9-4-17 - Conflict

Conflict is a fact of life – or at least a fact of human nature. Wherever two or three are gathered, there are likely to be four or five competing desires (sometimes within one person.) We don’t all see things the same way; each has her own lens borne of her own history and circumstances and brain chemistry. We don’t all want or feel we need the same things; inevitably one person’s want gets in the way of some other good, as, say, a desire for untrammeled speed will compromise the safety of others.

Christian communities are not immune to conflict. In fact, they are often conflict incubators, since people come to them hoping for the idyllic family they never had, dragging along their thwarted, dysfunctional baggage. Conflict within a church family is a given. It’s what we do with it that makes the difference. As my friend Peter likes to say, “Conflict doesn’t kill churches. Suppressed conflict kills churches.”

Jesus knew that the community of his followers would include hurt and conflict – witness the infighting among his disciples while he was yet with them. So he laid out a process for dealing with it: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”

Jesus’ teaching makes great psychological sense. First, we are to show the courage and respect to speak privately to the person who’s hurt us. Don’t triangulate conflicts by talking to a third person before sharing your feelings honestly with the first. How many conflicts could be quickly deflated by this simple step – and yet, many of us have been conditioned not to confront people, so we let it escalate.

If that conversation goes nowhere because the other person isn’t open to hearing how you feel, bring in that third or fourth person – but in the presence of the one who’s hurt you, not behind his back. Now it becomes a community issue, and out in the light. And if that doesn’t work, Jesus says to bring your grievance before the whole community. What happens when we do that? We model openness and vulnerability and transparency. We’ve invited prayer for ourselves and the person who has hurt us. We’ve offered our wound for healing, and opened ourselves to the transforming power of love. Can this get messy? Sure it can. But it’s not nearly as toxic as a conflict that is allowed to fester.

Can you think of a time when you were hurt by someone in your community of faith? Were you able to articulate it? Did you speak of it to others before you spoke to that person? Did you distance yourself from that person or the community? Have you forgiven?

If the memory is still painful, that's a sign that it remains unhealed – and that is something to invite the Holy Spirit into. It’s never too late to forgive and be set free, even if the person who hurt you is no longer in your life.

This teaching assumes relationship and intimacy within the Body of Christ. Many of our congregations are far from that. Maybe that’s where we start – by getting close enough that hurts can happen. And loving enough to forgive and heal.

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