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Jesus survived the temptations of the wilderness because of his spiritual grounding and his guidance by God. Another factor empowered himConflict as well: his emotional intelligence. Jesus had his wits about him. He never could have survived otherwise.

The UMC faces its own set of temptations as we threaten to implode or explode over General Conference proceedings. We too need our wits about us.

The UMC faces its own set of temptations as we threaten to implode or explode over General Conference proceedings. We too need our wits about us. Click To Tweet

A hidden opportunity awaits us in this timeline. These 40+ days give us time to think instead of react and time to pray instead of stew. It gives us time to gather our wits about us. So that we can address the last temptations of the UMC in a calmer fashion.

This week I want to address the temptation of demonizing the other side.

Reactions to General Conference have included: THAT side is against love. THEY are against me. Clearly, THEY don’t want me, so I’m outta here. I am done with church, done with organized religion, done with people like THAT.

Or on the other side: THAT side is godless, THEY worship at the altar of human preference, THEY have abandoned the Bible, and the authority of Scripture. Clearly, God’s will was done through General Conference. God wants for things to be this way.

Demonizing the other side feels empowering, but it’s a temptation we can ill afford to entertain. The truth is many factors came into play at General Conference. Let’s see what we can tease out.

Factor 1: Our will, not God’s will. In the Bible, Jesus is explicit that humans must decide how to interpret the scripture. Not only that, Heaven will go along with what we decide. This principle is captured in Matthew 16:19 “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” So, when it comes to General Conference decisions, we’re not so much looking at God’s will but at the will of the delegates we elected. We must take responsibility for our theologies and votes, not ascribe them to God. In this case, the will of the General Conference was to pass the amended Traditional Plan. It received 438 yes votes (53 percent) and 384 no votes (47 percent).

Factor 2: The will of the body can change. Two thirds of US delegates were in favor of the One Church Plan. Even though the One Church Plan didn’t pass, a mere 54 votes separated the two sides. From a numbers perspective, that’s an astonishingly narrow margin for a global church. It says to me that The UMC has come a mighty long way in its ability to accept people where they are.

Factor 3: Cultural understandings vary. According to reports I’ve heard, two thirds to three quarters of the International delegates were in favor of the Traditional or Modified Traditional Plan. Why the insistence on a traditional view when the One Church Plan would have safeguarded people’s dignity of choice? The answers are as varied as the delegates. Some international delegates were under the impression that the One Church Plan would have required them to accept LGBTQ pastors. How and why did they get that idea? Were they intentionally misinformed? Others were told that they could not return home if they didn’t vote for the Traditional Plan.

Factor 4: Becoming a global church. In addition to the above, consider this. This year, the General Conference consisted of 58% US and 43% International delegates. That’s a real shift from previous years. Now put these two sets of figures together and you can see why things came out so tight. As Bonnie Ives Marden, head of the New England Delegation and author of Church Finances for Missional Leaders: Best Practices for Faithful Stewardship likes to say, “We are a global church without a global business plan.”

Factor 5: Context matters. Since discussions about full inclusion of LGBTQ folks in the UMC began, gay marriage has become legal in the US. The rights of LGBTQs to marry has gained wide acceptance in our country. In light of these developments, restricting church leadership of LGBTQ folks in the US feels harsher and less just than ever before to many people. Meanwhile, the mere fact of being homosexual is outlawed in some other countries, punishable by death. Both contexts are very hurtful for a wide swath of people.   But the US context heightens the sense of injustice and impatience with the Traditional Plan.

The bottom line is that many of us were hurt and deeply discouraged by the recent General Conference. At the same time, others of us felt calmed, satisfied, even justified. Untold numbers are somewhere in between. Because we are church people, it’s easy to theologize our differences. And to demonize those with whom we disagree. As in, “God is on OUR side, not THEIR side.”

Demonizing the other side is a temptation we must avoid. The truth is, we are a church in transition. Instead of reacting, we can gather our wits about us, think, pray and practice the Platinum Rule.

As we begin the Lenten journey, we in the UMC traverse a strange road. We will walk through the 40 days of Lent and into Easter Sunday Hike in sand desertall before the Judicial Council meets to determine the constitutionality of General Conference decisions. In other words, we will have to claim resurrection of the body before we even know its shape.

Along the way, temptations will lure us away from the full promise of Easter’s renewal. I call these the last temptations of the UMC because if we don’t master these our denomination will be hobbled regardless of how the Judicial Council rules. Click To Tweet

Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness provide good guidance about how to approach the temptations that face us.

Each week between now and Easter, we’ll zero in on one temptation and discuss how to navigate it. And, we’ll highlight practical tools of emotional intelligence to help you master them, one by one.

Here are the last temptations of the UMC:

  1. Confusing higher powers and lower powers. Jesus had to distinguish between the abiding words of God and the seductive voice of the tempter. It’s not always easy to tell which is which.   Many factors came into play at General Conference. Not all of them holy.
  1. Using one categorical framework to understand another. Satan offered Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus had to understand what Satan meant by kingdom and how that differed from what the Scriptures meant. Were they one and the same thing? Likewise, the Traditional Plan and the One Church plan had different meanings for different constituents. It’s important not to confuse apples and oranges.
  1. Equating past trauma with current reality. Jesus must have always had a sense of being different, of not belonging. We think of this difference as special. But who knows how he thought about it? Forty days in the wilderness may well have re-triggered every outlier thought he ever had about himself.   People who have been told they don’t belong, or who feel they exist on the margins—and that can be folks anywhere along theological or human sexuality spectra—can easily re-experience trauma. And equate it with current reality.  But, while both have real impacts on those experiencing them, they’re not the same thing.
  1. Catastrophizing. After 40 days of fasting in a hot and thirsty land, Jesus might have felt completely hopeless when confronted by Satan. “What? No food, no water, and now this?! Forget about it; I’m done.” Those who have been waiting for the full inclusion of LGBTQIA folks, or for an understanding of traditionalist interpretations of Scripture, may feel done in by the decisions or the tone of General Conference. Or by those of the upcoming Judicial Council rulings.   But, what if this isn’t the end but rather another step in the journey?
  1. All or nothing thinking. When Jesus interacted with Satan, he didn’t face an either-or situation. In fact, Satan was right about a few things. While this General Conference seemed to declare winners and losers, this kind of all or nothing thinking obscures our deeper connectedness and undercuts the gains we have made as a denomination.

As we begin the Lenten journey, temptations of every sort will abound. I want to empower you with greater emotional intelligence to journey well.

 

By now you know that it was a brutal General Conference. Personally, I was in favor of the One Church Plan. I thought it was a gracious acknowledgment of our varying cultural contexts, biblical sensibilities, and deeply held convictions. It didn’t pronounce each other wrong or your way or no way take the highway absolutely not totally against my willright. It was a way to let each other be. Without judgement.

That plan failed, discouragingly. Much goodwill and hope disappeared along with it. Good people have been deeply hurt. Some will leave the church. Others will stay and resist. Still others are bewildered, unsure of what to do. Finally, others are satisfied with the outcome.

I am Facebook friends with people across the theological spectrum. While glancing at other people’s Facebook pages, I’ve noticed that One Church Plan supporters have been labeled everything from humanist to non-Biblical. The Traditionalist Plan folks have been labeled anti-love and anti-gay.

Going forward, how do you do ministry when you don’t see eye to eye? Not only with other delegates from around the world, but with people in your very own conference, district, and congregation? How can you reconcile seemingly irreconcilable differences?

I’m going to share three options and two offers for moving forward.

  1. Get mad.Righteous anger can be a good thing. It can fuel you with new courage and empower you to take actions that once seemed impossible. It can also blind you to possibilities. And cause you to hurt others or trample on other people’s humanity.
  2. Get defeated.“Clearly they don’t want me, so I’m out of here.” Being so hurt that you can’t take action can allow you to retreat from a painful, hurtful arena. You are able to nurse your wounds, consider your options, and find the next right choice. Far from the hurtful arena.   On the other hand, everywhere you go, there you are. Leaving with hurt in your heart will haunt you. Avoiding getting hurt in the future will be your driving motive and plant you firmly in victim mode. Decisions made from a victim-stance are less likely to be empowering for you in the long run.
  3. Get savvy.It’s human nature to frame other people’s decisions in light of your own decision-making context. For instance: I stand in support of full inclusion of LGBTQIA folks in the life and leadership of our churches. Therefore, if you don’t believe/vote the way I do, then you are against this deeply held principle of mine. You are anti-LGBTQIA, or anti-love of all people.

Or this: I treasure the words of the Bible and try to uphold my understanding of it in all that I do. Therefore, if you don’t vote the way I do, then you don’t love or respect the Bible. You are anti-God or anti-purity or unholy.

Either way, “those people” become the enemy. This is why Jesus said “Judge not lest you be judged.” Judging leads only to enemy-making.

Here’s a healthy way to get savvy. Don’t make their decisions (whoever “they” are) about you and your deeply held values. They’re not about you. Their decisions are about them. Their decisions arise from their own decision-making context.

It’s hard to do this, I know. But it’s also crucial to your long-term well-being. Otherwise you land in rage mode, victim mode or enemy mode. None of those are helpful long term. And none of those get you where you really want to go—able to live out your values with a clear and open heart.

Not sure how to do any of this? Join us in The Listening Room all next week: March 4-8, Noon-1pm, Mountain Time. This will be a constructive place to vent, grieve, pray, consider next steps or plan what to say to your people. The Listening Room will be hosted by myself, our Creating a Culture of Renewal Faculty and our Staff. Email us here for a Zoom invite. Then mark your calendar and plan to join. We’ll have breakout rooms so you can have privacy if you need it.

Also, don’t forget our March 1 webinar: Does Your Church Dream Like Jesus? This is an opportunity to discover whether your church leads with a Jesus-like dream or not. And what you can do about it. We’ll meet from 11am-Noon Mountain Time.   Email us here for a Zoom invite.

Finally, I want you to know that ALL persons are welcome and invited into the Creating a Culture of Renewal network. No questions asked. We are open to the whole of the church. Conservative, centrist, progressive. Straight, gay, questioning. Life-long Methodists and newbies. The confident and the confounded. High church or high Christology as well as low church or low Christology.   We welcome you regardless of your sexual orientation, gender identity, theology, conference, jurisdiction, beliefs, biblical hermeneutic, or General Conference votes for that matter.  Creating a Culture of Renewal creates a safe space for all church leaders to find their voice, claim their calling, and manifest their Jesus-like dreams.