Faith-based individuals strive to live in peace, understanding, and unity. However, the undeniable reality is that conflicts can and do arise within our congregations. The book of Revelation, the Holy book of the Judaic Christians reminds us of the age-old war that transpired in heaven (Revelation 12:7-9). Even in the holiest of realms, conflicts arose. If that could happen in heaven, why should we be surprised when disagreements arise within our churches and congregations?
The Inevitability of Conflicts
It is essential to acknowledge that conflicts at church are not a sign of a failing faith community. Instead, they are a manifestation of our human nature - a nature that's wired to perceive competition and vie for scarce resources, whether it's time, attention, or even different interpretations of scripture.
Our brains, as explored in Joyce Odidison's 5th Book on the Biology of Conflict, are wired to respond when threatened. In the church context, this can be seen when differing opinions arise, causing a perceived threat to one's belief or position.
Chosen Trauma in Conflicts
In the midst of disagreements, we have the choice - to let the conflict become a traumatic event that fractures our community or to see it as an opportunity for growth and deeper understanding. Chosen trauma occurs when we decide to re-experience the pain and convey it amongst our peers or close circles. This continuous revisiting ensures the conflict remains ever-present in the minds and feelings of all those who engage in the recounting, as well as those they newly recruit into their circles. Even if a decade has elapsed since the event, the narrative and the rekindled emotions are echoed in each listener, enabling them to undergo a reflection of the original teller's anguish. Consequently, all those who listen, empathize, and resonate with these emotions get emotionally entangled with this pain. Such practices lead to enduring grudges spanning generations, with animosities proliferating among groups, propelled by the continuous reignition of their sentiments, thereby breeding hostility, bitterness, and spite in the congregation.
One would ask why they do not just leave the congregation but they both are committed to holding their ground and not giving in to each other. Both groups remain, claiming to be awaiting divine victory over the other.
Chosen Victory in Conflicts
Chosen victory is just as dangerous in congregations as it is a retelling of all the ways the conflicted parties were able to get the upper hand over the opponent. “Echoed Triumph" is equally perilous, especially within congregations. It's the repeated recollection of times when one party managed to gain an advantage over the other. In spiritual communities, it's frequently proclaimed that divine intervention favoured them against their adversaries, casting a shadow on the opposing side. They interpret any adversity faced by the opponent as divine retribution for their perceived transgressions. This narrative not only galvanizes both sides to persist with their conflicting emotions but also propels them to further vilify and objectify one another. There’s an erroneous assertion that every setback the other endures is a testament to their inherent vice, further fueling the conviction to sustain the discord.
At this stage, the solution will be conflict intervention in various stages. The first would be conflict education to help the parties understand conflict energy and how they can easily get caught up in negative conflict energy. This should be handled by someone who understands conflict and is a trained Mediator, Conflict Manager, or leader.
Then the three stages of conflict management that will be necessary to prevent the conflict from reoccurring due to bystander impact. Remember the entire circle needs to be worked with and not just the primary parties.
Conflict Management: The Three Stages
Prevention: It begins with each one of us. It requires learning new conflict intelligence skills, such as self-awareness and communication skills to understand ourselves and those we conflict with. It's about regulating emotions and communicating responsibly, even when disagreeing.
Intervention: Recognizing the signs of conflict early on, such as emotional disconnect, anger, and increased stress, allows for timely interventions. This is the stage for anger/stress management and interest-based negotiation.
Resolution: If conflicts progress to the central or protracted phase, characterized by distrust, sabotage, or even violence, the resolution involves personal development, group interventions, and mediation.
Seeking Peace and Unity
At the heart of it all, our goal should always be to seek peace and togetherness. We can agree to disagree, remembering that being right should never be more important than our relationships with one another.
Remember, when faced with conflicts, always seek help if needed. Joyce Odidison offers numerous resources on conflict management for faith-based organizations in the workplace and with congregations.
Contact Joyce to learn about conflict resolution training and intervention options for your congregation.
Tell us, do you experience anything similar in your congregation? We would love to hear about how you are dealing with it.