Conflict is not a bad thing. The way we respond to it can be.
We often speak of conflict resolution with the assumption that disagreements and disputes must somehow be "settled." If there is a difference of opinion, it is often imagined that an argument will occur that will create tension and discord. Someone must win and someone must lose.
There is an alternative that seeks to "engage conflict constructively in ways that strive for justice, reconciliation, resource preservation and restoration of community." That is the approach of JustPeace, an organization formed in 1999 to help people find new ways to handle conflict.
It is easy to understand why someone would view conflict as a negative when a disagreement causes them to feel their needs, interests or concerns are threatened. That perception will likely cause one to become defensive and argumentative. This disposition is in sharp contrast to the understanding of St. Ignatius of Loyola who taught that "it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to save the proposition of another than to condemn it as false." Stephen Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Successful People) would agree that one should "seek first to understand then to be understood."
Conflict occurs everywhere--even in the church. The common themes in church conflict are money, power, control, and fear of losing control according to Mary K. Logan, former chief legal counsel to the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) of the United Methodist Church. She concludes that some church conflicts are very destructive, in large part because we are not well equipped to address them constructively. Thus she championed the formation of the JustPeace Center for Mediation and Conflict Transformation (www.justpeace.org) of the United Methodist Church, from which the following suggestions for conflict transformation come.
Prepare yourself for conflict transformation
·Create a well, not a wall: Create in yourself an openness to conflict as a natural and necessary part of God's creation, an opportunity for growth and revelation.
·Allow the well to fill: Open you heart and mind to God's love, drawing you toward reconciliation and being a reconciler.
·Be well prepared: Be prepared to listen for understanding, speak the truth in love, use your imagination and practice forgiveness.
·Be well/be a well: Be a mediating presence in the midst of conflict.
Engage others in conflict transformation
·Create a common well together: Design a circle process for a good conversation to get to better place.
·Share the well: Together open yourselves to God through ritual and to each other through a relational covenant.
·Appreciate the life-giving waters: Elicit stories of peak experiences, grace filled moments and dreams of a preferred future.
·Go beneath the surface: Move from positions to interests and needs; generating options to reach consensus.
·Drink deeply the healing waters: Move from retribution to restoration; healing the harm. affirming accountability and creating a new relationship.
·Be well together: Celebrate each step toward communal healing. Be prayerful, persistent and patient.
Let us remember the words of Jesus, "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9) as we seek to live at peace with everyone.
Taken with permission from Monday Morning in North Georgia, June 4, 2012, North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.