Hate conflict? It can help your parish

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Conflict does not always lead to sin, but sometimes it does.

November 7, 2011
JAMES BUCHOK
PRAIRIE MESSENGER

WINNIPEG – Conflict in a church congregation is an opportunity for growth, to get problems solved and to increase respect among members, says an expert in conflict resolution.

"You want to experience the gifts that come from conflict," said Nan Cressman at Winnipeg's Canadian Mennonite University during a workshop on conflict in the Church.

"Conflict is as normal a part of life as food," Cressman said Oct. 15. "It can be destructive or it can be a source for new life. It is a gift from God for our growing and maturity."

Cressman said when she is in the midst of conflict she "clings" to the words of Jesus in Isaiah 43.1-4: "'When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.'

"And notice he doesn't say 'if,' he says 'when' because he has a plan."

For many people being in conflict with those they are supposed to love and support feels like a sin. "But," she said, "God values diversity, God has given us free will, and we have been given the Holy Spirit to lead us."

Sin and conflict

Cressman said sin enters conflict when the objective is to devalue someone. "To be furious with someone is not a sin. It depends on what we do with that anger."

One way to eliminate conflict would be to eliminate free choice, she said. "But when voices are oppressed we get a disaster, we get cults. Conflict in the Church is a kind of protection given to us by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that the Spirit will lead us to the truth."

"Conflict in the Church is like pain in our bodies. It's a helpful indicator of unmet needs. If conflict, or pain, isn't happening we ignore what could become a bigger problem later."

JESUS' INSTRUCTIONS

When one does hurt another there is what Cressman calls "step by step instructions" in Matthew 18.15-17 to heal the wound.

"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

"If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."

Cressman reminded her listeners that Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors by inviting them into a relationship.