With Friends Like These...
11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him,
each of them set out from his home—
Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.
They met together to go and console and comfort him.
12 When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him,
and they raised their voices and wept aloud;
they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads.
13 They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights,
and no one spoke a word to him,
for they saw that his suffering was very great.
~Job 2:11-13 (NRSV)
If the story of Job’s friends ended after verse 13 of chapter 2, we would have a lovely story of accompaniment, of empathy, of support; something to guide us as we journey together through the most difficult moments of life. Those who are familiar with the book of Job, though, know it doesn’t end here.
Surrounded by his friends, Job shares of his pain, of his struggles. I imagine he was so comforted by their presence, by their weeping, that he felt he could trust them with the depth of his sorrow. After hearing Job speak, his friends apparently could no longer be silent. Eliphaz accuses Job of being impatient. He accuses him also of failing to seek God in the midst of his pain. Then Bildad speaks up and says that clearly Job and his family must’ve done something wrong and that Job better repent. Finally, Zophar tells Job he that he clearly can’t recognize his own wrongdoing and if he’d just admit that he had done wrong, God would fix things and provide clarity.
What a 180! How did Job’s friends go from mourning with him, sitting in silence for seven days and seven nights to lecturing Job that he obviously must have done something wrong? It would be hard to understand this change of direction, if it didn’t happen all of the time.
How often do well intentioned accomplices/allies/co-conspirators/social justice warriors upon hearing the cries of oppressed persons determine that they must have done something to earn their oppression?
How often are the oppressed told by those who “support them” that if they would just change their tone, words, approach, everything would be better?
How often are the oppressed told by “friends” that with patience, things will get better in “God’s time”?
Have you ever noticed how often “God’s time” seems to be the time that’s most convenient for those in power?
As we explore what comes next for the United Methodist Church, whose example will you follow? If you claim to care about LGBTQ persons, will you listen to us when we share of our pain? When we share our plans for the future? When we refuse to be patient any longer? Whatever you do, I hope you listen first. I hope you take the time to hear from LGBTQ people in the church and those who have had to leave. I hope that these voices might serve as your guide as you discern how to use your own voice or vote.
For me, the Simple Plan isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t push anyone out. It’s still a compromise that makes plenty of space within the United Methodist Church for those whose hearts are still inflicted by cis- and hetero-sexism. That being said, it DOES come from LGBTQ leaders in the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus and it removes all discriminatory language against LGBTQ persons without adding any language that honors exclusion as acceptable.
What kind of friend will you be as we cry out for justice… or at least partial inclusion?
Rev. Anna Voinovich, M.Div.