Reverend Aline Silva is a Baptist pastor and preacher, and a member of the queer community. She has a profound passion for an intersectional approach to community outreach, which is a central focus in her work with CreatureKind, and a firm belief in the power of radical love.
S&H: How would you define spiritual radical? And is that even like a relevant topic? Is spiritual radicalism a new thing, or has it always been happening?
Silva: How do I define spiritual radicalism? I go straight to Jesus as a radical and revolutionary, who, within his context, was a person who thought against the injustices of an empire that oppressed peoples, the environment, animals, and the earth itself.
So it is not a new concept and as far as we can look back, especially in the religious realm, most founders quote unquote of religious movements have been persons of radical beliefs who wanted to shift to shift culture paradise and, I believe, even shape the future of their system.
Have you ever felt like an outsider in your faith? And if so, how has that influenced you and how have you kind of navigated that?
I wish you could see my face because I have a smirk on my face. I said I was a Christian. In my Christian context, I'm a young woman of color specifically of African and indigenous descent, and I also identify as pansexual, and I'm part of the Christian and queer community. But I'm also an ordained reverend. Everything about who I am feels othering within Christianity, and it feels radical because a lot of us have been tapped from a Western colonized perspective that diversity and fluidity within an identity or welcoming one’s ingenuity was not a part of what it meant to be Christian.
And so for me today, my work with creature kind is a large part of what it means to be a Christian individual today And to make space radically for folks either like me or for folks to make the connection between oppressive systems in this world.
What are your thoughts on the polarizing effect that organized religion tends to have for some people?
I'm having a hard time answering the question because I don't know that I agree with that. I think polarization in general whether it be in political values, either left, central, right. Wherever you are, one of the ways to change is really dialogue. I think that if religious folks and non-religious spoke today. … We have lost the art of dialoguing, telling narratives, and listening to folks narratives and story sharing and telling, the aspect of literally coming around as a community and seeing each other. It has gone away, and I think that might be one of the solutions for organized religions and folks who are not a part of our villages to understand many sides of the issue and then try to come up with a solution.
I am a part of a religious system that believes God loves and created good and bad people, right. However, you define those people, and so for me to put myself in a position to them, whoever they are is not a part of the redemption of God. So part of being a radical today is being conversations with those opposite sides that think radically different from you. So that can be changed now. James Baldwin said it best when he said, we can disagree so long as our disagreement is not based on my oppression or life and death.
People often differentiate between being spiritual and being religious. They might say, I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual. How do you see those two things?
I think it's fascinating as a scholar of religion to hear late folks who are participating in religious practice to claim spirituality. So folks that typically will say, Oh, no, I don't claim to religion, but I am spiritual are typically looking to other religious practices to guide their spirituality. So it's not that they lack religion, it's that they want to adopt it for themselves in their context, in an individual setting. So I think my only critique to that would be, if our spirituality could be communal and for the betterment of the collective versus individualism, we all could be better for us.
In a sermon you gave in 2018, you talked about being an intergenerational immigrant and the concept of radical love. Could you talk about that a little bit?
We often talk about the good news of God, but really, we don't talk about the fact that if in fact, it is good news, it has to be good news for everybody. I think today that radical love means that we speak to dismantle and redeem the systems that dominate our lives. So if we claim to follow the model of love and radical love and inclusivity, then that means, questioning and holding to accountability. The things today that stifle loving conditions for all beings on Earth.
For me, I'm a first-generation immigrant of Brazil and the United States, and one of the things that I do in my work is being a plant-based person. That, for me, is that I'm caring for my community because the vast majority of field workers are people of color living in rural low-income communities and approximately 75% of all workers were born south of the border, who are either documented or not. These siblings of mine are responsible for feeding people in North America and all over the world, and they work in such harsh conditions, that's what it means to model radical love.
It also means that I am caring for folks that are working on farms that are harvesting the plant-based foods that I am trying to eat, because we know that a peach that is organic and was locally harvested by slave labor is not creature kind or it's not radical love.
Especially as a woman of color of African and Native American descent, this means that I'm caring for my sisters here and all over the world because we know that women are the foundation of the developing world agricultural economy, even though we only receive a fraction of the training and economic support. We comprise over 75% of the agricultural world and produce more than 80% of the cities for the world. That's another way to be radical for me.
Specifically thinking about the animals as a queer person on being plant-based. Caring for those whose bodies are discarded shortly after birth simply for not fitting a designated standard, it means questioning the industry. Is there easy access to hormones and antibiotics for cents on the dollar for 70 plus billion animals when we can't even provide hormone therapy for my trans siblings or universal health care for all, let alone the most vulnerable?
The religious and queer communities have had a turbulent, to be put lightly, past. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community. What have you struggled with the most spiritually?
So I am very fortunate to have been a part of a tradition that recognizes and affirms my call to ministry. No matter how I identify. What's been most challenging to me then has been to see other siblings who were not welcomed as well and literally to know that bad theology has led to there in a lot of cases.
Some people would think that I would try to continue to bring more LGBT folks into the church, to transform it. I am not about that. The struggle still lies in the fact that the church itself has to radically change before it is ready to welcome the LGBT community. We can't just say that we welcome folks and then expect them to behave in a certain way according to our expectations.
I think for me, the struggle still is to see that a lot of queer folks want to be a part of the church, and they can't even when there are some churches that have been open, and welcoming, and affirming because they only know how to do that in word. And they don't know how to do that in process.
Why do you think spiritual radicalism is necessary? And why should it? Why does it have to keep happening in the way that it has?
Well, Octavia Butler, she said it best when she said that “God is change,” and ultimately, the only thing that we can be certain of is changed in this life. I think the best visionaries and the best revolutionaries, the best radicals, and shifters of cultures, movement generators who I think are radical folks, always welcomed change and what was new, with hopes for the future. So, I think they're necessary because they’re the ones imagining for us the possibilities that no one has dreamed of before.
Read more full interviews with Spiritual Radicals here.