Goodness! There has been a virtual flood of words since the U. S. Supreme Court proclaimed that same-sex marriage could not be outlawed by the states. So much so, that I hesitate to add to the mix. But, like any preacher, I’m not going to let that stop me.
Traditional, affirming, liberal, conservative, celebrators, criticizers, winners, losers, rainbows or black crepe. There have been so many different people saying so many different things. Everyone seems to be taking sides. The dialogue (which has often been monologue) has seemed to be almost exclusively dichotomous. You’re either A or B, right or left, for or against, gay or straight.
Let me take a different tack. Let’s suspend the winning and losing for just a bit. And let’s take a break from trying to predict the future. It’s always good to look into the future and try to prepare, but sometimes we can become so future-minded that we miss the real and immediate challenges of the present.
Here’s what we know to be true right now. Today. At this minute. Marriage for same-sex couples is the law of the land. It is what it is. It’s here, and there’s no changing it. There are people in our midst who are celebrating, and there are people in our midst who are mourning. The Apostle Paul wrote these words to the Jesus followers in Rome:
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)
Many have described this decision as the long overdue righting of a wrong. I’m not here to either argue or agree with that point. I don’t mean to ignore those who are celebrating, but today let’s focus on those who weep. Whether or not you agree with those who weep, they are still weeping today. They are experiencing loss. The world that they anticipated living into has changed. It’s not going back. It will never be the same. I’m not making any arguments about whether that is good or bad. You have plenty of other writers to read if that interests you. What I want to say today is that there are those among us who are mourning. What are we going to do about it?
People who disagree are having to say goodbye to the life they anticipated and try to find a way to go forward in the midst of an outcome that was simply unimaginable to them only a few months ago. That’s not an easy assignment, and we must not pretend it is. It will take time and the presence of God.
There’s an element of trauma to this experience. It’s a train wreck for many folks. There is a sort of spiritual PTSD in play here. It’s the trauma of saying good-bye to something that was supposed to be there for the rest of our lives. The loss of a cultural structure that has been around for multiple thousands of years can’t be processed in a few weeks or months… or maybe even years.
I’d like to borrow the language of counselors and therapists today to help us think about what the body of Christ might need in these days. I believe that there is genuine loss and trauma, spiritual trauma, today in the body of Christ and no matter our position on same-sex marriage, we have been called to care for each other, to minister to each other. We’re called to meet needs. How might we rise to meet those needs today?
Our first responsibility is to try to empathize with each other’s experience. One of those ways is through description. The Kübler-Ross model seeks to describe the emotional stages of loss. Those familiar stages are:
These stages were first developed to describe the emotional stages related to the death of a loved one. Later they were applied to any kind of loss. These would include the loss of a job, divorce, infertility, or even minor losses. It’s important to know that the stages can and do occur in any order and can recur multiple times during the progression.
Coping with loss is a process.
As I’ve read and listened to those around me discussing this cultural shift, I’ve heard evidence of all the stages above. Certainly there is denial all around us. There are those who will withdraw inside relational and spiritual walls and seek to deny that the world has changed. They may bargain with God about their response to this change. We’ve all heard lots of anger at the court decision, even in the responses of the justices who found themselves in the minority. This anger will not soon dissipate. There are those who are already depressed, so deep is their grief about a world that is changing in ways that violate their world-view.
These are all normal reactions. And the change isn’t going away. It doesn’t matter whether you support or oppose same-sex marriage, it’s here to stay.
And while many will never actually accept it theologically or politically, we all have to seek emotional acceptance. Sooner or later, emotional health will require that this change be internalized, processed, and accepted as the new status quo. This is true for both individuals and communities. To do otherwise is to risk emotional destruction or at least emotional damage. And is that God’s will for us? For our brothers and sisters in the faith?
Another thing I know about processing loss is that it takes time. That’s a difficult challenge in a world where everything changes so quickly. Every person and every community processes loss in their own way and in their own time. We must be patient with each other as we hold each other’s hands on the journey.
The arc of Scripture clearly tells us that our mourning will only be for a season. The darkness is always broken by the light. Typical of God’s voice for us:
Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!”
You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. (Psalm 30:10-12)
We will have to learn to dance in new ways, to a new beat, but with the same God loving both us and his world. And ultimately we must find ways to dance together!
In the meantime, God calls us to be his hands and feet, his voice speaking into the hurt of those around us. In the words of the “wounded healer,” Henri Nowen:
“We need to be angels for each other, to give each other strength and consolation. Because only when we fully realize that the cup of life is not only a cup of sorrow but also a cup of joy will we be able to drink it.”
God calls us to be community to each other. I believe that means that we must be avenues of healing and conduits of grace. Healing is not an event; it is a process. May God walk with us as we walk with each other. God is bigger than the latest cultural shift. May he help us behave like we believe it.