In the last few days, we’ve been trying (and failing) to adequately process the attack of Pulse Nightclub. 49 beautiful people were stolen from us, and more than 50 were wounded and still recovering. This moment reminds most of us who have known this intimately that to be queer, to be Brown and Black, to be these things together and more is to be constantly vulnerable. This world is not kind.
So Church Leader Friends, let me help you. Cuz it's Friday. You still have time before Sunday. Here are a few practical tips to make Sunday a little more expansive.
1. If you plan to name the acronym, it matters to hear “Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans Queer Questioning Intersex Asexual” all at once.
Even if you just say it once. Some of us use the umbrella "queer" or "LGBT/LGBTQ/LGBTQIA" to hint at all those identities. And we often disagree about which letter means what, and where which letter should go and why. That’s okay. Still, we should be intentional about naming who we are talking about. Don't worry if you stumble. Practice it a few times. There are plenty of blogs, online stories, and online resources that delve deeper into those identities.
To that end, gender neutral language is just as useful as any other. Words like “Friends, kin, beloved” are just as honest and useful for this moment. They also do not exclude the people among us for whom either “brother” or “sister” are insufficient terms. I like “friends” because it is what Jesus called his disciples. Look at that, biblically based AND inclusive!
2. Make use of the “experts.”
We're going to need ways of processing this moment outside of one sermon or one litany. There are plenty of facilitators who will be happy to lead interactive workshops/teach Bible studies/lead classes on faithful language about gender and sexuality. Please pay them fairly and be kind to them in your reaching out, because they likely are processing pain in ways unimaginable to you. Make time to design the experience and debrief the experience as well.
3. “The Who” matters.
Yes, you can reach out to the Queer folks around you to check over your sermon. Be mindful that all Queer folk might not have the emotional capacity to hold that right now. Which is why it matters that you have queer staff. It matters that our denominations affirm and ordain worthy candidates for ministry. And it also matters that this is not the ONE time queer ministers been meaningfully engaged. If we gon’ do this, let's do better.
3a. If you are straight, or White, be mindful of how certain words sound coming from your mouth. Saying "all God's children are beloved" is true, and also, there's a level of erasure that is happening to the victims and recovering folks right now. It's very "all lives matter." All lives do matter, but that’s not what needs to be said first.
4. We will fail.
Everything we could even try to say will be insufficient. There are people who were here just a week ago who are now our ancestors. What do we say in this moment? Liturgically, it might be appropriate to say the 49 ancestors' names, every so often broken up by a phrase like "Lord have mercy" or "God, help us to love." A litany is a teaching tool, but it needn't be a spoken-essay. People will stumble if the litany is too complex, both in form and in content. Think about how people will read the words into the room.
5. Humble yourself.
Centuries of oppression and limited imaginations of God's body on Earth will not be undone by one really Woke Sermon. None of us will usher in the Kingdom of God alone. It is going to take just as much time and energy to set this world right-side up. Pace yourself. Sunday's service doesn't have to get to EVERYTHING. But it should get to important things. Which is—this world is unkind to queer people and people of color, and to queer people of color. What can we do to be consistently kind and compassionate to every person we meet?
6. “Mourn with those who mourn.”
You might not have many out queer people in your church, but I guarantee you there are Queer people in your church. Practice some cognitive empathy. Now is not the time to moralize about club life. For many, a club is just as much a sanctuary. A sacred space has been made into a site of trauma. Can we feel that together?
7. Take up an offering.
Perhaps you might want to send a money blessing to a project like Black Girl Dangerous, The Audre Lorde Project, The Black Youth Project, Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), Trans Women of Color Collective, No Fats, No Femmes Documentary. These are a few projects that work hard to support queer people of color year-round. They could use some blessings right about now because they're usually understaffed, under supported, and overwhelmed. Moments like these demand an uptick of their labor, and that can be anxiety-inducing.
8. Above all else, your mission is to speak life and point people to God.
Your job is not to save the reputation of the church, your job is not to be on tv speaking on behalf of everybody and their mama, your job is not to convince people to come to YOUR church because YOUR church is really affirming. Your job is to help people to see God.
If you preach, let it be gospel. If you feel the need to talk in depth, maybe you might be led to teach a bible study series or host a series of documentary screenings. A sermon is not a mini-lecture, a spoken thinkpiece, or a preached facebook post. A sermon is a sermon. It is not time to position yourself as America's Next Top Ally or tell everyone about all your queer friends. It's not time for that.
Point people to God. Describe that God. Invite us to imagine that God and a world that this God would be happy to see. Give us directions for how we might engage one another compassionately during the week.
9. Get yourself together.
Pray. Meditate. Journal. Talk to someone. Take a nap. Get You right before you do anything Sunday. It's going to be a hard day, especially if you've not spent much time talking about this world.
It’s okay to fall short Sunday, because that’s maybe the one thing we do consistently. Getting it right does not mean that we’ve fixed it all. Getting it right means that we’ve committed to putting in the work and energy to building a world that is loving, kind, compassionate, and supportive of God’s creation here on Earth.
Sunday is coming. Sunday always comes. Rushing to meet it as if it’s the last express train home will likely hurt us and others around us. If you find yourself running to explain and be first, check that and notice that within yourself. That’s not healthy or sustainable behavior. We must find ways to respond to this moment AND this history with urgency and care.
Photo via flickr user Colt Coan