Our scriptures provide practical life advice and a Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) for confronting conflict, accepting consequences, and embracing our responsibility in relationship. Conflict, consequences, and responsibility are neutral terms despite often painted in an unfavorable light.
The entire creation, including human creatures, are inter-weaved in an inter-dependent relationship; and thus, per family systems theory, what impacts one will impact all in a ripple effect of sorts.
Unfortunately, it is not breaking news that our world, nation, communities, and ourselves are troubled. The church universal, as expressed in denominations and their congregations, are not immune.
Jesus was not naïve about our humanness rooted in sin, or self-centeredness, and its resulting trouble. Jesus provided the Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) for conflict resolution and repentance as consequence for the disciples, the early church, and our modern church, while Paul expanded upon our responsibility to love our siblings (neighbors) as the fulfillment of the Torah, the teaching or law.
So, shall we confront conflict?
Conflict is unpreventable within our shared, communal lives and relationships. However, said conflict does not necessarily result in either harm to or broken relationships among persons and/or institutions whether only once removed or a million times removed in our ever-connected, inter-dependent world.
Conflict, if addressed well, can promote healthier relationships rooted in trust, informed through proper boundaries, and improved communication between the partners.
Conflict management styles are traditionally either Passive, Passive-Aggressive, or Aggressive. The culture of the Midwest, and further within congregations, is most often passive-aggressive. In comparison, the culture of the Southwest is most often aggressive.
Yet, it was recently suggested that I describe my conflict management as ‘direct’ because I do not actively seek conflict but I do not actively avoid it. I would rather lay all the cards on the table, process the situation together, and then move forward together.
I envision that Jesus’ Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) is similar to the ‘direct’ approach.
Step one is to engage in direct communication with the individual rooted in love and seeking resolution, reconciliation, and restoration of the relationship. The desired response of the approached individual is discernment and repentance as necessary.
Step two, if step one did not result in the desired change, is to be in direct communication with the individual again but with the accompaniment of one or two mutual persons. The intention is to limit unnecessary drama but include objective observers who can keep the conflicting parties honest. Again, it should be rooted in love and seek resolution, reconciliation, and restoration of the relationship. Again, the desired result is further discernment and repentance as necessary.
Step three, if steps one and two did not result in the desired change, is to bring the concern before the community. The intention is to allow the community to hold the conflicting parties honest while rooted in love and seeking resolution, reconciliation, and restoration of the relationship. Again, the desired result is further discernment and repentance as necessary.
Despite this process, the desired resolution, reconciliation, and restoration may not be possible for it depends upon discernment and repentance, that is a change in conduct. An apology without said repentance is simply manipulation, which neither promotes well-being nor a healthy relationship.
If the conflict is not addressed, it will fester into an infected wound.
If the repentance from inappropriate conduct is not lived, reconciliation and restoration is impossible.
If the relationship is toxic due to conflict or otherwise, it may need to end with persons parting ways.
Hopefully, you noted that the emphasis of the process is resolution, reconciliation, and restoration.
Hopefully, you also noted that the driving force of the process is love.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, expanded upon this love and its significance.
The Roman culture existed within an obligation economy; and thus, persons were indebted to one another such as honor and allegiance to the emperor and the empire, or honor and resources to your benefactor, or service and your life to your master, or submission to your husband, and so on.
Paul, however, writes that we are not obligated or indebted to another except to love ALL persons. This is an indebtedness of all humans to the Triune God, specifically through the life, passion, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. This indebtedness is to be paid forward to our neighbors, or human siblings, in words and deeds of love. This indebtedness and the resistance to pay it forward is often rooted in our sin (self-centeredness) and results in conflicts, unstable or unhealthy relationships, and our far too often troubled existence.
Paul further encourages the Romans (and us) that said love is the fulfillment of the Torah, or law, for it does no wrong, does no harm to our neighbor and human sibling.
While serving the youth at The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd on internship, these teenagers almost literally jumped for joy at the announcement that there was only one rule: ‘Be Respectful’. Quickly, almost in the blink of an eye, these teenagers became disenchanted with the only one rule for it was far more encompassing than imagined. I would question their word choice or actions with the simple question ‘was that respectful’ and they were convicted in the moment.
Similarly, we may rejoice that our only obligation is to love one another but become quickly disenchanted with its all-encompassing nature. Perhaps, we should continually question our thoughts, words, and actions with ‘is this loving’. We should allow for ourselves to be convicted in the moment.
It seems so simple, and yet it is not.
Love can be manifested in the most simplistic thoughts, words, and deeds of mercy and compassion.
Love can be manifested in honor and respect.
Love can be manifested in practices, customs, and traditions that are seemingly ‘not of this world’.
The philosopher, lay theologian, and more named Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote: It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.
Brad Paisley, the country artist, is a Christian who is able to tease about the practices, customs, and traditions of Christian love in his song ‘Those Crazy Christians’. It is our offering video in a moment.
May we confront conflict directly.
May we accept repentance as a consequence.
May we embrace our responsibility in relationships, which is to love one another.
May we be able to reflect honestly and tease ourselves as need. Amen.
Scriptures were Romans 13:8-14 and Matthew 18:15-20.
Originally preached 6 Sept. 2020 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).