In this Episode:
[On toxic white church spaces]
And I really think that it takes courage to just simply say: I’m done. And to simply leave. You don’t owe anybody. And it’s like they create this whole culture, like you owe people, like you owe explanations, like, you got to do this now.
And literally you don’t, you don’t have to go there anymore. You can just say, this is, this is harmful to me and I don’t wanna be here. I’m sorry. I love you. Goodbye. You don’t have to say you’re sorry, but just goodbye. Goodbye. You don’t owe these people anything. –Ally Henny
But see, here’s the thing: they really do believe that the scripture was written at Starbucks. They really do. They really believe that it’s supposed to be nice.
It’s supposed to make people smile all the time. Because when you live above oppression–when your feet are on top of oppression–you don’t need the scripture to live: you don’t have to call on the Lord. –Lisa Sharon Harper
In this episode, we are joined by popular influencer, Ally Henny, Vice President of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, and the author of I Won’t Shut Up: Finding Our Voice When the World Tries To Silence You.
Ally was invited to speak with us today, because in these days of terror and targeted violence against Black and Brown bodies we need a word from someone demonstrating her kind of courage.
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Tweet to Lisa @LisaSHarper or to Freedom Road @freedomroadus. We’re also on Substack! So be sure to subscribe to The Truth Is… and Freedom Road. And, keep sharing the podcast with your friends and networks and letting us know what you think!
Lisa Sharon Harper: [00:00:00] Coming to you from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection. I’m Lisa Sharon Harper, president of Freedom Road, a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap. Welcome to the Freedom Road Podcast. Now, each month we speak with national faith leaders, advocates, and activists to have the kinds of conversations that we normally have on the front lines.
It’s just that this time we’ve got microphones in our faces, and you are listening in. And this month we are joined by popular influencer, Ally Henny. She’s the Vice President of the Witness, a Black Christian Collective, and the author of a new, of a brand new book that’s coming out called, I Won’t Shut Up, finding Our Voice When the World Tries to Silence You.
So I invited Ally to speak with us today because in these days of terror and targeted [00:01:00] violence against black and brown bodies, we need a word from someone demonstrating her kind of courage.
So we’d love to hear your thoughts. It just please tweet to me, Insta me @lisasharper, or to Freedom Road @FreedomRoad.us, and keep sharing the podcast with your friends, folks, I mean, our audience is growing and it’s exciting, and our networks, um, you know, what we really wanna do is we really wanna see the Freedom Road Podcast being referenced around the world, and I’m starting to see that, which is so exciting.
So please keep sharing. Okay. So Ally, I am so excited to be talking with you today. Can I just say, I mean, like I said, I actually, y’all, I told her before we got on, and I’m gonna tell it now in front of the whole world. I have been following your work, um, really for the last, I’d say last decade. Maybe a little longer than that, but certainly for like the last decade.
And I’ve seen you really just grow into yourself, like [00:02:00] you are you, when I first met you, you were a youngin. I at least I think you were a youngin, um, kind of coming up and finding your voice and you were in the midst of that white community, white evangelical community I believe. And um, and along with a lot of other black leaders who were also kind of trying to figure out how to navigate the, that space.
But now I just, I think you are just truly an influencer of human beings and I honor you and I’m so excited to be in conversation with you today.
Ally Henny: Well, thank you. Thank you for having me here. The feeling is mutual.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Well, thank you very much. Okay, so let’s dive in. We always really like to start with the personal here and then go out to the lessons.
So in this first segment, let’s, let’s keep with the personal. And I just wanna start with, what is your faith journey?
Ally Henny: Oh yeah. So let’s see. That’s, that is very complex, but I will try to keep it short. Um, so yeah, I grew up in, uh, rural Missouri, [00:03:00] outside of Kansas City. My family, we were a part of a small black church, um, that was in the little town that I grew up in.
And, uh, it was a, it was a, a Baptist church. And then whenever I was in middle school, we started attending a Pentecostal church in the next town. Over there had been some things, um, that had gone down at the, at the church that I grew up in. Or that I initially had, had spent like the first 12 or so, uh, years of my, of my life and, um, some things had gone down.
So we decided
Lisa Sharon Harper:what, what kind of things, what kind of things went down?
Ally Henny: Oh goodness. Um, you won’t…
Lisa Sharon Harper: say that and think I’m gonna skip over that.
Ally Henny: Well, yeah, we went, there were, I think like, Three different pastors over something like nine years or something like that. I can’t remember. So there, there was a pastor, um, that it was discovered he had gotten his stepdaughter pregnant.
There was another pastor that had, uh, gotten into a [00:04:00] physical altercation with somebody. I don’t remember the details of it cuz my family actually, uh, didn’t, didn’t, wasn’t living in Missouri at the time, whenever this happened. But he got in a physical altercation with someone and I think like hit the guy like over the head with like a gun or something like that.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh my god. This is Missouri. Y’all. Wild west.
Ally Henny: Real, real Missouri. That incident happened in Ga. He, the pastor lived in Kansas City. That happened in, that happened in Kansas City. Um, and then another, then the other pastor and kind of the, the reason why we ended up leaving, um, cuz cuz kind of within all of that there had been.
Funny money kind of going on and some different people in the, in the church, uh, a group of women in the church. Well, there, I guess they were kind of opposing groups of women in the, in the church depending on, uh, whose narrative you look at. But there just had been some, some infighting and this and that.
And so I think that one of the inciting things as to one of the reasons why we ended up leaving is that the, the pastor that was there whenever we, whenever we [00:05:00] left, um, just seemed to be taking the church in a direction that was un that was unclear that my mom tried to have a co have a conversation with him.
He wasn’t really clear about it. There was some evidence that he had had an extramarital affair with a woman and had gotten her pregnant. And then she had, and then she had, uh, they ended up getting married and the child was born healthy, like, like, uh, a few months later, um, about five months later or something like that.
And so, There was just a, a lot of things that, that were, that were going on. And so we, and as in the midst of this, we were kind of, anytime, you know, something would happen. We were kind of, we would be in, and then something would go down and we would slip back out and then, you know, oh, there’s a new pastor.
We’d come back in. And so we were, we were in and out. And so, um, during one of the points when we were out, my mom attended a funeral of, I think it was a, a friend, a family friend, it might have, it might have been a distant relative in, in her hometown, which was also, um, in rural Missouri. And she met a [00:06:00] man, I think she ended up sitting at like a, a table or something at the, at the repost, uh, with.
With a man who was a pastor of a, of a church in our neighboring town. And, and the person who the funeral was for was, it was one of his close relatives or something like that. Oh, oh, wow. They knew some of the same people and, and were talking and everything. And of course my mom at the time didn’t know that it was a Pentecostal pastor.
She, she had some, some, uh, prejudices and stuff against, against Pentecostal people, and it was, it was really, it was really, well, I, I say prejudices, but it was based, it was based on ignorance. It was, she was thinking, oh, this is like Pentecostals. They like, Bleach and handle snakes, but that’s like, oh my God, Appalachian, that, that’s like a very literally small like subset like sect of Pentecostals that do that.
That’s not the expression. Which of course she didn’t know that. And so, um, she kind of just had, had this bias against, against, uh, Pentecostals. And so whoever the pastor had introduced himself, of course, [00:07:00] he wasn’t saying like, oh yeah, I’m a Pentecostal preacher. He just was, was talking. He was, he was a minister.
He had a church in, in the neighboring town. And so my mom and, um, my, my stepdad and I, um, and my stepdad had grown up Pentecostal and he had tried to tell my mom like, Hey, some of your perceptions we’re ignorant, but my stepdads also was from Jamaica, so she was like, well, maybe they’re not like that there, but that’s what they do here.
Um, but anyway, so yeah, so uh, we ended up going and visiting the church and I remember pulling into the church and being like, oh, this is a Pentecostal church. And I remember my mom, like I had, I didn’t have a dog in the fight one way will way or the other, but I remember my mom and my stepdad like having these conversations about Pentecostalism.
And so I was like, oh, okay, so we’re going to that kind of church now. And so we went and of course, There were no snakes. There were no, there was no snakes there, no snakes, no drinking bleach. There was, there, was [00:08:00] there none of, there was none of that. That was, that was going on. It was, the service was very similar.
Um, in fact, to the church that we had left similar, similar songs, similar everything. Um, and so we went a few times and then probably like maybe about the second, third, fourth time that we went, my mom actually observed the church sign and was like, wait, this is a Pentecostal church. But at that point, but at that point,
Lisa Sharon Harper: you’re already in, they roped you in.
Ally Henny: We were there.
We, we, we were, we were there. We were already, we were already in. And so we worshiped there. And of course that was, that was a black church, a predominantly a black church. We worshiped there from the time I was 13 until I went off to college.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wait, wait, wait. Before you go forward, I’m actually, I just wanna say your mom sounds awesome.
Like your, you really, your mom sounds like a really awesome thinking. Like, she’s gonna, she’s not even just gonna just like, try to live her life. She’s gonna lead you well, is [00:09:00] am I getting a right picture?
Ally Henny: Because that, that’s the picture I’m getting. Yeah. I think that that’s, yeah. Yeah. I think that that’s a, that that’s a, that that’s a fair picture her.
No. Yeah. That’s pretty
Lisa Sharon Harper: cool. Are you guys close? Oh
Ally Henny: yeah. Yeah. I would say, I would say,
Lisa Sharon Harper: Okay. So, so she let you out of, was it, were, were those the white spaces that you do, that you were coming out of like the three pastors in nine years? Was that a white church?
Ally Henny: Uh, no, no, those, no, that was a black church.
That, that was, that was a predominantly, that was a black church. So, yeah, so like I said, I, I grew up in the, I grew up in the black church. Black Baptist Church. Okay. And then church that we went to, um, whenever I was a teenager, I was, was a Pentecostal church. And so then whenever I went off to college, um, that was whenever I started, that was the first time that I had attended a white church.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Totally got it. Yes.
Ally Henny: Ever in, in my life. And so, um, it was, and so it was interesting. So we, we had gone, and I, and I talk about this a little bit, i, I share about this journey some in my, in my book that. I started [00:10:00] going to, I went to college in Springfield, Missouri, which is less white now than what it was whenever I started going to college in 2004.
It was like 90 something percent white. It was like 95% white, 95, like more than 95% white, I think. And now I think it’s like down to like, maybe like 88% white.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Okay. So still they really took a hit there.
Ally Henny: Right? Still, still very, still very, very, very, very white, but yeah. Yeah. Um, not as white as it was.
Mm-hmm. And so, um, whenever I started, started going there, I was also, um, I, I got married, uh, fairly, fairly young. I got married whenever I was, uh, 19, going on 20 years old, and so Oh, wow. Um, I was engaged. I, I got engaged a couple of weeks, uh, before I say a couple weeks, actually, no, it was like five days before I, before, um, my then fiance, boyfriend, then fiance, and now, and now husband, um, before we went off to college.
And so my husband
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow, [00:11:00] that’s amazing.
Ally Henny: Yeah. It’s, it’s a thing. It’s great. We have, we have a great time, but I don’t recommend it to other people and not because we had a bad time. Sure. Because our, our marriage and everything has been, has been great. But like the, statistically it’s not in your favor, um, to do that.
I don’t think there’s a, there’s a lot. I, I think that the way that our personalities are set up, that, um, we do, we do really well together. I have several friends I know, I know a lot of people, um, who were married. At around the same time or similar time to us, and not very many of those couples are still, are still together.
Um, so I mean, I think it takes, I think it takes a unique group of people, a unique couple to, to be able to be able to, to pull that off. We’ll, we’ll be married for 18 years in, uh, June. In June, actually.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh my goodness. Congratulations.
Ally Henny: The week that my book comes out, two, two weeks, or two days before my book comes out, then that’ll be our 18th, that’ll be our 18th anniversary.
Lisa Sharon Harper: You’re gonna have to like, seriously celebrate.
Ally Henny: Yeah. Yeah. We, we try to, we try to [00:12:00] do something in some, in some kind of way every, every year. But anyway.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So tell us, you, you, you kind of, you kind of like went off from the, okay, now we went to this Pentecostal church. So, so what happened in the Pentecostal.
Ally Henny: Um, nothing really like,
Lisa Sharon Harper: is that, were you, did you grow up in that church before going to Yeah, I mean, I college Oh, I’m sorry. And then now you’re in
Ally Henny: college. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s white, so, so yeah. During, during college, that’s when, that’s when we, we entered into, uh, white, Pentecostalism White, white Church, Pentecostals.
Don’t really consider themselves to be evangelical. Pentecostals and charismatics don’t really, it, it’s, there’s been, in the last four years, a consolidation, or excuse me, the last, since 2016. There’s been a little bit of a consolidation Yeah. Of, of that. Um, I think that Pentecostals more readily would identify as evangelical now, but they, but they did not back in my day, back in, back during that time.
[00:13:00] Um, yeah, they certainly did not. And so, uh, my husband had grown up, uh, Lutheran. He’s, he’s white. He had grown up in the Lutheran church and then he had, I guess essentially kind of converted to Pentecostalism, um, whenever we went off right before we went off to college. And so, We had looked around, we had, we, I was not very much aware of what black churches existed in Springfield.
Mm-hmm. I knew that there, I knew that there were a few, um, but there were not, there were not many black Pentecostal churches. Mm-hmm. And then the specific, like, I, I came from, from an apostolic background. And so at that jo, at that point in my life, it was like, oh, you know, I want, I still wanted to attend an, an apostolic church.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And what does Apostolic mean for our listeners?
Ally Henny: Apostolic is a, it’s a type of, it’s an offshoot of Pente, I shouldn’t say offshoot. It, it’s a Pentecostal branch where some people would refer to them like maybe as, as Oneness Pentecostals. I, I don’t like that framing because I [00:14:00] think that gets into like heresy hunting and all this other type of stuff, essentially.
One is Pentecostals believe essentially the same as Trinitarian Pentecostals, but their emphasis is on baptism and is on baptism. Baptism in, um, the name of Jesus Christ. And so because they want people to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, they kind of have, how do I say it? They kind of have, have created this other doctrine to, to justify that.
Right? To kind of say, okay, well, you know, we believe that God is one which Trinitarian, Trinitarian people believe that, that God is one also. But a lot of it, a lot of, without getting too into the theological weeds.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. Yeah.
Ally Henny: A lot of the, a lot of the back and forth between quote unquote Trinitarians and oneness Pentecostals, a lot of the, a lot of the back and forth and stuff is simply a lack of understanding and education or, um, even.
Even, I would say Miseducation on from the oneness Pentecostal side, but there’s a [00:15:00] lot more that I could get into that. There’s, there’s actually a book called, uh, Black Fire by, um, Australia Y. Alexander, um, that talks about, um, some of the, the burgeoning of these different branches and stuff of, of Pentecostalism mm-hmm.
And everything. And so, um, yeah, so we, so at that, I, uh, wanted to remain in within that, that tradition I was open to. I say that I wanted to remain within that tradition, but that’s not 100%, 100% true because I definitely, we, um, attended some Assemblies of God churches, um, here and there early in Assemblies of God, that’s the Pentecostal denomination and their quote unquote Trinitarian Pentecostal.
Lisa Sharon Harper: It’s a white denomination too. I used to go to an a AOG church.
Ally Henny: Yes. Mm-hmm. But it’s, it is a largely, it’s a largely white denomination. And so we had started attending, we had started looking at some Assemblies of God churches after I had exhausted the one black apostolic church that was in Springfield at the time.
We went there, we, [00:16:00] we, we went there, we visited. It was good. It, it was good, but it was, it. It was like a little too much, like what I had grown up in and not, and not in like a bad way, but it’s kind of like, you know, whenever you’re in college, you, you wanna spread your wings, right? You wanna, you wanna do something, you wanna do something different, you wanna be something different.
You want to find your own identity. And so for me, finding my own, my finding my own identity, finding my own, finding my own way, meant not being part of the same type of church that I had, that I had grown up in, but then still at the time, Really, you know, wanting to worship, feeling like I should, I needed to worship in that apostolic cont in that apostolic context.
I ended up in a white apostolic Pentecostal. We ended up in a white apostolic Pentecostal church. And then that church eventually, um, actually left, um, the fellowship and, um, that it was, that it was part of change. The [00:17:00] beliefs change, change the doctrine. And that was a very, um, that was a very strict It was, it was.
I did not, some people associate like Apostolics with like, you know, women don’t cut their hair or they wear long skirts or whatever. That was not how I grew up like at all. That was, that was that was any, anything like what I had been taught? Or what I, what I had grown up in. Um, but then this white church that we had started attending, um, was like that.
And so it was kind of like, oh, this is, this is kinda weird, but Okay. You know, we, we felt called to. Be there. And that was, and that was kind of…
Lisa Sharon Harper: What do you mean by that when you say you felt called to be there? Well, I think like how did you, how did you feel that call?
Ally Henny: I, you know, I felt that call in my spirit, but how,
Lisa Sharon Harper: like, explain it to somebody who doesn’t even know the spirit. You know what I mean?
Ally Henny: Yeah. So it was, it was a sense, it was a sense of knowing that I, that’s, that’s the best ways that I can put it.
Lisa Sharon Harper: You just knew in your body.
Ally Henny: It was just something that I just, that I just, I just knew in my body that I was supposed to be there [00:18:00] and that, and, well, cause I and I talk about this church of some, it shows up several times in, in my book.
And it would, um, one would maybe would be like, well, like, you know, given all the stuff that, all the weird stuff that, that happened there and some of the racism and stuff you experienced, like, why, why would, why would God, why would God call you there? That’s kind of, that’s kind of weird,
Lisa Sharon Harper: Girl, I know that question!
Ally Henny: And it’s like, you know, I don’t, I don’t blame God for. The racism. I don’t think that God sent me there that, that God had us there so that I could experience racism or any of that. I think that he was actually there providing an opportunity for that church, and they did somewhat take advantage of this opportunity to deal with some of their, their racist past, some of their racist legacy.
I was the first black person hired on staff at the, at the church.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh my God.
Ally Henny: And, um, the, the pastor…
Lisa Sharon Harper: Ally, wait, wait. That’s enough. [00:19:00] I mean, you don’t, you don’t, you obviously I wanna hear more, but I mean, that is enough to paint a real picture. I also had that history of being, uh, many, many times being the first and in particular in a white ministry.
And so it is, it is one of these experiences that, you know, you’re breaking ground, but it’s also breaking you like you get broken by it. So I guess I’m just wondering cuz you, you say that and that’s like dropping a bomb because what you’re, what you’re really telling us is that you experienced a very formative experience through this call and I just, maybe I’m asked, maybe my question is, how did God form you out of that?
Now, I know you were on your way to somewhere else, but if you could wrap back around to how were you formed through it?
Ally Henny: Yeah, well, you know, I think that for me it was, it was definitely a formative experience. I was 22 years old. Um, whenever, whenever I got hired [00:20:00] there, I was, I, I graduated on a fri, graduated college on a Friday and started work at the church on a Monday.
So I was, so, I was very young. That was my first, that was my first like, job job, um, really, right, right out of college. And, um, you know, it was a community that I, that I cared about the people, but I loved the people. I could see cuz the pastor had a vision of the church. He, he did not agree with the, the racism and the way that, that, that tradition had been, that that particular group of people had been whatever the pastor really, really saw.
He, he saw in me, he saw some things in me and saw the future of the church in that. And so some, somewhat the end of the story, but not really the end of the story is that, that is, that that church has become, I’ll say it this way. So it, it is harder for people to identify it. It has become one of the most diverse, one of the most, one of the most diverse churches in [00:21:00] the, one of the most diverse churches in Springfield, Missouri.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Okay. Wow.
Ally Henny: So a church. A church that there are people that were upset that I had that, that I was hired one because I was black, but also not just because I was black, because they could, they could deal with that sort of, but also because I was in a interracial relationship and some of them had been taught that, oh, well, you know, you don’t mix, people stay with their own kind or whatever.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So, wait, this is in the two thousands?
Ally Henny: This was, this was in, yeah, this was in the two thousands. This was, this was, you know, the first decade of the two thousands. So we started going there in, at the end of 2004.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wait, we just gotta, oh, I just love this. Wait, wait, I’m sorry. I just gotta stop and like, put a little marker there.
We’re just gonna put a little marker there because. A lot of people, especially, especially folks who are progressive and especially folks who are not part of the church, they listen to us, they listen to these conversations, to our conversations, and they tend to not believe like that this is really for real and it’s [00:22:00] still for real.
But it’s very, very thick in white, evangelical white Pentecostal, um, and I would say Southern and Midwestern. Um, spaces. And, and I think that when you consider, I’m just gonna just throw this in here real quick, Ally, that when you consider that the very first race, law, and American history, the first two race laws in American history were in Virginia and Maryland.
And both of them were regulating cross racial sexual politics. That’s the reason for the very first race laws. Was to say no to the miscegenation of the races. Or to make it lawful in the production of free labor. Right. By, by white men. Then it makes sense then that the very, that after the Civil Rights Movement, after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and the Immigration Act and all of that, [00:23:00] like after that, three years after the civil rights mo, um, act, you get ground, uh, you get Loving versus the state of Virginia.
Which is in 1967. It took from 1967 and you count all the way back to 1662 when that very first race law was established. So it took, what is that, 300 years for that race law, which was based on sexual politics to be reversed in loving versus Virginia. So when you consider that right, like that’s the heart of it.
So here you are in a cross-racial relationship, in a white and black relationship going to a white Pentecostal church where the beliefs in the two thousands are still so solidly, solidly and consciously, we don’t mix here.
Ally Henny: Yeah. And so the thing about that too is that that wasn’t a doctrine that was taught [00:24:00] in the church.
There were people that believed that…
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh yeah. That wasn’t, that wasn’t never taught.
Ally Henny: That wasn’t, that wasn’t anything that was, that was taught. But there were people who believed that. And there were people who even, who were on staff with me that there’s a time when my pastor brought it up and they were like, yeah, that was, that was how I was taught growing up.
Wow. And it was, and I, I, like, I had never heard anything like of that heard tell of any of that in my, in my whole entire, in my whole entire life. To that, to that pastor’s credit, he to, he was a white man. Predominantly white church. Of course, to his credit, he saw, he saw something in me, saw whatever, and so that gave, so that really, it, it, it was an opportunity.
I think whenever you think about like, well, you know, why did God call you there? I think that there was an opportunity there for this church to do right by black people, and they have in some ways, but there were also some significant ways where they didn’t. [00:25:00]
Lisa Sharon Harper: These are our stories. You’re listening to the Freedom Road Podcast, where we bring you stories from the front lines of the struggle for justice.
Okay, so let’s come back. And so Ally, you were saying on the other side of the break that this church actually did make headway, actually did move forward and learn some really critical lessons in large part because of your presence there. And that not, that’s not taking credit, that’s undue, that’s just reality.
Like when people show up in a space, God uses them in that space. And things change because, you know when people show up, literally, like things shift. So when you showed up in that space as the first black woman to be hired onto that staff team, all kinds of questions are gonna be raised for the first time.
So you said though, that there are ways [00:26:00] that they didn’t, so I wanna, I don’t wanna focus on this church so much, um, unless of course the story comes up again. But I do wanna ask you, what has your experience been like over the long haul? We’re looking like over the sweep of your, of like your schooling, God’s schooling of you in these white spaces that you’ve been in.
Where have you seen white communities just get totally tripped up? Like not be able to get past, not be able to learn the lesson and continue to repeat the same lesson over and over and over again because they’re not getting it.
Ally Henny: They don’t wanna deal with white supremacy. But that’s, that’s,
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s the, that’s the bottom line!
Ally Henny: That’s the bottom line of it. Everything. And, and I, I talk about this, um, in, I won’t shut up cuz a lot of my experience, and this isn’t, this isn’t a, a, a church book. Like I talk about my experiences in church because that’s, that’s my, that’s my profession. That’s where I’m at. Um, but you could, you could take church out of a lot of [00:27:00] these stories and insert somebody’s place of work.
Um, you could insert a school, you could, you could insert a college or a university. You could insert clubs that people are part of. Um, it’s not just a, it’s not just a church problem. Um, but that, that’s just where, that’s where my, where my experience is. And what I have seen in white spaces in general is a desire.
There are people who earnestly desire. They, they see that it’s important to have diversity. They see that it’s important to recognize that racism is a problem and to, and to try to treat people who are non-white, right? The issue, the bottom line is that people don’t want to deal with white supremacy.
They think that they can do that. They think that they can do that without, without ever doing any internal work [00:28:00] within the. They don’t want to deal with the white supremacy that’s in themselves. They don’t want to deal with the white supremacy. The, the systems that they’ve, that they’ve created and how it disadvantage, it disadvantages non-white people, um, people from, from historically marginalized groups.
And that’s not just race, that’s a lot of other white supremacy plays into a lot of, of, of other type of, of homophobia, of transphobia, of misogyny, like that type of stuff. There’s, there’s intersections with white supremacy there too. Um, but people just, they don’t, they don’t wanna deal with their stuff.
They want to have everything be the same, yet they want diversity, but they keep asking, well, you know, why aren’t, why are there no diverse people here? Because y’all keep doing the same, the same, the same stuff that keeps repelling people. But see,
Lisa Sharon Harper: I, I actually, I have to say like one of the reasons I’m, I was so excited to talk with you is that I, I really feel I have a heart for the, especially the young black students because it is in college mostly.[00:29:00]
Where at least it was in my generation. And I think also in millennials, I think it might be less so now for Zers because there’s more Zers that are actually growing up their entire lives in white space. But it was, it was definitely the case in mind generation that most black folk, like they had their, their, their first major encounters with whiteness in college.
And um, and I would say it was mostly through the Parachurch ministries like Campus Crusade or InterVarsity or even now, or Navigators, you know? Um, and so you kind of get brought into these communities that have a whole life and history, very, very much grounded in the evangelical history of the 20th century, which comes out of the fundamentalist history of the 20th century, which was directly parallel with the rise of lynching and race riots and things like that, that that happened, pogroms that happened to black people in the South and Midwest, right. In the [00:30:00] early 20th century and 19 19, 19, 1920s, that kind of thing. So we find ourselves in these spaces that are actually literally not for us.
And, um, and I think that a lot of people are still there and just figuring out, whoa, this is, this is toxic space, or they’re not, they don’t understand why they’re not able to breathe, and they’ve been told by people in those spaces, you’re not able to breathe because you’re supposed to breathe this way, not that way.
Right. Like, they’re trying to teach you how to breathe, but you already know how to breathe, but you can’t breathe like you breathe in that space. Right. So, so I, I was excited to talk with you because I think that there’s a lot of people who listen to Freedom Road Podcast, who listen from those spaces, and I think they need help understanding and naming the things that they’re experiencing so that they can make wise and [00:31:00] healthy choices about whether to stay or go.
Ally Henny: Yeah. You know, I think that a lot of times people, especially whenever you start talking about church, where people’s faith and stuff is tied into it. And so I think that some evangelical churches do a great job of binding people’s consciences to being part of their thing. And so I think that that, and I brought up some of my experience in the black church in the last segment because I think that my, I bring that up and that’s a very important part of my story.
And as a part of my story that, that I think that, that I want for people to understand that I did not. Even though I grew up in a predominantly white town. Um, I had a black com, I had a black community. Mm-hmm. I had, I, I, I was, I, my, my orientation with my family, with everything [00:32:00] I, I have always oriented myself, oriented myself in blackness.
And you brought up something that I think is a very salient and important point that we are, that one of the things with integration mm-hmm. Is the loss of black space.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yes!
Ally Henny: And I think that some people that some people ex have experienced that more acutely than others. I think, um, that people who, that this particularly it disadvantaged people who grew up in rural contexts and who also grew up in suburban context.
Um, people, I, I live in Chicago now. Um, I’ve lived in Chicago for, I guess, yeah, it’d be about three years. Um, now Chicago is very, is very racist and very, and very segregated, but it’s different type of racism than what I grew up with and on. And I don’t wanna say it’s palatable cause no type of racism is palatable.
Um, but I look around and I’m like, well, you know, hey this, this city is like really, really super duper segregated. Um, but you know, at [00:33:00] least I don’t have to worry about being a victim of a hate crime. Like, if, like if I get got, like, if, like if I get, I live on the south side, it’s like, you know, if I, if I get got.
It’s, it’s, it was, it was, you know, it was a negro who probably, who probably did it. And, and my family doesn’t have to wonder, well, you know, she got, got, you know, she’s, she’s laid up somewhere. My family doesn’t have to wonder if it was a hate crime. Like you don’t, you know, it probably was not a hate if I get, if I’m in south side of Chicago, when I get got, I was just at the wrong place.
I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wait, can I just say very quickly because I, I, it’s really funny. I moved about three years ago, interestingly enough, um, back into the neighborhood where my mom grew up in South Philly. So another south side. Yeah. And you know, in the, with this rise, with the rise of white terror and um, and white nationalists and all that stuff, and you know, I would say you as well, but our positions as influencers in the midst of this movement, um, you know, there’s concern, but when I thought about it for a [00:34:00] minute, I was just like, Ain’t nobody coming up in here.
I mean, the minute some white nationals were trying to come up in here, I mean, they wouldn’t even make it out. They just would not make it out.
Ally Henny: Exactly, exactly. You know, my family was like, oh, aren’t you afraid of moving? I’m like, actually, no. I’m not afraid of me. This place in the world right now. Like, like I, I, I am not afraid of black people.
No. Oh, exactly. Like it’s, it’s white people that I, that I, that I have concern about being around in large group. Not, not not my own people. Again, if I, if I get got, you know, you know why I got got it was I was in, I had myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Where, where I, where I grew up, where I, where I lived, where I spent a lot of my time.
I, I lived in Springfield for several, for several years. Um, moved outside of Washington DC lived outside of Washington DC um, for, for several years and then moved back to Missouri before I moved, before I moved to Chicago. And it was just, it, it, it was something that I. Is moving to Chicago. What I realized is that, um, integration gave us the erosion of black space.[00:35:00]
And so a lot of people, a people…
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wait, can I add to that? It, it wasn’t just black space. I mean, there’s a lot that comes with black space, right? Mm-hmm. There’s black mentors. Mm-hmm. There’s black elders that pass the stories along and help us to orient ourselves in history and, and our people, and our people’s long struggles.
So I think you’re totally right, and I do find that there’s a lack of rootedness, groundedness in those stories. Um, yeah. In, in, uh, a lot of folks who are coming up today who just have never been exposed to that.
Ally Henny: Yeah. And so you have, you have that erosion of, of culture essentially what, what, what we’re describing here that there were for it as cultures, that there’s a, as if there has, we still have a strong culture, we still have whatever, but there, but for people, I think, like I said, particularly people who come up in suburban context, people who find themselves in suburban contexts, people who find themselves in cities, but they’re predominant, they’re small, predominantly white cities like Springfield, Missouri [00:36:00] is, um, those people who find themselves in rural context.
There’s this, there’s, even if there’s a community, there’s this erosion of, there’s been this erosion of space. Because I’m not saying that we need to go back to segregation, but what I’m saying is that something that segregation gave us was, was solidarity cuz that, cause that was it, that was the, the, that that was all, that was all you could be with.
That was all you could go. And so now what we have in the, in the church is we have probably, we have one generation particularly, but probably, or maybe even two, maybe even three generations into people who have, the people who had the option to attend white churches and then that be the only spaces that they’ve come up in.
And so I’ve, I’ve encountered so many black Christians who have no concept of the bla of the black church, of, of black worship spaces because they literally have only ever worshiped in, uh, quote unquote integrated [00:37:00] spaces. But oftentimes it’s not multiracial churches. They were one, they were, you know, the only, their family was the only family, or their family was one of a handful of people in, in a church.
And I think that what that does then what, what I said earlier about how, um, white, white evangelicals are really good at placing, at, at binding people’s consciousness, consciences, um, rather I say consciousness, I guess it is your consciousness, but it’s also your conscience. It’s, they, they bind people’s conscience to participating in white evangelicalism.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So now talk about that. Cause you, wait, I’m sorry. You’re, you’re using language that I actually haven’t heard before, binding someone’s conscience to participating in white evangelicalism. I understand what you’re talking about. Basically, let me say, in my experience, what you’re talking about is it’s, and it, it’s not just black folk that do this to, it’s everybody because it’s part of what Evangelicalism is.
It basically says the only way to be [00:38:00] saved, the only way is to be here well is to be here right in, is to be here. Our community.
Ally Henny: That’s right. To be, to be part of our community, to be part, sometimes even our, part of our denomination, sometimes even part of it’s so true. This very church is the, this is the ark of safety.
Lisa Sharon Harper: It’s so true!
Ally Henny: And so you’ve, so you’ve got to be, and so then I. People don’t see their options. They don’t see, well, I could, I could go to this Methodist church down the street. I could go to this Episcopal church. I could go to the disciples of Christ or this u or this, um, United Church of Christ or whatever.
And people don’t see their options because they feel like, well, in order to be saved, in order to be right with God, I have to be with people who, who worship and believe like this. And so that’s part. And so we, we talk about like there’s this whole movement of deconstruction or whatever. Yeah. I don’t consider myself to be part of, to be part of that movement.
My faith journey, um, has been, has been different. I mean, maybe you could say that I’ve deconstructed, but I think, but again, that’s, that’s a whole other, that’s a whole other. Um, a whole other discussion. [00:39:00] Mm-hmm. Um, but I don’t necessarily consider myself to be part of that community, but I, but there’s definitely overlap in my journey with that community and, and I think that community is largely white, I think is one of the reasons why not, not that, and, and not that there aren’t black deconstructionist.
Very, very true. Yeah. But that community seems to be, the, the discussions seem to be very largely white centered and largely white evangelical centered.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So, yeah. We’ll see. Oh, go on.
Ally Henny: Oh, I was, I was gonna say that there’s, that, there’s just that, that there’s a whole other journey that, that white people have to go on, and it should include decolonization and that type of stuff, but it often doesn’t.
But there’s a whole journey of exiting those spaces that, that white people have to go through is a whole different process for, for black folks.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Okay. So what’s the process for black folk?
Ally Henny: Well, I mean, I think that for that, for black folks, the process involves, First of all, understanding the racism that is endemic in the movement.
The, the, the racism that people have, have experienced themselves, and then going through, [00:40:00] in some ways, fi for some people it’s finding their blackness. Um, I, I’ve seen that where some people are literally finding themselves as a black person because all of their social understanding has been in predominantly they’ve been a black person in predominantly white space.
And there are some people that they, that all they know is, is how to be the token black friend. They don’t know how to operate any other way.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right. Like the way, the way that I’ve come to understand that finding your blackness, cause I love how you put that, is it’s, it’s, it’s becoming reconnected to your family’s story.
It’s becoming reconnected to your people’s story as in the extended family.
Ally Henny: Yeah.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And understanding that that history is literally in you. Yes. Like it is your actual DNA, like mm-hmm. Your ancestors are actually in you. [00:41:00] And so when you find yourself feeling kind of outta place in this environment or you find yourself thinking differently, but not really knowing why or having, I hope will never, ever forget, like for ex an example for me, a really clear one, it’s very, it’s um, actually very, um, mundane, but it’s so, it’s so nails it.
Right. So, because this is the kind of experience you have every day, multiple times a day in these spaces: I was in a Genesis Bible study. So we’re studying the book of Genesis and I’m, and we’re doing like, it’s InterVarsity, it’s like manuscript style. It’s inductive, meaning that everybody’s sitting around a table, not with their Bibles open, but with manuscripts of the actual text, right?
So it’s just like line one, line two, line three, not chapter one verse. So, so in order to help us to see the actual words, More than what we were told by our pastor that it means, right. So to really like read it for ourselves. So here I am, I’m reading this text, like for myself, and I’m going into it. I’m [00:42:00] finding all these repeated themes, or I’m finding like this repeated theme of the day and the night.
And I, and I come up with in the group, I’m like, this looks like a poem. Cause I’m an artist, actually was a poet and a writer, a playwright before I was ever a theologian or anything like that, right? Mm-hmm. So I’m like, this, this looks like poetry. And they’re like, no, no, it’s, it’s, you know, and they’re like, no, go back to the text you’ll see.
And then what, what they come up with is that it’s really about how the world was made, which is really ridiculous. And one of the things that I saw was, huh? Like this thing about. This, this thing about humans being at the top. There was something in me that wondered if it had something to do with justice, if it had something to do with, uh, with, with equity and, and the shifting of power.
And I don’t remember exactly what it was that clued me. And my guess is that it’s probably had something to do with the deep and asking the question of, you know, what is this story anyway? Well now, you know, I’ve [00:43:00] done my homework, obviously I just gotta read like The Very Good Gospel, and you see that the, that what I found in my research as I did deeper work is that it’s absolutely a reflection on justice by people of color who were enslaved for at least 70 years, if not hundreds of years.
Um, but they were enslaved coming out of slavery. And this whole thing, Genesis one, this epic poem, it turns out that is absolutely an epic poem. Um, That it’s really a commentary on the worldview of their oppressors. So here I’m seeing this and I’m like beginning to grasp little pieces of it in this.
Not all, I’m the only black person around the table community, and I’m told by the leader who is white, white woman. Um, no, no. I, I don’t think you’re right. I don’t think that’s, that’s it. Meanwhile, you know, everybody else is coming up with stuff that actually it’s not it. [00:44:00]
Ally Henny: Yeah. Yeah.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And so we can start to not, not trust our voice. Not trust. Not trust. What’s not trust our worldview, our point of view, the, the, the thing that was given to us by our ancestors.
Ally Henny: And, you know, that is such, I, I have had similar type of experience. You know, I, uh, one time at, at a church that I was, that I was leading, um, at, I was doing a study on the book of Psalms.
Um, it was a, it was just, it was a group of women. It was, it was a, we had a, we used to have like a Thursday, uh, women’s kind of different thing. And there was, and there was different options. And so I was leading the option where we were gonna look at Psalms and so I had chosen several different psalms cuz I mean, know there’s a lot of Psalms, right?
So like, there’s a lot of Psalms and we were, and we only had like a certain number of weeks, so I was like, okay, I’m gonna, I’m gonna hand choose the Psalms. And um, I was just choosing some of what my favorite psalms were. Just, I was going through and kind of even reading some of the ones that were just kinda like, oh, this one seems like this one would be, would be interesting or [00:45:00] whatever.
Yeah. And. I had this experience where I, I was actually doing Psalm 35 and Psalm 35 was something, um, is a Psalm. that’s this kind of, that’s pretty dear to me. Um, it’s basically contend with those, Lord, contend with those who contend with me. And it’s, it’s an imprecatory psalm. It’s a psalm that where, where the psalmist is like, oh, people have been really mean to me.
And so God, can you do something about it? Can, you can, and, and here’s what I want you to do and here’s what I want you to do about it. I want you like, you know, and, and, and, and the things. That the psalmist doesn’t want, that the psalmist wants God do about it some of those things aren’t very nice.
And so true that psalm is, is dear to me because my, whenever I was in, uh, middle school, I had some issues with some friends and my mom told me that my grandmother had had taught her and my grandmother had had just passed even whenever my, whenever my, uh, mom had told me this that my, that my grandmother had taught her that whenever you have issues with people, [00:46:00] interpersonal problems with people.
Read Psalm 35 and it, it’ll help you and it’ll help you to feel better. And so, so that’s, so, you know, that’s, that’s the kitchen table theology and stuff that I got for, for my mom, my, and my, and my grandmother. And my grandmother was probably taught that by her grandmother.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh, yes.
Ally Henny: Or her, or her that, that she grew up with. Or her or her.
Lisa Sharon Harper: It’s, our survival strategies are passed down. Yes.
Ally Henny: And so, So we’re, so we’re going through the psalm, and so, you know, I’m talk, so I, so I share that story with, with the group and I share, you know, this is, this is something that, that can be whatever. Well, there was white women and these white women were scandalized.
That I would suggest that we, that, that we can, and this is the irony here, so they were scandalized. I would suggest,
Lisa Sharon Harper: My jaw is on the, on the floor over here!
Ally Henny: that, that I was, that I would suggest that we can pray this scripture. Now, the irony of this is that I was part of a community that was a praying community that one of the values of this community [00:47:00] was praying the word of God was reading the word of God,
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh my Lord!
Ally Henny: and turning what you were reading in the scripture into a prayer.
Lisa Sharon Harper: But see, here’s the thing, but they, but they really do believe that the scripture was written at Starbucks. They really do. They really believe that it’s supposed to be nice.
It’s supposed to bring, make people smile all the time. Mm-hmm. But it when, because when you live, when you live above oppression, when your feet are on top of oppression, you don’t, you don’t, you don’t need, you don’t need the scripture to live, you go to Starbucks to live, you don’t do your job to live, you don’t have to call on the Lord.
Ally Henny: Right. Right. Not in the way that we have to call on the Lord.
Lisa Sharon Harper: No. Not in the same way.
Ally Henny: And it doesn’t, and you, the scripture then becomes about it. It’s like, it’s like having like a little, a nice little plant or something and like, oh, this is, this is something that, that is there. It makes me, it makes me feel good.
I can read the parts of it that make me, that make me [00:48:00] feel good. Yeah. And then I can, and then I can sort of dispense with the things that make me, that make me feel, that make me feel uncomfortable. So we get to, what, how do people come out of this? How do people, how do people. Maybe you’re hearing this and it’s resonating.
Some of these are like, oh yes, I’ve had this experience. How do you, how do you get out of that? And I, I really think that it takes, it takes courage to just simply say, I’m done. And to simply leave. There’s no, like, you don’t owe anybody. And it like, they create this whole culture. Like you owe people, like you owe explanations.
Like, you got to do this now.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So true!
Ally Henny: And literally you don’t, you don’t have to go there anymore. You can just say, this is, this is harmful to me and I don’t wanna be here. I’m sorry. I love you. Goodbye. You don’t have to say you’re sorry, but just goodbye. Goodbye. I don’t, you don’t owe these people anything.
Lisa Sharon Harper: [00:49:00] Walking Freedom Road from coast to coast and around the globe. This is the Freedom Road podcast.
Okay. So, so Ally, in our last segment you explained, you kinda shared about how the dynamic of the dynamic, the dynamics that you experienced in, in white evangelical spaces, right. And Pentecostal space. And I wonder if, and, and you ended by saying it’s okay to just go. Um, and I just wanna, first of all, second that I wanna say yes.
And in fact, most of the stories that I know of, of people of color who have left have literally been, it’s, it’s almost like a, like a night and day. Um, one day they were in and didn’t see, like, could not see life beyond that community. And, and, and honestly I think for me, [00:50:00] um, twice actually this happened, the.
The false belief I had to catch myself. Because what I really realized is I was starting to think that they own my future. They, they have the power to shape my future. And if they don’t like what I’m doing, or they don’t, they don’t, you know, then I am, I’m in danger. So, and what I realized is no, they’re not God.
They’re not. They’re not God. God is God, and God is beyond them. Mm-hmm. God is not just in their community. God lives beyond them and wherever I go in the world away from them. So there too will be God. And I am in God’s hands. Not this community’s hands. And it really was. I think that was like in both cases, cuz there were two times when this happened.
Mm-hmm. Um, that was the thought that gave me the ability to make the break or to begin to make [00:51:00] the break. But there was also this like light and dark night and day like, um, dispensation, the dispensation of being in the community. And then the, literally the minute that I decided to go, it was like a whole nother…
Like scales fell off my eyes. And I could see the world in a different way. Was that your experience too?
Ally Henny: Yeah. You know, and this is actually something that I, that I talk about in I Won’t Shut Up. Um, I have a whole chapter on what, what I call loss management essentially. Yes. And what it, and what it means whenever you lose relationships with people because they have chosen to remain invested in their racism.
And then you have to, and then you end up having to move on. And actually, um, one of the threads of, I Won’t Shut Up. One of the, one of the narrative threads that, that I have throughout the story is, first of all, I mean, it’s sort of a memoir ish. I don’t like to call it that. I mean, I’ll be 38 this year.
So I don’t know if I’m really old enough necessarily to, to consider these like my memoirs. Um, but it’s [00:52:00] definitely like a, a racial autobiography in some ways. Yeah. Or a racial memoir. Mm-hmm. And, um, There is this theme of this church that I, that I call living streams. Um, that, that, and this was a church that I, that I had started attending whenever, whenever I was in college.
And so Living Streams comes up a couple, uh, a few different times through, through the narrative. So I went to college, moved to in, in Springfield, Missouri. After a while, my family moved to Vir, or my husband and I moved to Virginia. Then we moved back to Missouri. And then, um, series events, we, we started attending Living Streams again.
And, um, within that, there’s this, there’s this, uh, character that, um, I refer to as pastor, um, and, and this character, um, and he’s, he’s based on a, he, he is a real person. Um, I just don’t have, he’s, he’s a real, he’s a, he’s a real person. Um, the everything that that was said and done was, was by this, [00:53:00] by this individual.
And he, he comes up through, through the story several times and. What, uh, what you see me reckoning with and, and dealing with in this story was really, um, thinking of my trying to, trying to find my way as a, as a young person, as a young Christian who felt called to ministry and all these other types of things.
And I have this person who, on the one hand, on the one hand, you know, I got the opportunity to, to lead at this church. But then on the other hand, um, this person was also, was also very spiritually abusive. And so there is an incident that, that, that happens, um, kind of this, this climactic event that that happens.
Um, and it’s not really that I don’t wanna build it up like it’s like it’s huge. But for me it was, it was a thing where there was a moment where it was a thing. Yeah. It was, it was a thing where, it was a moment where even because I, [00:54:00] I entered back into, to going to living streams knowing that, um, this church, even though they had, they had become one of the most diverse churches in Springfield, I knew because I, because I knew, because I knew people who attended there.
Cuz I have conversations that I had because I, I have eyes and ears and I can see, and I can discern spirits and, and whatnot. I can see like, yes, this is, this is a diverse church. And they’re do, and this is, and the work that they’re doing here is good, but they’re not doing the work. And what I mean by that is, yeah, that this church had built a diversity of skin color.
They had a diversity of people around it…
Lisa Sharon Harper: which is the typical thing that white evangel golden.
Ally Henny: Which is what they want. Yeah. Which is what they do.
Lisa Sharon Harper: What they do When they say we’re gonna become multi-ethnic, actually what they mean is we’re gonna become a rainbow. But actually be monocultural.
Ally Henny: Yes.
Yeah. And so within this, there was this, there was, there was all this tension and this push pull within the church because you, you have people saying like, I’m here. I [00:55:00] believe in this church. I believe in the mission of this church. I believe in, in this, but I don’t feel like I could be my full self here.
And then you had a defensiveness that would come from leadership, whatever. People said that, that then it was taken as disloyalty to the church, disloyalty to, to the vision disloyalty, to all this. And disloyalty to all this and that. Um, there’s, there’s so much more that I, that I could, that I could say about it that I, that I won’t.
But it, but it really ended up, I, I could see even as a person who, whenever we first moved back to Springfield, we actually didn’t attend that church at first. Um, but I could see from a mile away, you know, this is, this is good. Like there’s diversity here, but I don’t think I, I feel like it’s built on shifting sand.
Then once I got in, and started listening to people and the types of conversations that, that people started having with me and things that people were, things that I, that I saw. I just, I realized like, this is all, this is all a puppet show. This is all, this is, this is all a stage show. It doesn’t mean that [00:56:00] people, I’m not talking about anybody’s sincerity, but I’m just saying that, that everybody here is playing a part and the part that they’re, that they’re playing this, this is about, I have a chapter in the book called “Diverse Don’t Mean Free.”
And this place was diverse, but black people were not free to be their full authentic selves in that space. And so then when, and then whenever people would try to say, Hey, you know, there’s some issues here. Um, you know, we, we started attending right at the beginning of the Trump administration. Um, we, we thankfully were, were spared during the election of this church, but we, but we started attending right at the beginning of the Trump administration.
And there was, there was just a whole lot of both-sides-ism. And there was actually a point where, where my husband, um, who is a, who’s a white man, um, the pastor had said something about this. This is a story that you’re getting that’s not in the book. Um, that the pastor says,
Lisa Sharon Harper: Hey, everybody, catch up. Wait, wake up. This is one that’s not in the book.
Ally Henny: This is one that’s not in the book. But the, the pastor has said something, [00:57:00] has said something about the Black Lives Matter movement, or said something about Black Lives Matter, basically about how, like, you know, he agreed that Black Lives Matter, but, but it was political statement and like all this other type of stuff.
And my husband was like, Oh, wait, wait, wait a minute. So I had, at the time, I actually wa I wasn’t, I wasn’t there, I was doing my, my seminary internship. So I wasn’t, I, I did not hear this sermon, but my husband did and was like, Hey, I want you to listen to this because, because he said some stuff that I don’t think I agree with, but I wanna make sure that I’m on the right track.
And so I listen
Lisa Sharon Harper: A good husband!
Ally Henny: He, he, he, he really is. So I listened to it. I was, and I was like, oh no. Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. This is, this isn’t, okay. So he, he met with the pastor and was like, look like, I, like, I get what you’re trying to say. Like, whatever. But the, but, but this ain’t it. And so the pastor, you know, he did, he did listen, he did, he was kind of like, oh, okay.
And there were several other people that kind of would do, do stuff that would kinda be like, you know, Hey, you know, this isn’t whatever. Yeah. But there became, but there got to be a moment when some, [00:58:00] when some really racist stuff happened in the church. And instead of like, listening to the group of black women that were affected by this horribly racist thing.
That was, that, that had happened. Um, there just became all this defensiveness and it was a moment that showed me this is who you are and this is how, right, like, like I’ve seen this, I knew that this is who you are, but you have not changed one iota over the last how many ever years since I’ve been here.
You have not, you have not changed one iota. And so I’ve got, I’ve got to cut my losses and I’ve, and I’ve got to, and I’ve got to go, and there’s this, sometimes whatever we leave, we think that your, your whole, your, your, your destiny, your, your, your vision, your, your ministry, your calling, your whatever, right.
Your, your community can sometimes be, because these churches, they, they’re, they are structured that way to where every bit of social capital, [00:59:00] every bit of relationship that you have, everything, is in that group of people. And then whenever you leave, a lot of times those people do not know how to interact with you.
So they don’t, they don’t know what to, they don’t know what to do.
Lisa Sharon Harper: They don’t, they literally, and not only do they not know how, they’re often, they’re actually often told not to. Because to interact with you is for them to backslide.
Ally Henny: Yes. Right. Yeah. And then, or you know, and, and it just, it’s, it gets so, it gets so, so, so complicated.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Can I just say, this is actually, so one of my, one of the things that I did in order to try to heal from my experience, uh, the first time, I didn’t really need that kind of healing the second time, cuz I had already done it the first time. But I, I went to grad school and I got my master’s in human rights and one of the courses that I took was organizational analysis.
It ends up being like this PhD level course. I had never taken an undergraduate [01:00:00] sociology class. I don’t even know how I got into that class.
Ally Henny: Oh my gosh.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Here I am up. But it’s like the PhD level organizational analysis course, um, with the woman who discovered why the challenger launch exploded. Hello? She was my professor.
Ally Henny: Wow. Wow.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And I have no idea again. How did I, and she was like, how did you get into this course? And cuz. It was a course full of PhDs in sociology and then there’s me. Wow. And so, but it was from God. I know how I got in. It was from God because being in that course gave me the tools to a, analyze my experience.
The organization I had been in. And what I found, and I don’t think that this was just about that organization, I actually think it’s really endemic. It’s one of these things that is particular to Evangelicalism Slash Pentecost. Because Pentecostalism is like a offshoot of evangelicalism. It’s in the same, they’re like cousins, right?
Like, like kissing cousins now. And so what you, what you find is you find that these [01:01:00] organizations, these these communities are actually among the highest control communities on the planet. Like they literally are about how to control their people. So hence when you leave, if someone still interacts with you and still like, can, like connects and like doesn’t, does like show loyalty I guess, right? To them then they become a threat. They become a threat because you are now outside and you are now an outside influence, but has the ability to influence within, so you have to be completely cut off so that they maintain full control of their community.
Ally Henny: Yeah. It’s that, and I think that, that, there’s also another element of it where if it’s not a complete, like cutoff, and if, if we, if I interact with you, [01:02:00] then I’m gonna be cut off too. Like sometimes the control just works in, in the face of, because the, the way that, that, the way that some churches are set up is.
We don’t have anything in common anymore. We don’t have anything to talk about. Because you, because our whole life is going to church. It’s feeding the machine that is the church. So it’s, it’s serving in the church, it’s being part of the church, small group. It’s doing all these other types of things.
So like, I can still have a relationship with you, like I, like, we’re still, we’re still friends or whatever, but you’re, but you’re cut off simply because you don’t have anything in common with these people. These people. Some they, they don’t know. They don’t know how to talk to you. They don’t know how to interact with you. Um, in my case…
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s a very benign reading. And that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s okay. That’s cuz that also exists.
Ally Henny: It is their, yeah. Like they just, they don’t, they don’t have, they don’t ha I I call it like not having a, a a lack of object. They ha people having a lack of object permanence.[01:03:00]
Um, it’s like, oh, well we don’t, because I, I, I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it many times, not just in this particular community, but in other communities where it’s like, You know, we, we just don’t, we, we don’t have object permanence for you anymore because you are not here feeding the machine and doing something for us and building our vision and our mission.
So we don’t have any use for you. So like, we’re still friends. Like if we see each other, we’re at Walmart. It’s not, it’s, I’ve been, I’ve been part of, we see what Walmart and we’re gonna turn the other way and, and go. I’ve been, I’ve been, I’ve seen that and ex and, and have experienced that before. Um, so there’s, so I see a dis So, so in my experience I see a distinct difference between groups that are high control groups that are.
We want, whenever we see you in Walmart, we’re gonna, we’re gonna turn the other way and pretend like we’re, but, but, but we don’t see you because we’re afraid that if we’re seen talking to you, that will be associated with it. And then there’s, and then there’s the groups that are, that are high control groups that are, you are feeding into the [01:04:00] machine.
That the, that the church, the, the machine. That’s, that’s the object. And you are seen as a cog in that wheel. Mm-hmm. And so if you are no longer a cog in that wheel, we don’t know, we don’t have anything in common. Right. We don’t know how, we don’t know how to interact any, I don’t know how to interact.
You’re not, you’re not useful to me anymore. So I don’t know. So I don’t know how, so I don’t know how to interact with you. We we’re, we’re friends. And then in my. Um, because I, because I left, um, relatively loudly, I wish I, I wish that I would have left louder. And the reason why I did not leave, the reason why I did not leave as loudly as I would have liked to have left is because there were other people that were involved and, um, there were other people who were still… who were nav, who had, who had, um, from the time of the churches, like their rebrand and their relaunch or whatever they had, they had deeper relationships and deeper connections there than what I [01:05:00] had at the time. And so for me, it was easy to just be like, you know, to, to chuck the deuces. And it’d be like, you know, this is, this is a load of crap.
Don’t, like, don’t be here. Like, whatever. And to, and to talk about them. But there were other people for whom they were still,
Lisa Sharon Harper: They couldn’t be that way.
Ally Henny: They, they couldn’t be that way because there were still, it was still wrapped up in, in their sense of self and in their relationships and in opportunities in, in the in the city and all this other type of stuff.
It made it, it made a big splash. I wish that I would have left louder and made a bigger splash than mm-hmm. Than what I did, but, Uh, you know, there were some, there were some different concerns just with, um, some of the, because it was a group of us who left, and so there were some just different concerns where people were very, still very much more connected into the church, um, than I was at the time. And so they, were, they, I think that they were trying to preserve relationships. I think they were trying to preserve rep reputation and all this other type of stuff. If it had just, if what had happened had just happened to me, um, I [01:06:00] probably would, would have, um, would have done, would’ve done differently.
But the whole situation, whenever, whenever you’re leaving that type of, of context and for, and for me, my experience was: People just sort of acted like I didn’t exist, or I should say, so a lot of the white people who were there acted like I didn’t, acted like I, I ceased to exist. A lot of black folks…
Lisa Sharon Harper: I very, very quickly, I just wanna interject in here because I was reading recently in some sociological work, some, some studies, and one of the things that I found there that was striking to me is that, um, sociologically what one of the things that they, they are, they have discovered is that the silencing, like silencing and the erasure, erasure of people, Is actually one of the most violent things you can do to someone.
Um, so [01:07:00] we understand erasure on the most violent level to be genocide, right? Like that’s like the most violent form, form of erasure. But it literally, when you, you know, there’s levels of violence, but it’s all still violence. And to ignore, to pretend someone is not in the room to not respond when they speak, which often happens to people of African descent or people of color in white spaces.
But especially once you have left a, left a space to pretend the person doesn’t exist, it’s actually a form of violence.
Ally Henny: Yeah, it is. And, and that is that my experience bears that out in every, in every aspect. Two of the most profound things that, for me, that illustrate what you just said about the sociological reality, um, that came out of the situation.
Um, first was the [01:08:00] fact that there were a lot of white people from that context who just pretty much just stopped interacting with me, like on social media, just like in, in life in, in general. Um, there were some that, that, that held on, that kept, that kept on that. Or people who then eventually kind of came around and were like, oh, okay, cool, hey, you’re cool, whatever. Um, but for the most part that a lot of white folks just kind of stopped interacting with me. Now, the black people who I was in with and was friends with, those people, those people, people kept on, kept on keeping on. Um, even one, one leader, one person who was a leader in the church in particular, um, we’ve, you know, we’ve still, we’ve still messaged and whatever.
He’s never, he’s ever treated me, um, any kind of way. But then the other profound thing that happened is, uh, there was a, there was a white lady that I was friends with at the church, and then there was this other leader, um, that I, that I referenced earlier [01:09:00] who was one of the wa who was, um, a, a, a, a major leader at the church, and I was actually supposed to be meeting with him to discuss some of the incident because there were some things that had happened that were confusing and that’s a, that’s a whole other different story. Um, but I was, but I was still part of the church at the time and was meeting with him because I was trying, basically, I was trying to figure out what was going on and trying to figure out how to fix the situation if, if we could get everybody to fix this, to fix what was happening.
Mm-hmm. And so he was, he was all down to meet with me. He’s, he’s a black man. He was all down to meet with me. And then right before we were supposed to meet, he told me that basically he was instructed by the pastor of the church, by, by “Pastor.” That, that the character in, in the book person, the real life person as character in, in my book, he was instructed not to meet with me, um, or that he could, or that he could meet with me, but we couldn’t talk about the thing. We could talk about anything else, but we couldn’t talk about the thing that happened. And so I…
Lisa Sharon Harper: Control ding ding ding.
Ally Henny: And so I was like, okay, well control. Um, [01:10:00] I was getting, I was getting, I was getting ready to go there. Then I was like, are they gonna, the audience, are they gonna get that?
Yeah. He was straight up Janet Jackson control up, up in this mug. And so I was just sort of like, you know, yeah. I mean, you know, cool. Like I was really wanting me to talk about this. Like, we don’t, like, we don’t got to whatever. Cuz at that point I knew after that it’s like I knew I was done. I was, I was out of there.
Like if, if it’s, it’s one thing that you make a mistake, it’s another thing that you make a mistake and you’re gonna be like a cat trying to bury its crap in a litter box. And that was, and that was what was happening in the situation. Wow. So yeah. With that, and that’s exactly what it is. So with that leader, I still, I, I still talk with, with him on occasion.
You know, we, we still, we still exchange, um, messages and stuff here and there, but whenever I decided to leave, I messaged him and I said, we, like, we, we have made the decision to leave. I cannot be, I, I do not like how this leader handled the situation with you. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I’ve, I’ve got to go.
And [01:11:00] then I also emailed this white lady who was a leader in the church, who I had become friends with. I, I felt like we were, we were friends. I felt like that we were, that we were cool.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I, I, I feel stuff coming on here.
Ally Henny: And I, I felt, I felt, I felt like we were cool. We had been at one another’s houses, like, You know, it just was whatever. And so I sent her a text message and she left me on read.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Left you on read.
Ally Henny: She left me on read.
Lisa Sharon Harper: What does that mean? She left me on read.
Ally Henny: She just never responded. She never responded. She read the message and she never responded.
Lisa Sharon Harper: You’re bringing up like millennial talk. I don’t understand.
Ally Henny: Sorry. Sorry. My my bad.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Left me on read. That’s what I haven’t heard. So, so she, she just never responded. She never she ghosted you.
Ally Henny: That’s what they call ghosting. Yeah. Yeah. She, she, she ghosted me essentially. She, she left me all red. She didn’t, um, she didn’t respond and like, nothing, like, nothing like, no, like, oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
Oh, you know, I wish that you were able [01:12:00] to stay. She said, she said nothing really. Something take you to
Lisa Sharon Harper: Do they take erasure classes and like, you know, white people 101 or something like that. Like, I’m serious. That’s like, it’s so common. It is. And it’s, and it’s not even like nobody has take her aside to ghost you. She just did it.
Ally Henny: And we’ll see the thing too is that I, is that I, I learned from. Excuse me, from this, from this other black leader that basically, like their leadership team had been, it was a, it was an issue for the leadership and they couldn’t discuss it. So I think that what it was was because I said, Hey, you know, we’re leaving because of whatever.
She felt like that she couldn’t even talk to me because, because she was a leader and they weren’t allowed to discuss this, they weren’t allowed to discuss this issue. So she couldn’t even say, do like the human thing and say, you know, I’m, I’m sorry that you’re leaving. Like, are you okay? Do you need anything?
Like, like what can, like, like, you know, I, I can’t, I’m not allowed to talk about this right now, but can, is there any other way that I can support you? Like [01:13:00] just noth just nothing. Literally nothing. And so then you control it.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Control, yes.
Ally Henny: It’s like, and so, and so then, and so then it’s like, you know, She doesn’t, she doesn’t interact on any of my, you know, statuses or where she was all up, you know, in my, in my statuses and pictures and everything else.
All of a sudden, boom, she ain’t there no more. And it, and it was, and there were many people, many people who I’d had relationship with for years who were like that. Now, there were some, now again, there were some people who were not like that. There were some people who I, who I had known. Cause I, you started attending that church whenever I was, you know, uh, 19 years old.
There were some people who have, who have remained consistent, who have kept, who have kept the same energy that they, that they always have. But there was a lot of folks who just, who just straight up, just ghosted.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So thank you for joining us today. The Freedom Road Podcast is recorded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And this episode was engineered, [01:14:00] and edited and produced by Corey Nathan of Scan Media and Freedom Road Podcast is executive produced by Freedom Road LLC. We consult, coach, train and design experiences that bring common understanding, common commitment, and lead to common action.
You can find out more about our work at our website, freedom road.us and stay in the no by signing up for updates, which are on Substack now. Yes, they are on sub. So go Substack and get Freedom Road. Um, the Freedom Road sub. It’s so exciting and we have amazing writers that are. Contributing to that ck our global writers group writers are all a part of that Substack and we have a really, really powerful piece out right now that, that you need to take a look at.
So, in fact, I won’t even spoil it by telling you about it, because actually by the time you get this, it’s not gonna be the most recent. But, so just read. Okay. So we invite you to [01:15:00] listen again, join the conversation on Freedom Road, and for those who, uh, who are subscribers, paid subscribers on Substack and Patreon patrons, you get a special little tidbit: a backstage conversation with Ally Henny.