Yesterday the delegates at the General Conference for the UMC adopted the Traditionalist Plan that strengthens the already homophobic language in the Book of Discipline and makes enforcement more punitive. You may have friends who are deeply grieving that decision today and you may want to help, so here are a couple of quick tips for that.
1. Don’t tell people how to grieve. Some will feel sad. Some will feel angry. Some will feel confused. Some will feel hurt. Some will feel abandoned. Some will feel a combination of all of these and so much more. They are all legitimate reactions. If someone reacts differently than you or how you think they should react, it’s not your place to tell them how they’re supposed to feel. Simply sit with them no matter how they are feeling. Acknowledge their feelings, let them know they are heard and loved. You don’t have to fix them, just be with them.
2. Don’t tell people how to move forward. It’s natural to want to help when someone has experienced a loss, and that’s a good instinct. But right now is not the time to offer solutions. You may go to an awesome, affirming church and it may make perfect sense to invite someone who doesn’t have that to be a part of your faith tradition. But people in the throes of trauma (and for many, this decision was traumatic), making a choice to join a new church is not the healthiest. Most people who are seeking LGBTQ affirming churches are aware of the denominations that are already affirming. Their decision to be a part of a non-affirming denomination may be far more complex than you know. If later you sense a desire in your friend to move, by all means, gently offer an invitation. But unless you are specifically invited to make that suggestion, today is not the day.
3. Dump out. The ring theory is one of my favorite illustrations for grief. Basically, draw circles and put the people most directly affected by the decision in the center. So if you know an LGBTQ minister/deacon/leader, they go there. LGBTQ members are near the center. Family/loved ones of LGBTQ members. Pastors and staff of affirming congregations. These are folks all toward the center. If you’re on the outside? You only put comfort in. You may also be hurting, and that’s totally reasonable, but you don’t get to put your hurt on someone closer to the center. Today would be a good day to think, “Hey, does this affect me as directly as some other people? Maybe I can hold off on sharing my opinion publicly so I can let people closer to the center process their emotions.” It doesn’t mean hold it in, but perhaps find better places to share your frustrations or hurt. Today dump out, put comfort in.
There are a lot of decisions that will be made in the coming years, and each one will likely trigger a new wave of pain for people in the UMC. How we treat one another in the next few days and weeks will help pave the way for that pain to be manageable.
And as a personal note to my LGBTQ friends, family, and anyone who finds their way here:
You are loved. You are valuable. You are worthy. You are holy.
You are, and that is a beautiful thing.