I had been formally excused from attendance at the North Texas Annual Conference this year because of my sabbatical leave, but decided to watch as much of it as I could by livestream and to keep up otherwise by twitter and blog posts.
Powerful reports filtered in of great worship, strong youth leadership, renewed energy, hope, connection and collegiality. The Nehemiah team did a great job presenting options for new delivery models as they held to the essential mission of the Annual Conference. Church plants are adding many new people to worship and the reports about Owen Ross and the Christ Foundry brought tears of joy to my eyes. The Connections Band brings both great music and hope of life to thousands. Larry George’s strong call to no longer normalize poverty had the twitter feed active and clearly touched by that.
Because of the time difference (I am six hours ahead), I was not able to see the ordination service, but again, the comments suggested an electrifying and powerful evening. I read the sermon and appreciated it, although I have one concern. There is a vital point I think Rev. Baughman missed and I also think, at the end, the Bishop missed. In Acts 2, after Peter’s speech that convicted so many of their need to turn to God, he says to them, “Repent and be baptized.’
Baughman said, “Peter’s prescription is water.” No, Peter’s prescription is repentance. The water to end the drought is the result of repentance.
Repentance, metanoia, is the deep and profound turning from darkness to light, and a turning that always, always, always, leads to huge humility. When we turn from darkness to the light, all of our sin is exposed. Hubris no longer has a place, for we suddenly see ourselves as God sees us, fully in need of the covering of grace. Our proper response: fall on our knees before God with these words, “Have mercy upon me, a sinner.”
That is what didn’t happen, but could have.
I decided to sacrifice sleep on June 5 and go ahead and stay up for the reading of the appointments and the final comments by the Bishop. I heard him preach a powerful sermon from Mark 5 about the demon-possessed man set free by Jesus and then told to do this: “Go home to your own people. Tell them your story – what the Master did, how he had mercy on you.”
I thought, “What a great segue into his good-bye to this Conference as Bishop–he too, will be going home to tell his story. He will have been set free and will set us free to go forward as a Conference.”
How wrong I was.
Instead, I learned with dismay that the man who is the spiritual leader of 160,000 United Methodists in North Texas intends to fight like the devil to keep his position.
How does the devil fight? With craftiness, by inserting doubt about the goodness of God, by inviting others to embellish the truth in order to justify themselves, and by encouraging the compromise of long term holiness and joy for short term gain and profit.
What did our Bishop do? First, his put his sweet wife and her grief fully on display–leaving her unattended to weep openly in full view of the camera. So like the first man–let the woman take the hit. The Bishop used a short term gain in numbers, taking credit for the hard work of others and plans that had been in operation long before his tenure began, to compromise the hope of long-term holiness. On the basis of those short term numbers, he declared himself “effective.”
Then he played the race card, and brought unbelievable harm onto our Conference. That is fighting like the devil, indeed. Do all possible to divide people on a deep level and keep them far from the hope of grace-filled reconciliation with God and with each other. Sadly, the story of Genesis 3 was powerfully re-enacted on June 5 at the Plano Centre.
I understand that the Bishop was hurt by the poor evaluation of his tenure as Bishop. But to turn and then intentionally hurt the Annual Conference in this way brings into question his leadership capabilities. I believe the holy response to being hurt should have been something like, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
It appears that he has chosen hubris over humility. That is indeed fighting like the devil–who, as Milton suggested in Paradise Lost, lives from this principle: “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven”
It is time to repent–all of us. That is what opens the door for the Holy Spirit to enter.
Note: I have written further reflections on the situation here. Also, the comment immediately below by Rev. Nancy DeStefano offers important insight and needs to be read.