Ashley Robinson is Pastor – Christian Education and Community Engagement at Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia. She is the co-host with Jenna Sullivan of the “Revs on the Road” podcast, produced by Good Faith Media.
1. What story, verse or passage from your faith tradition’s sacred texts has significantly influenced / shaped your life?
Exodus 1:8-2:10 – The story of the women who delivered Moses shapes how I engage in ministry. It wasn’t until I was in seminary and working on one of my first looming term papers that I gave more than a glance to the women of Exodus who changed the trajectory of the story. My professor, Dr. Wallace Hartsfield, at Central Seminary, shared with us an idea from womanist theologian and scholar, Rev. Wil Gafney, that Moses might have delivered Israel, but women delivered Moses. That statement lit something up in me, and I gave a closer look to the stories of Shiphrah, Puah, the unnamed midwives, Moses’s sister and Pharaoh’s daughter. This story, for me, unlocked the truth that engaging in civil disobedience can be an act of faith.
2. Who are three people (other than your family) who have shaped your life and worldview? And why?
Diamond Lil — I met my friend Diamond at an Atlanta gay bar that hosted an open mic Broadway sing-along night. The first night I met her, after I shared my name with her, she said, “Ashley, that’s a fine name, but what is your stage name?” I was about to take the stage to sing, so I said, “Mama Ash, my friends call me Mama Ash.” She deemed that just wonderful, so she would introduce me as Mama Ash.
Diamond was a legend in the Atlanta area. She began performing in drag in the early ’60s, writing and singing her own songs, long before drag was celebrated widely. In fact, she recounted many times that she was arrested and harassed by police for performing in drag.
I got to know Diamond in her later years. We became fast friends after meeting at Broadway night. I would frequently drive her around town, and we had many long chats on the phone to catch up. I even had the honor of performing with her several times.
Diamond was a legend and a dear friend. She taught me what it means to be unapologetic about who you are. She also had many phrases that stuck with me for their humor, like “put the plug in the jug,” in reference to her sobriety, or “hangin’ on by a slender thread” when asked how she was doing, or my favorite “be anything but ordinary” when we discussed life. But her response to me when I told her that I was going to seminary and pursuing ministry was, “Oh, that’s simply extravagant.” While I hadn’t thought of ministry as extravagant, I have since viewed ministry as a way to embody the extravagant love, grace and welcome of Jesus to a world that often gets muddied with the ordinary.
John Lewis — I never got to know Congressman John Lewis, though I did briefly meet him once. His life and work, though, is treasured by so many in Atlanta, where I have been connected since 2009. His idea of “getting in good trouble, necessary trouble” inspires my ministry, especially as I relate to social justice and faith. He was so much more than his famous quotes, though. His life and work embodied the “good trouble” he spoke about. He was a vital part of the civil rights movement in the ’60s, he represented his district in Congress and stood up for those who are marginalized, and he frequently showed up to march in Atlanta area protests. I hope to engage in good trouble throughout my ministry.
Lost-n-Found Youth – I know that this is technically more than one person, but the clients at Lost-n-Found Youth shaped many things about my ministry. During my final year of seminary, I worked as the volunteer and development coordinator for Lost-n-Found Youth, an Atlanta based non-profit that serves LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness. The clients that I got to know during this time changed the way that I view homelessness and inspired the way that I now view any kind of missions or faith-based outreach. Hearing their stories and seeing their joy as resistance solidified my belief that missions and outreach should be based on partnerships, not a transactional relationship that places the helper in any place of power over those who are helped.
3. List three of your “desert island” books, movies or TV shows.
“Designing Women,” “Golden Girls” and “Practical Magic.” I’m operating under the assumption that my desert island will have power for watching movies and TV, which also means it will have air conditioning.
4. What is one of the most critical issues people are facing today?
Just one? I feel burdened by many critical issues today, including economic inequality, LGBTQ+ rights, voter suppression, climate change, the list feels daunting. Perhaps the one issue that has kept me up at night recently is reproductive justice.
I was living in Texas when the trigger law SB8 was introduced that banned abortions after six weeks gestation and deputized citizens to turn in suspected violators of the law. Since then, a wave of trigger laws has passed that have made access to safe and legal abortions non-existent for many states.
This “issue,” to me, goes so much deeper than abortion. Abortion care is health care. Limiting or banning access to safe and legal abortions places half the population in harm’s way when those living who have a uterus are not able to make their own medical decisions.
Such rigid laws fuel other issues. These trigger laws help Christian Nationalism thrive, because many of the laws are based on principles that are supported by a specific sect of Evangelical Christians without taking into account the religious beliefs of other faith traditions in our country who are not against abortion. Limiting access to safe and legal abortions put families who already live below the poverty line at risk of falling deeper into poverty.
It can be easy to feel hopeless about these situations, but I try to use my anger and disappointment to give me energy toward being a pastoral presence for those affected by these issues.
5. What are a few of your hobbies?
I’m a fidgeter, so I have found an outlet in knitting and crocheting, because it’s something that I can do while I watch TV or sit through meetings.
I’ve also found a nice rhythm of making digital mixed media art in the evenings as a wind-down practice. It’s pretty magical what one can do with an iPad and an Apple pencil. Some pieces have been silly, some have turned into stickers, and other pieces have been creations inspired by songs or quotes.
6. If you could freeze your life into an already-lived 10 seconds, what would they be?
I’m going to offer a very unspiritual answer here, though some could argue that it was spiritual. I would freeze the 10 seconds from the third Saturday in October in 2009 where Terrence “Mount” Cody blocked the field goal kick from Tennessee in the last second of the Alabama/Tennessee game. The moment had everything — joy, surprise, delight, community celebration — if, like me, you were a die-hard Bama fan.
7. Our tagline at Good Faith Media is, “There’s more to tell.” What’s your “more to tell”?
*Steps up onto the soapbox*
For years, people have been saying that the church is dying. My response has been and will remain: “Good. Parts of it need to die.” More recently, I have come to the belief that if the world wouldn’t miss a church or an organization if it closed, then it’s best to die rather than keep something on life support.
There are ways to encounter the holy in the world; we don’t need the church to do that. I know this to be true, because for many years I refused to step foot into a church. I was raised in an evangelical church and grew weary of people using God to harm others. I was over places of worship that didn’t allow questions or doubts. So, I left the church and found God.
I found the holy in bar flies, drag queens, strippers and other characters that the church always warned me about. I shared moments of communion over stale beer and pretzels and groups of bar flies that shared the last cigarette of the pack. I have seen more kindness, compassion and radical welcome in sordid spots around town than I have seen in many churches.
So, if a church finds itself on life support, questioning whether to continue, they should ask, “Would the world miss us if we were gone?” If that answer is “No,” then it would serve the world better if they closed up shop and brunched on Sundays instead. Even if a church is thriving, it would still be wise for the church to frequently ask itself, “Would the world miss us if we were gone?” I’ve been “in the world,” I promise that the world doesn’t need another ounce of conditional welcome or hope that doesn’t extend past the walls of a church.
*Steps off soapbox*
Reflection and resources at the intersection of faith and culture through an inclusive Christian lens.