Don't compare apples and oranges

March 26th, 2019

Satan offered Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world. Tempting indeed for a person who was here to proclaim the Kingdom. Yet what Jesus meant by “kingdom” and what Satan meant were two entirely different things. Jesus had to have understood the difference. Otherwise, he would have succumbed to a soul-killing temptation.

Just as Jesus had to be clear about meaning, and to not project his understanding of Kingdom onto Satan’s, so we have to be clear about the meaning we ascribe to words. And to not project our personal definitions onto someone else’s words. Otherwise it’s like comparing apples and oranges and finding oranges wanting because they are lousy apples.

The Traditional Plan and the One Church Plan had different meanings for different General Conference constituents. From what I gather, many delegates who voted for the Traditional Plan were not voting against gays. Rather, they were voting for something else. Likewise, many delegates who voted for the One Church Plan weren’t voting against biblical authority. Rather, they were voting for something else.

Some people are saying, “The United Methodist Church now rejects gays.” But is that what happened at General Conference? That depends on who you ask.

I have to admit that as a One Church Plan proponent, I didn’t get why people would vote for the Traditional Plan since the OCP seemed to allow space and grace for theological differences. So, I asked around amongst my friends and colleagues who supported the Traditional Plan. This is what I found:

One friend and colleague believes that the church moves forward only when it is countercultural. John Wesley challenged the culture of his time. Martin Luther challenged the culture of his time. Thus, my friend believes that we must challenge the culture of our time.

Another friend supports the Traditional Plan because she feels it supports a deep reverence for God and the Scriptures.

A third colleague believes that God alone wills human sexuality and that the will of God is delineated through the creation, and union, of Adam and Eve, which was male and female, and thus heterosexual.

When I polled One Church Plan proponents, here is what I found:

One friend supported the One Church Plan because her interpretation of the Bible prioritizes Jesus’ first and second commandments (to love God with our whole being, and our neighbor as ourselves) above any passages related to sexuality.

Another colleague supported it because of his understanding that our United Methodist baptismal covenant welcomes all people — regardless of sexual orientation — into the fullness of the life of Christ, and the fullness of the life of the church.

A third friend and colleague supported the One Church Plan because it would allow United Methodists the freedom to follow their conscience as they minister with the love of Christ in their various settings.

It is tempting to use either Traditional Plan or One Church Plan rationales as justifications to bolster your arguments for why supporters of the plan you didn’t support are wrong. I get it. I’m quite capable of falling prey to the same temptation.

Here’s the thing, though. Making them wrong victimizes both you and them. Because it’s an “against” position. In the law of emotional triangles, what goes around comes around. Victimizing others because you feel victimized simply reinforces victimization. Jesus put it this way: Judge not lest you be judged. This is a spiritual temptation that will not get us where we want to go, assuming that where we want to go is Christlike love.

A few caveats: First, to be sure, some folks did vote against gays and some folks did vote against biblical authority. Second, regardless of why people voted the way they did, votes have unintended consequences which can do great harm. Third, I am not urging anyone to leave the denomination or to stay. That choice is between you and God. What I am doing is encouraging us to expand our powers of emotional intelligence as we traverse this Lenten journey.

Want to act instead of react? Step out of the emotional triangle and self-differentiate. Have the courage and clarity to say what you are for instead of simply reacting against what you oppose. In other words, lead with vision and not from reaction.

Self-differentiation is a key ingredient of emotional intelligence. Jesus shows us how it’s done. Notice that Jesus didn’t fight Satan in the desert, or even quarrel with him. Instead, Jesus simply articulated his own vision again and again. It’s what allowed him to emerge unscathed from his 40-day journey through the desert.

How will your 40-day journey go?

Rebekah Simon-Peter blogs at She is the author of The Jew Named Jesus.

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