Yes, we all know that it exists. Nothing brings finger-wagging faster in our direction than a good conflict. Disgusted, annoyed and sarcastic comments abound – if that’s the church, heaven help us! See how these Christians hate one another … etc.
Well, fair enough. We do squabble and disagree, and when it’s on something that the secular world has an interest in, woe betide us if we do not come out on their side.
But is conflict and disagreement in the church automatically a bad thing?
First of all, we are all different. Christians believe we are created that way. The fact that we’re different is part of God’s image in us – and think what a crashing bore it would be if we were all the same.
Second, we believe that we were given freedom. For this to be true freedom, resulting in real choices and opportunities, it must hold within itself the possibility of conflict.
This inevitably means that we are going to disagree. Trouble is – everyone thinks this is a Bad Thing – especially in the church.
But is this right? Certainly, conflict can turn bad – when we oppress, when we try to lord it over others, when we won’t listen, when we discount other people’s opinions and feelings, when we avoid, when we blame, when we refuse to look at ourselves and ask ourselves what our contribution might be to this conflict.
Everyone is inclined to think that we are ‘supposed’ to be nice all the time. But I think that ‘niceness’ has a lot to answer for.
John Paul Lederer puts it best when he talks about the ‘Unspoken Ten Commandments of Conflict‘ in the church.
1. Thou shalt be nice. Always be nice. Niceness is the essence of Christianity.
2. Thou shalt not confront each other. Confrontation is nasty and unmanageable. If in doubt, refer to (1).
3. Thou shalt not listen to thine enemy. Prepare thy defence while he is still speaking.
4. Speak not with contentious folks who disagree with thee. Thou shalt seek out thy friends, and talk about these others behind their backs. By speaking only with those with whom thou dost agree, thou shalt experience self-righteousness.
5. Remember thou art noble and decent and shalt not show thine emotions in public.
6. Men, be rational: it is better to be superior to the conflict and remain silent.
7. Women, thou shalt not defend thyself. Thou shalt be prepared to have thine opinions ignored, realizing that those same opinions may become valid if later stated by a man. Thou mayest not say so, however.
8. If thou dost not approve of the way things are going in the church, thou shalt blame the minister. Verily I say, blame him or her: or if thou likest him, blame the church council: and if not they, then blame ‘them’. Where there is nobody to blame in the church, then leave.
9. If thou must confront, save it for the biggest and most important meeting of the year. This is thine audience – use it mightily.
10. In a holy nutshell, brethren and sustren, thou shalt not have conflict in the church, for conflict is sin.
More wisdom from Lederer anon!
(Taken from his Journey Towards Reconciliation. 1999, Herald Press)