The last temptations of the UMC

March 13th, 2019

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 all 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. 

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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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? 
  5. 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.

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