Recently I read a book on conflict in the church. I would guess that conflict is not an attractive topic and with so much else to read, a book on conflict might be one that is easier than others to pass by. The author is someone I have met and who I feel has much wisdom to share. He sees things from unusual angles and offers fresh, if challenging, insights and conclusions. So, even though I am more attracted to books more overtly about the life of Jesus, I thought I might read this book to see what this bright author had to say. I admit that I also had something practical in mind. Look around. Is there any shortage of conflict? Are there many places where we do not find disagreements? I think it accurate to say that conflict abounds. We find it in our homes and our workplaces. We find it in the public square and we find it in our churches. Of conflict, we have a gracious plenty.
I suspect that for peace-loving folk and for others who have lived a lifetime of exposure to conflict, conflict is something to be avoided. It makes us uneasy. It upsets our harmony. If it were offered as a gift, we would say “no thanks.” If it enters into our place of sanctuary, we want it to be silenced. Make it go away and give us harmony.
But what if conflict is in the nature of God’s creation? What if conflict stems from the fact that people with differences are called into relationship with God and each other? What if conflict is something we are called to enter into like Jesus did? Conflict would likely remain hard and upsetting, but maybe we could learn more about how to address our differences and how to keep our fears from becoming aggression and exclusion toward others. Maybe we could become more Christ-like, entering into the conflict with the eyes and heart of God for those on opposing sides. Maybe we could become more like Christ who gathered around himself twelve different individuals and used those differences for the singular purpose of changing the future of the world.
In the final chapter, the author talks about an occasion where he had been asked to lead a conversation on a controversial topic at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. He admits his anxiety in that moment, knowing that partisans were gathering, and fearing that he would lose control of the conversation. So, he did something simple yet brilliant. He had them sit in a circle and share their stories. What brings you here? What do you fear? When did you first encounter the living Christ? People shared honestly and deeply, and those on opposing sides found they had much more in common than they may have supposed. They discovered humanity in each other. They were different, but no longer strangers. They could see each other with the eyes and heart of God.
This is what can happen when people in conflict take the time to share their stories. Take time to tell your story to another person and take time to listen to theirs. What are your hopes and fears? How has God touched your life? Difference is built into God’s creation and conflict arises out of difference, but it is possible to move forward in ways other than trying silence or drive out those with whom we disagree.
Grace and peace be yours,