A Message from Ellen
August 17, 2022
August 17, 2022
As I was praying the other morning, I had an idea about a series of articles for our newsletter on Christian Conflict. You might argue with me about who put that idea into my head or heart. But I am listening to the rising temperature of our national rhetoric and wondering what it looks like to be lovers of Jesus in a world of hate. I wanted to share with you some of what I propose every year to the new Elders and Deacons who are being trained to lead in our congregation about healthy conflict. I have benefitted from a book by Denise Goodman called Congregational Fitness: Healthy Practices for Layfolk [published by the Alban Institute in 2000].
Goodman poses the following three assumptions.
- Congregations that make every effort to avoid any conflict (a) almost always are unsuccessful and (be) do not grow spiritually or in their ministry.
- “It is not possible for a church to be tension-free while being simultaneously faithful to all aspects of the Law and the Gospel” [a quote from a conflict consultant named Speed Leas]
- So conflict of some sort is not only inevitable, but healthy conflict is necessary for our spiritual growth.
Conflict is a given part of being human. So, rather than viewing conflict as something to be avoided at all costs (which never works anyway), we are to look at it as a spiritual opportunity. But the all-important qualifier is the word “HEALTHY”. Healthy conflict leads to growth of all sorts. We know all about unhealthy conflict (has anyone been listening to our school boards and political candidates?). But what in the world is healthy conflict?! There is such a thing as FAIR FIGHTING, and there is also such a thing as DIRTY FIGHTING. Christians, I want to argue, are those who participate in fair fighting and who hold others accountable to engage in conflict in ways that result in health, and that do not generate more anger, sickness, resentment, or lies. In the next few newsletters, I am going to try to provoke you to fair fighting and give you some practical suggestions for conflict wherever you find it.
For today, I’d like to suggest that one marker of healthy conflict is that we retain a spirit of curiosity, and we make sure to listen to others with curiosity in order to learn, and not in order to crush them or convince them of our superior opinion. History is clear that human beings make our worst decisions when we surround ourselves with people who only believe as we do. So, my first practical suggestion to foster healthy, spiritual conflict is that we each take responsibility to seek out people who disagree with us, listen to them with curiosity to learn how they feel and see the world, and that we vary the sources of our news, trying to LISTEN (not shout at the TV) to how “the other side” sees things. Try it. What do we have to lose? We have more to lose if we cannot learn to fight fairly with each other.
See you in worship,
Ellen Fowler Skidmore