our hearts and scripture in thoughtful prayer and submission to God to constantly test: how am I loving and advocating for the sanctity of my fellow man in the context we find ourselves today?

Does it mean, you agree with everything that person believes, says, or agree with everything they do? No. It means you are advocating for their worth because Jesus did that for us without us ever deserving it. It means constantly submitting our worries, our concerns to God and asking that He teach us how to love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). More often than not, it means feeling really uncomfortable and finding yourself examining and praying through how to love well… because rubbing shoulders with people usually brings you to that place.

Whether you think of yourself as a peach or a coconut, both are distorted and incomplete views of Who we are made to reflect.

Below are some practical ways you can springboard your journey to learn more and practice different kinds of advocacy flowing out of the context of all people being image bearers. How do I learn about it? Some intentions to lean into:

  1. Intentionally listen to voices that are different from you. The algorithm is SO GOOD y’all. We get entrenched in our viewpoint with daily affirmations that “we’re right and ‘the others’ are wrong.” Take a minute and look at who you follow on social media. We tend to follow friends, family, some people we admire, funny celebrities, etc. But, as you look through your subscription list, what percentage of those people look and tend to think like you? Do you intentionally follow people you don’t agree with, not to troll or mock, but to force yourself to rub shoulders with viewpoints that make you uncomfortable.
  2. Read/hear/sit with others. If you read this article briefly and think, interesting, before clicking to your next hit that will be a bit more comfortable, you’re copping out. Being a good ally to your fellow image bearers means you are planning in, and continuing to be intentional with, learning and doing the work of loving well. Loving as Jesus did. Which leads me into my next point...
  3. Show up. Consistently. Slacktivism is a well known side effect of social media. Maybe you posted a black square on your Instagram feed and shared a few IG stories condemning racism in June 2020. But what work have you done since? What lament have you come to? What consistent actions are you taking over time to not let it be a statement of public affirmation without ensuring “public affirmations of their progress”

Want some more to read or listen to? Here are some recommendations to get you started:
Article: What is an Ally?
Book: Be the Bridge: Pursuing God's Heart for Racial Reconciliation by Latasha Morrison
Podcast: Be the Bridge with Latasha Morrison
Website: Our Church Too ;) Shameless plug.
GDoc: Anti-Racism resources
Youtube Video: Dear White Church
Book: We Need To Talk About Race: Understanding the Black Experience in White Majority Churches Book by Ben Lindsay
Book: The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jeremy Tisby
Podcast: 30 Minutes with The Perrys