I’ve seen a number of ministry colleagues anguishing over how to talk to the kids this Sunday. In the mix there have been good ideas. Other ideas I’ve seen are harmful, though usually well intentioned. This post is for you, my fellow, straight, ally colleagues in the UMC. I submit that this is just a starting point and am open to conversation and the ideas of others who, in the midst of a hard week, are trying to figure out how to care for the children we serve. May Wesley’s General Rules be our guide.
First, do no harm.
Our LGBTQ+ siblings, their friends and families, have been deeply harmed this week. The actions of General Conference put money and unity before people’s lives. Let us stop the harm. Be wary of comparing differing beliefs about the exclusion of LGBTQ+ people from the church to petty disagreements. For example, don’t ask children to choose a favorite color and then ask if they (or God) still love the ones who made the other choice. What happened at GC was NOT about disagreement. It was about dehumanizing and excluding people based on sexual orientation. These decisions impact people’s lives, well-being, and ability to answer God’s call to ministry.
Another well- intentioned but harmful suggestion I read was to have children help draw a silly monster and then ask if a monster with 3 ears (or whatever) was lovable. Friends, that is a hard no. Don’t compare people to monsters the week after a delegate stood on the floor of GC and suggested violence against queer people. Just no.
Second, do all the good.
Sometimes we say “we welcome all” and we truly mean it. Yet, this is the time to boldly name our welcome of LGBTQ+ persons, to stand with our siblings in Christ who seek justice in our denomination. With children? Yes, with children. Use books, examples, and stories with families that have two moms or two dads. Read books, like A Church for All, that show same gender couples and rainbow flags in church. Remember, there are children in our congregations that have same gender parents, friends with same gender parents, and family members in same gender relationships. Lift up and celebrate LGBTQ+ families. Let them know they are seen and loved. If children in your context have heard about the divisiveness of General Conference, show them videos of the LGBTQ+ persons and allies worshiping together in the lobby after GC. In the midst of pain and grief, Christ was present there. In the communion elements, in the voices of the kingdom of God joined together in song, in the people who gathered to BE the church, not vote people out of it.
Thirdly, attend to the ordinances of God.
By ordinances, Wesley means prayer, reading Scripture, worship, communion and fasting. Sometimes we look for metaphors to use with children, when what we need is a parable from Scripture. The Good Samaritan comes to mind. After telling this story to preschoolers in the Godly Play style, I asked them who was the neighbor to the traveler who was robbed, hurt, and left on the side of the road. Of course, they answered the Samaritan was the neighbor. When I asked them, “who was a neighbor to the robbers?” a child asked me to place the priest and the Levite next to the robbers, one on either side. This four-year-old then said, “They keep the robbers from doing bad things to other people.” In preschool language, this child expressed his belief that religious leaders are neighbors when they take a stand to stop others from being harmed. Being a neighbor means living into our baptismal vows to resist evil, injustice and oppression. It means being and upstander, standing between those who would cause harm and those who wish to harm others. This parable might be a story to share this Sunday.
Friends, this is a hard week. We are weary. We are tired. We are both well-intentioned and uncertain. But, let us be extra thoughtful about our messages to children this week. May God guide our thoughts and speech that we might stop the harm toward our LGBTQ+ neighbors and stand with them in the search for justice.
The image above is a picture of the set of a play I saw recently, Nina Simone: Four Women. I was struck by Simone’s determination to use her voice for justice. She sings, ” But that’s just the trouble, ‘Do it slow’ Desegregation ‘Do it slow’ Mass participation ‘Do it slow’ Reunification
‘Do it slow’ Do things gradually ‘Do it slow’ But bring more tragedy
‘Do it slow’ “ These last few days I’ve come to acknowledge the danger of moving too slowly for full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the church. May God have mercy.