By Jason Carson Wilson
Life is brimming with epiphanies. However, rose-colored glasses can keep you from seeing and experiencing various realities. Due to a mixture of naïveté and microaggressions, looking at life through those rose-colored glasses kept me from seeing the truth — all people identifying as men, women, and gender non-conforming aren’t treated equally. I intrinsically see the good in everything and everyone. However, when I confronted racist attitudes, White people challenged my conclusions. In other words, they gaslit me. Once the smoke cleared, it still took me a while to remove my rose-colored glasses before I could see clearly.
Those who founded the land of the free were laser-focused on straight White cisgender land-owning men. Like now, those men convinced their poor White cisgender male colonist counterparts that they were in solidarity with them against the enemy.
Enslaved Black people, who were literally building the United States and its wealth, were, of course, the enemy. Today, Black people remain the enemy, particularly those directly challenging White supremacy. LGBTQIA+ people, who directly challenge patriarchy, are also the enemy.
This gay faith leader is biracial, but identifies as Black, was raised in a White family and found myself in predominantly White spaces growing up. A predominantly White conservative evangelical church was one of those spaces, and left me struggling with internalized homophobia and racism. The lenses through which I viewed the world then led me to believe God didn’t love everyone–thanks to toxic messages from a pulpit. Those messages drowned out God’s still speaking voice.
My childhood church pushed the narrative that God only loves people who pull themselves up by their bootstraps and take care of themselves. More often than not, according to toxic messages from the pulpit, that didn’t include Black people. Even though God’s still speaking voice alone called me to the ministry–at age 6–I ran from the call for 30 years.
Building community with and getting affirmation from Black people helped dispel one myth, while encountering Revs. Carole Hoke and Lauren Padgett, a married lesbian United Church of Christ clergy couple, dispelled another myth. Busting those myths opened the door to another epiphany. Those encounters broke my rose-colored glasses and gave me a new way of seeing.
That new way of seeing allowed me to name and proclaim that God, indeed, loved all of me. Acknowledging and accepting this truth helped lead me down my own yellow brick road toward authenticity. After all, authenticity is the gateway to full liberation. But, reveling in this emerging revelation left me feeling guilty.
Despite enduring racism as a biracial child and professional journalist, there was no escaping this future faith leader benefited from White privilege by osmosis. So, answering the call to fight to liberate Black and LGBTQIA+ people began as an act of penance. God left with me another epiphany–guilt can’t fuel a ministry.
Love can only sustain the labor that can lead to lasting liberation. That means loving myself enough to acknowledge and accept my privilege, but let it inform my ministry rather than undergird my call. Coming to this realization is when my life could be seen through clear lenses.
Clarity sharpens your vision and solidifies your mission. That clarity allowed me to see a world where all people not only acknowledge God loves everyone, but act accordingly. That helped put my mission in focus–encouraging all people to pledge to do the latter. That’s manifested itself in doing domestic and international LGBTQIA+ advocacy after traveling a proverbial long and winding path.
That path began at Chicago Theological Seminary’s threshold on Sept. 3, 2013. The memory of walking through its doors with my friend and mentor, Rev. Dr. Donnley Dutcher, and his wife, Sandy, is etched in my memory. Why? It began a time when I could be unapologetically Black and fabulous.
I understood seminary to be a place where people only learn to be parish ministers, so I had to hold onto my call to social justice ministry tightly. Fighting for Black lives, healthcare access, and queer lives maintained my resolve in the face of challenges to my call’s legitimacy.
God confirmed that call by leading me to Washington, D.C. to serve as a United Church of Christ Justice & Peace Policy Fellow. Leading me to the United Nations to speak out about discrimination and violence against LGBTQIA+ people worldwide was another confirmation.
Giving me the burning desire to found the Bayard Rustin Liberation Initiative and serve as Community Renewal Society’s inaugural Bayard Rustin Fellow, leading its LGBTQIA+ advocacy work, provided yet another confirmation of my call. Embracing epiphanies brought me here.
Seeing the oppression from which we collectively need to be liberated is relatively easy. Are you wearing rose-colored glasses that are obscuring your view of an epiphany or two? Take a good look now. If you still can’t see your own epiphany clearly, take them off and look again.
Embracing epiphanies is often an essential to begin the journey toward liberation for all. However, that can’t happen without making the concerted effort to recognize epiphanies and take their lessons to heart. What’s God’s still speaking voice revealing to you?
Rev. Jason Carson Wilson is the founding executive director of D.C.-based Bayard Rustin Liberation Initiative; Chicago-based Community Renewal Society’s inaugural Bayard Rustin Fellow; and Fellowship of Reconciliation USA’s Field Support Organizer. Wilson is a Black gay ordained United Church of Christ minister.