Thursday, November 19, 2009

What Type of Conflict Is It?

In the current conflict in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) concerning the ordination and call to pastoral ministry of gay and lesbian persons living in committed relationships---or in any conflict--discerning the nature of the conflict within a certain faith community is very important. Using the types of conflict described in my book "Church Conflict: From Contention to Collaboration" (Abingdon, 2004), here are some examples of what I mean:

Conflict may be Intrapersonal or Interpersonal. It may be over Issues/Beliefs or Facts/Truth or Values/Worth or Goals/Mission or Means/Ministry.

Intrapersonal: Each of us is a sexual being. Our own inner struggles, particularly in regard to the heterosexual/homosexual spectrum may well spill over in how we enter the conversation about the ELCA's churchwide decision in August.

Interpersonal: All conflict is interpersonal to some extent. How people on a church council interact with one another or with the pastor shapes the conflict. In fact,interpersonal conflict over past issues may well color the current conflict

Issues/Beliefs: Within a faith community, and certainly within the church body, the varieties of beliefs about biblical interpretation contribute signifanctly to the conflict. How do we interpret certain scriptural passages? How does Scripture interpret Scripture?

Facts/Truth What is "true" about the nature of homosexuality? Is it a "lifestyle" A trait with which we are born? What does science say? Sociology? Psychology? What facts and whose "truth" do we hold?

Values/Worth: How does one person or another value membership in a congregation, support of the synod and the churchwide body? Are certain people of greater worth than others? What is it worth to hold this congregation together? And what role does our money play? Why do we count on it to speak for us?

Goals/Mission: Within a given congregation, even with one mission statement, there are many missions. Is this conflict about goals? What are they? To include all? to preserve what has been? Even though not spoken, the implicit goals shape the nature of the approach to this conflict. Among the members and leaders may be a goal already reached before hand about leaving.

Means/Ministry: Even if a faith community holds a common mission, how they reach that goal has many paths. Do we include everyone in membership but limit leadership to heterosexual people? Do we "hold our congregation together" Some will try "money" means to attain their goals. What is the means for exercising "bound conscience"?

One could list many more variables. The point is that if one person is entering the conflict with intrapersonal conflict about his or her own sexuality, one will not get far by arguing bible history. Or, one group of people may be arguing facts while others are dealing with beliefs. Explaining the facts of the process by which decisions were made may not reach a person who is clinging to certain values about the congregation. And so on...

What is one to do? Certainly conflicts such as this cannot be neatly sorted out so that everyone is coming from the same place at the same time. But we can seek to listen and figuare out the types of conflict present. And, together, we can collaborate on how to proceed in a way which honors people thinking about the nature of the conflict quite differently. We can strive to create a safe environment in which respect is fostered and we address the conflict from these many different perspectives. And we can trust God's presence, work hard, and continue to lead and listen and listen and lead.


Anonymous said...

It was very interesting for me to read this blog. Thanx for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to this matter. I definitely want to read a bit more on that blog soon.

Anonymous said...

You have forgotten an extremely important part in your
conversation. As a pastor "in the field," I would say that at least half of the fighting has nothing to do with sex, sexuality, theology, or the bible. This is grief fighting at least half the time. I don't remember a section in your book about fighting out of hurt - but it most certainly exists.
There are many in my congregation who still feel quite betrayed by the merger from the ELC and the ALC in 1960. Others - mostly WWII vets - bemoan the fact that the church is not as supportive of the military action/government as it used to be and this just reinforces that issue. Others yet, see this as the continuation of female clergy and how that has brought a downfall to society. And for others still, this is just another issue for the church to fight about - which means that they won't bring their kids into the midst of it because it gets nasty. They fight because they want the church to be a safe place to grow in Christ like it was when they were little.

As a fairly new pastor, there is nothing I can do to make this place safe for those people who are fighting because of grief. I can pray, and I can listen, and I can preach/preside - but I am a representative of everything that has hurt them in the past. It is impossible to even have an argument, much less a conversation with people, when they really want to be mad.

It is a righteous anger - one directed toward God because they have not known the salvation that I preach about every week. For whatever their reason, they have felt betrayed by the church instead of forgiven, renewed, reconciled, and sent.

Until we step back and deal with the hurt, we will never even be able to have the conflict that is truly over the sexuality statement. Some days, even though I know God can do anything, I wonder if it is too late for them to find healing in the church that has left them with feelings of betrayal. Maybe this is truly the straw that broke the camel's back...
or perhaps the last nail in the cross.... the mark the church bears in its humanity until Christ comes again.

Norma Cook Everist said...

Yes, the pain can be deep and pervasive. I would say this is intrapersonal comnflict, both individual and corporate (the whole congregation). In other chapters in my book I talk about "Patterns of Conflict." This could be called habitual conflict, or broadening (deepening and over time). In such cases we need to listen and give care...over time. And we need to draw on the power of the resurrection and forgiveness, calling people to new life in the body of the Christ, the whole, inclusive body of Christ. So, blessings on this continung ministry in challenging times.