It is 3am and I am awake. I am awake because dozens of messages flooded by phone from Untied Methodist friends far and wide. Some pleading with me to tell them that the recent rumors of a renewed effort to divide our denomination were not true. I write this in a time of uncertainty, not knowing what is true yet. My mind is swimming with the potential implications of what dividing the church could mean. What harm it would cause. Whose lives would be affected. None of this leads to a restful posture but instead is a recipe for sleeplessness.
As I laid in bed one thought continued through my head that I finally decided to rise and put down in words. What is behind this? Not who to be honest. I know there have been persons pushing for this for several General Conferences now. I am in no way surprised that some group of people decided to push this agenda again. Not who, but instead what force.
Is this the Holy Spirit?
At the current moment we are both continuing our decline as denomination in terms of membership and attendance but we are also waking up with the fact that the vitality of our local churches needs to be a priority. In my area we have recently made new and large investments in helping bring about more vital congregations through the creation of my position and others. We are starting new churches at an unprecedented rate and working with more and more local churches to get reengaged in their communities and reclaiming their mission to make disciples for the transformation of the world. Surely, if the Holy Spirit is somewhere it is there? Surely if God is moving it is with those brave disciples on the ground working to bless their neighbors. Surely that is where the prince of peace and the God of grace is!
So what then emboldens and empowers those that would derail that work, bring unquestionable harm to local churches, and waste precious time and likely millions of dollars on an effort to rip our denomination in two? I cannot help but think of the one who tempted Jesus in the desert.
Three times Jesus is tempted with the easy path. He is tempted to test God’s goodness. He is tempted to forgo the hard work that laid ahead of him. He is tempted to seize power and bend the world with it. Each time Jesus resisted.
The power that tempts us today I do not believe is the Holy Spirit. I do not believe it is the God that in his nature models for us what it means to be both diverse and unified. The one that tempts us this day, the one that drives me from my sleep to write these words, is the same that tempted Jesus so long ago. And like him we must too resist the temptation to grab power, avoid the hard work of bridge building, and abandoning God and God’s promise.
Yesterday, on the floor of General Conference, I held hands across the tables to sing Blessed be the Tie That Binds. Let us all pray that that tie is strong enough for us in the hours and days that lead ahead.